Our alumni have incredible stories. We are proud of the success and achievements of our alumni in all areas of their lives. It is our pleasure to share their stories here.
Expanding Horizons: an Interview with Nikita Labdon (Silagy’14)
Nikita Labdon (Silagy’14) graduated from Linden Christian School in 2014. She was highly involved in Performing Arts at Linden Christian School in addition to sports teams and leadership roles such as Worship Team and Grad Committee. After graduation she pursued a Bachelor of Music Vocal Performance degree from the University of Manitoba. Nikita is the owner of Labdon Studios, a private music lesson company based in Winnipeg, offering voice, piano, guitar, ukulele, and songwriting lessons. In addition, she is a voice and piano teacher at Linden’s School of Fine Arts. Nikita is an active member of the local performing arts community and has had the pleasure of performing Opera, Jazz and Musical Theatre in Winnipeg and abroad.
You were at LCS from K-12. How do you think your experience at Linden shaped you into the person you became after those 13 years?
Nikita: Having a Christ-centered education throughout all my years of school allowed me to find my identity in Christ. This belief has influenced my everyday life as I focus my decisions on what God desires, trusting that God has my next steps under control. I also made lifelong friends at Linden; my closest friends today are from LCS.
Do you have favourite memories from LCS?
My involvement in the Performing Arts at Linden was a highlight. I took as many music classes as I could – Band, Jazz Band, Vocal Jazz and Choir- I always loved music. Being part of the musical Bye Bye Birdie was a wonderful and life changing experience. I was part of a community of amazing people who came together for their love of music and performance. It was actually my participation in the musical that led me to pursue music. I was on a completely different path towards medicine, taking all science classes. Performing in the musical showed me where my passion was. I felt fulfilled when I was on stage performing and more connected to God. Before these high school experiences I had never taken voice lessons seriously. I enjoyed it but never thought of it as a career path.
How do you feel the Performing Arts Program at Linden set you up to pursue music in university?
My love of music was fostered by participating in the Performing Arts Program. For instance, I was challenged by our former band teacher, Mr. Pollard, who always believed that students were capable of more. He allowed me to discover my love for Jazz by giving me opportunities to be in the Jazz band as a vocalist and an instrumentalist.
After LCS you completed a Bachelor of Music Vocal Performance, how did that degree shape your next steps?
During my degree I learnt about the arts world and how it works. I had the chance to travel around the world studying music. I went to Oxford and Cornwall in England, New York, and across Canada, meeting lots of people and chasing my dream to perform. Through my entire degree I had a one track mind for performing; Opera and Jazz are my two loves. Teaching was something I was doing on the side but had not considered as a career.
The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways but for a vocalist it must have dramatically changed your life. How did this alter your career direction?
In early 2020, I was on track to get my Masters degree. I was auditioning and performing in roles outside of Winnipeg. Momentum was building and everything was going well. Then the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled. I had to rethink my plans. I was still teaching privately and with Linden’s School of Fine Arts. I started an Instagram account for my company, Labdon Studios. I asked God what my next steps should be and the doors flew open to build my business. With a growing number of students, I now have seven employees teaching for me and I am enjoying running my own company.
How do you still feel connected to LCS?
I feel so privileged to be able to teach at LCS three days a week. I love that I get to come back to the place that formed me into the musician and person I am today and share my passion with the younger generation of musicians.
What does your life look like now? Future plans?
Currently I am teaching lessons at a few different schools, teaching at my studio, managing my business (Labdon Studios), and performing. Later this month I am performing with the Regina Symphony Orchestra as a soloist and with Canzona, a Winnipeg baroque choir.
I am happily married and have a lovely rescue dog, Molly. I love traveling when I can and keeping up with my LCS friends. In the next five years I hope to see my business grow, provide more classes and expand my studio.
Mike and Gail Sirant have three sons that attended LCS for most of their schooling. During their time at Linden, the family left for two years to live in Europe while Mike, who is the longtime men’s hockey coach at the University of Manitoba, had the opportunity to coach in Denmark.
While all three boys had great experiences at the international school they attended in Europe, they were happy when they returned to Canada and LCS.
When they returned, Luke was in Grade 10, Brett was in Grade 8 and Alex was in Grade 6.
