Rockbridge Academy Blog
Mr. Northup Points to God's Providence
One year ago, Mr. Northup retired from teaching at Rockbridge Academy after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Mr. Northup greatly impacted my life so when I was given the opportunity to write about his life, I took it. This article is dedicated to Mr. Northup and his family for their 17 years of love and support of Rockbridge Academy.
I know many of us are wondering how he is handling the cancer, but more so why he, of all people, got cancer. Mr. Northup was one of the greatest Bible teachers I (and all of Rockbridge) could have asked for. He displayed his faith in every word and deed, and his love for his students and the subjects he taught was unmatched so, why did Mr. Northup get cancer? This question can be restated in this infamous question: why do bad things happen to good people?
That was my main question for Mr. Northup, and he answered it. Before I reveal exactly what he said, make sure to actively look for the providence of God in Mr. Northup’s life throughout the rest of this article.
Mr. Northup was born in Rhode Island and moved to California a year later. At eight years old in California, he dreamed of becoming a real-life Tarzan but he had two problems preventing him from becoming the rope-swinging monkey-man. For starters, he lived in California, and one cannot be Tarzan when climbable objects are limited to a “cactus and a palm tree in the backyard.” This problem was solved when he moved back to Rhode Island the same year where trees grew as commonly as the California cacti. His other problem was more serious: he needed a Jane, but where to find the perfect girl? He did not need to look far; across the street lived the future Mrs. Northup, Merry Dupre. Mr. Northup said that from a young age he knew he was going to marry her. If she made a great Jane, which she did, then she would make a great wife. Obviously, he convinced the girl across the street that he was worth keeping around as they have been married for 27 years and have had five children.
Mr. Northup’s youth in Rhode Island involved street fights and big older brothers. Our teacher was small for his age but hotheaded. He was known for roughhousing and the kids on his street beat him up multiple times. However, they stopped picking on him after Merry’s brother began looking out for him. Her brother was big and strong with a statement 70s hairstyle, a mohawk.
While Mr. Northup had his fair share of fighting, he also spent a good amount of time in church. He was brought to church as a child, but only began searching for God in his teenage years. He told me that, “Everyone at church had a testimony but I didn’t.” Mr. Northup decided to change that by becoming a rebel until he had a good story to tell.
Mrs. Northup said this time was short lived once they had their first child, Samuel, when he was 17 and a daughter, Nadia, at 18. With two children and little stability, Mr. Northup decided to start bringing the family to church, but he made a mistake and joined, as he called it, a “cult” instead. The church that the Northup family joined preached that one’s salvation depended upon their daily missionary work. One had to share the gospel every day to a random stranger to secure their own salvation. Mr. Northup realized that this teaching did not match his understanding of the Bible from his youth. The dissonance between his understanding of the Bible from childhood and what this church was preaching lit his heart afire for God and truth.
Mr. Northup was hungry and curious to know God’s word, so he sought out the youth pastor from the church he grew up in and began a mentoring relationship with him. To make ends meet he worked as a mechanic until he pursued seminary at age 20. He brazenly decided to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At first, the college rejected him but that did not stop our teacher. He caught a flight from Rhode Island to Chicago to meet the admissions board face to face. He told them, “I am going to come, but how do I do this?” Seeing the passion of this young teacher changed the hearts of the board. Mr. Northup’s grades were not great, and he was behind in the necessary schooling, but his heart was ready to tackle any obstacle presented to him. The college offered him a deal: he would take night classes until he was ready for full admission into regular daytime classes. Eventually, Mr. Northup worked his way up to those daytime classes and even earned a full ride. During this time, he moved his family out to Chicago and received free housing from a nearby church in exchange for his cleaning services. His living costs were low, so he only had to provide food for his family. Thankfully, the window washing business was booming and he received a job cleaning windows for around $100 an hour.
Here, Mr. and Mrs. Northup had their third child, Josiah. After finishing college with a wife and three kids, he moved back to Rhode Island, desiring to impact children’s lives. He first thought about working at summer camps, but a week or two was too short to create a lasting impact. He then considered becoming a pastor, which he did for three years, but he still wasn’t achieving his goal of teaching children. He decided to change careers once more and become a teacher.
The first and only school Mr. Northup taught at was Rockbridge Academy. When deciding where to teach, Mr. Northup and his wife asked the question, “Who do we want our kids to be?” They came upon this one, strange way of teaching called classical Christian Education. They fell in love with the idea of teaching children with a focus on the liberal arts but centered around Christ. Mr. Northup told me concerning classical Christian Education, “This is the way Christians ought to be training their kids.” The Northups found a classical Christian school called Rockbridge Academy which they thought embodied the classical Christian spirit and teaching they desired for their kids. Mr. Northup applied to work here and hit it off with the school board, landing the job for a Bible teacher. He served at Rockbridge for a total of 17 years and during this time, had two more children, Luke and Emma. I asked him which Bible class he enjoyed teaching the most and he answered, “Christ in the Old Testament . . . We get to explore the question ‘where specifically is Christ?’”