It was like they’d never left, says Brett.
“We just seemed to pick up right where we left off. After living in Europe, we came back with a different perspective. We felt fortunate to be able to live in Canada, and to be able to go to LCS.”
In short, the boys had come home.
“There was a real sense of continuity and steadiness,” says Luke. “That familiarity with teachers and students made our return very comfortable”. For Luke, the teachers stood out in two ways. “They not only challenged us academically, but the amount of care they showed for students was incredible.”
Brett says his experience was much the same.
“The teachers held us accountable. They wanted us to develop not only academically, but as people and followers of Christ. They were role models and really helped us grow.”
Alex says the strong community feel at LCS made a huge impression on him.
“There was a real sense of community,” he says. “The teachers were more like mentors – you could talk to them about anything. With the students, everyone was friendly, so you got to know each other well. You were able to share in your struggles, and your walk with Christ.”
Gail, who is an Early Years Physical Education teacher at Linden, says LCS’ Christ-centred education makes a huge difference in the development of students.
“Teachers have the power to pray with kids – it makes a big difference.”
That’s true, adds Alex. “Everyone is comfortable and tight – you’re not afraid to share. Students can get the help they need. An atmosphere like that really helps you thrive.”
Today, all three boys have graduated and are in different phases of their lives.
Luke, 27, who earned his Kinesiology degree at the U of M, is now completing his Masters with a focus on concussion research at the University of Regina. He is also working with undergraduate students as a lab instructor. His plans are to start medical school this Fall.
Brett, 24, is an Engineering graduate currently working as a consultant for the government of Nunavut, while Alex, 23, is in recreation management, looking to develop a career in sports management.
All three – based on the foundation that was laid at LCS – are trusting God to guide them in their careers and life, content in the knowledge that He has a plan for them.
They’re also using what they learned at LCS in their different work settings, doing their best to shine for Christ.
“I hope that people can see Christ in me,” says Brett. “I’m on a bit of an unexpected adventure and am using my teachers’ influences in how I interact with others.”
Luke says he’s doing the same.
“I’m modeling the teaching style I use with my students from the teachers at LCS – their kindness, and emphasis on developing a strong work ethic. LCS was really a foundation to build from.”
Mike says the decision to enroll Luke, Brett and Alex at LCS was one of the best decisions he and Gail have made.
“We’re very proud of our sons. They’re good employees and students, positive contributors to society, and will be good husbands and fathers. We’re grateful for LCS’ Christ-centred foundation. It reinforced the values they were taught at home and has been instrumental in helping them achieve success in their chosen careers, and to be humble, honest, and caring people.
Though he’s ten years removed from attending Linden Christian School, that hasn’t diminished the impact the school had on Blake MacKay’s life. MacKay says he’s happy his parents – who initially enrolled his brother in public school – ultimately chose LCS.
“My brother was at another school, but after seeing the positive effect that LCS had on my education, decided to have both of us attend LCS,” he recalls. “Even though there was a cost associated with sending us to LCS, both my parents and grandparents agreed the cost was well worth it.”
MacKay says the Christ-centered education he received from Kindergarten to Grade 12 played a central role in molding him into the person he is today. “The values that Christ modeled are rooted into the curriculum and everything you do at LCS. Christ’s values are everywhere – in classes; in the activities you do.”
A prime example of how those Christian values were woven into the curriculum was math class, says MacKay. “Our teachers actually talked about tithing – how we were to test God, and that it was a tool for advancing the Kingdom. It was cool how the topic was integrated into class. Not only that, but God was brought into every aspect of school.”
At the same time, the environment at LCS – calm, stable, nurturing yet challenging – was empowering. “I felt safe and comfortable,” says MacKay, who attended LCS from Kindergarten to Grade 12. “Staff turnover was low, so we got to know our teachers. Classes were also smaller, which helped with our studies. And because we were able to follow along with the same group of students from year to year, a lot of us became good friends.”
Then there were the teachers, who modeled Christ in how they treated each student. “Our teachers took a profound interest in our spiritual, personal and academic growth – it was something you could sense, even at a young age,” he says. “They encouraged us to push
further and supported us through the process. It helps your gifts come to the surface.”