Sadly, as we all know, Mr. Northup has left Rockbridge and pursued treatment for his cancer. He said that in these hard times, his wife, Merry Northup, has been his continuous rock and constant companion, a true helper. He is also very grateful for the time he can now spend with his immediate family and his three grandsons. God’s providence, which has shown itself time and time again, is clearly woven throughout Mr. Northup’s life. God has provided in countless ways from protection in his youth to free housing in college and ultimately a job at Rockbridge Academy. To end this story, I want to provide you with Mr. Northup’s answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He said, “This sounds cheap, but I don't think that people are good; I think that God alone is good and He's gracious. I don't expect that I should get things because I'm good or because I'm not. He is. That's one part. The rest is grace. He's been gracious to me with everything from my family to provision. I don't expect that I should be taken care of. Everything is grace. I am grateful for the provision of my family. I can't do anything more than simply be grateful. I don't know if that's the right way to think about it, but that's what I think.”
Hannah Bates is currently in 11th grade and a member of the Rockbridge Review (student-run school newspaper) editorial team.
How Firm a Kindergarten Foundation
Remember playing with blocks? I don’t know about you, but as a child, I had one singular goal when stacking a tower of wooden blocks: build it as high as humanly possible! So, I stacked one block on top of another to try and reach the stars—or at least the ceiling of my living room. But despite my stacking efforts, my towers inevitably came crashing down. My young brain couldn’t quite comprehend that the key to building a solid structure was to start with a solid foundation.
Clearly, as the right foundation is key to toy tower construction, it is all the more so in regard to education. How we start has direct implications on how far and how high we can go; the foundation is critical.
At Rockbridge Academy, the groundwork of love is laid first. Knowing they are loved by God and by their teachers, each child learns to marvel at the world God has created. The foundations are set to enable them to grow in the Lord as lifelong learners.
After my childhood career of tower construction, I eventually ended up working at this school, and from my desk outside the kindergarten classrooms, I have had the pleasure of watching and listening in on all the joy and learning taking place all year long.
First and foremost, students learn more of Christ in kindergarten. Yes, they memorize Scripture (over 30 verses!) and study God’s Word in their Bible lessons, but like the red and blue lenses that make sense of 3D films, Jesus is the filter through which each lesson comes to life.
When they work on fine and gross motor skills in Motor Lab, they rejoice over how God made their bodies to move. When they study grammar, the students are reminded that the structure of our language was given by God. When they giggle through a funny book together, they are reminded of the joy we have in Christ.
A deep love of the Savior informs the way Mrs. Geverdt and Mrs. Lytikainen engage with the students. One of my favorite things about Mrs. Lytikainen is how she calls the students “Treasure.” When I asked her about it, she said it was the term of endearment she used for her own children when they were young. It falls off her tongue in the classroom because she sees each of her students as precious—to her and to the Lord.
Second, the Rockbridge kindergarten experience sets the foundation of life-long learning. As kindergarten mom, Adrienne DeGodt put it, “What we love about kindergarten is the joyful learning that’s cultivated in them. My daughter comes home ready to tell and retell what she learned in class that day. It is fun to see just how alive and vibrant everything is in her mind because of the way in which they are discovering together.”
Kindergarten is a hands-on experience from day one. After talking about the rhythm of the seasons in September, the students visited a local farm and saw God’s world changing colors. After reading the story of The Little Red Hen, they went through the steps of grinding flour, mixing ingredients, and kneading dough to experience the hard work it takes to bake bread. Of course, they enjoyed the labors of their hard work, too! As spring rolled around, Mrs. Geverdt brought baby chicks into their classroom so the children could watch them grow and learn to care for them.
Daily kindergarten lessons are taught in interactive ways. Kindergarten math has recently implemented a new curriculum called Think!Math that uses the principles of Singapore Math to meet young minds where they are. Students work math problems following a CPA approach: C for concrete (holding 5 blocks in their hand and taking away 3 to feel and see that there are 2 blocks left), P for pictorial (looking at a picture of 5 blocks and imagining 3 going away to leave 2 behind), and A for Abstract (seeing the number sentence 5-3= and knowing the answer is 2). While those ideas don’t feel that different to the adult mind, they can be hugely different for a kindergartener. Adding a tactile element has helped so many little ones to conquer this challenge. This procedural understanding of math is the building block that will help them grasp division and fractions and trigonometry one day, but for kindergarten kids, it doesn’t feel burdensome. It feels like an adventure!
Finally, in Rockbridge kindergarten, students learn how to interact socially and graciously with one another, with their teachers, and with the larger Rockbridge community. Although it will be a long time before they need these skills for a college interview or to communicate with their colleagues at work, the foundations of human interactions begin in kindergarten. As tiny as they are, they learn how to put others first. They explore and express themselves, but they also learn how to respect their teachers and to listen to their classmates. For many entering students (especially this post-Covid group who missed in-person interactions for their preschool years), this is their first chance to really interact with their peers. It has been a privilege to see them blossom socially under the guidance of their teachers. The year-end Teddy Bear Serenade serves as a wonderful celebration and opportunity to put into practice all the manners and socially appropriate skills they have learned.
It would be foolish to say that only Rockbridge Academy kindergarten graduates could go on to achieve success, but I truly believe our program is the BEST start for any child’s education. It is a beautiful expression of Zechariah 4:10, which says “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Like our Heavenly Father, we rejoice to see the small beginnings of these beautiful souls and look forward to who they will become as they build on this firm foundation.
Rachel Fix works as the front desk receptionist, photography teacher, and social media specialist for the school. She has four children at Rockbridge Academy and experienced kindergarten first-hand through her own children.