In MacKay’s case, his teachers were gifted at identifying his gifts – gifts that were pinpointed by the time he was in junior high (Grades 7 and 8). “They said I had some real strengths in science and encouraged me to develop those strengths. It turned out that they were right.”
After graduating from LCS in 2009, MacKay enrolled at the University of Winnipeg to study science and biochemistry. Four years later, he gained entrance into the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine after graduating at the top of his class with two gold medals – and an entrance scholarship. MacKay then graduated from the Faculty of Medicine after another four years of studies. He has just completed his residency at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in North Bay, Ontario, where he lives with his wife Jenny, who also happens to be a doctor.
At age 28, the former triathlete is poised to use his medical skills for the betterment of the Kingdom. “I’m in family medicine right now, but my focus is likely going to be on sport, family and emergency medicine,” he says. “I also have an interest in serving First Nations and remote communities. I was just up in Sioux Lookout, and the work was empowering and rewarding.”
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Blake is presently preparing to go with Jenny to Cape Town, South Africa. “We’re going there to get some firsthand experience in high-volume trauma and resuscitation,” he says. “We hope to bring these skills back to the emergency centres of Northern Ontario, where patients are typically far away from tertiary care.” Although there’s plenty of adventure in the offing, MacKay says he isn’t stressed in the least. After all, God is in control.
“We’re just going to submit to God and see where He takes us,” says Blake. “As I learned at LCS, God is rooted in everything you do. He has our best interests at heart, so I’m not stressed or worried – I’m excited.” As he looks at all the possibilities in front of him, MacKay says his goals are simple. He aspires to set up a practice in a rural setting, help First Nation communities, start a Christian medical community (wherever he and Jenny put down roots), start a home church and – of course – start a family.
With all those challenges ahead, MacKay says he’s thankful for the solid, Christ-centred foundation that was laid at LCS. “I owe a lot of thanks to my teachers, the staff at LCS and God,” he says. At LCS, I learned how to behave in a Christ-like manner on a daily basis, and
developed a love for people, things that are benefitting me now in medicine. I can’t thank them enough.”
Brent Murray’s path to attending Linden Christian School was different than most. As fate would have it, his grandparents suggested that the 2010 Linden grad – Murray was born with clubbed feet – go to LCS to benefit from a more accepting environment. “My grandparents thought it would be a good idea for me to go there so I wouldn’t get bullied for being different,” recalls Murray. “That’s how I got involved at LCS. It was a relief not to be singled out. I decided to keep going because I enjoyed going to school there.”
The fact that he enjoyed attending LCS was also something of a minor miracle, as Murray wasn’t a Christian. In fact, he didn’t become a Christian until the summer before Grade 12. Murray says the acceptance and love that he received from the teachers, staff and students at LCS played a major role in his eventual decision to follow Jesus. “I had so much support from my teachers. Even though they knew I wasn’t a believer, they still loved and supported
me, and my friends helped me too. No one forced the gospel down my throat, and I really appreciated that.”
Eventually, it dawned on him where all that love and support came from: Jesus. “I went on a walk in Assiniboine Park,” recalls Murray. “During the walk, I prayed, and decided to go all in to follow Jesus. What I didn’t know was that my friends were praying for me on that day at that time. It was such a cool experience. I told my friends about it, and they were overjoyed. Again, the key was that they didn’t force their faith on me – they just loved me for who I was.”
The nurturing environment at LCS also played key role in his development as he progressed in school. Murray eventually got involved in jazz and played with Linden’s jazz band as a bass trombonist. He credits music for helping him cope with adversity during his middle school years. “My mom had to go into hospital with Crohn’s Disease, and the doctors said there was a chance she wouldn’t live through the operation. But because I was able to play music, I was able to vent my emotions through it. Still, it was hard.”
So hard, in fact, that Murray was struggling mightily in his studies – so much so that he was
in danger of falling behind. “I wasn’t doing well in school at all,” he says. “Because we were struggling financially, I got a paper route and mowed lawns to help out. It was the support of my teachers and friends that got me through. One day, I snapped at a teacher, and she took me out into the hall and asked what was wrong. “
Her concern floored young Murray. “Instead of being mad, she asked me if I was safe. Right
then and there, I knew that my teachers were on my side.”
All that love and support was pivotal in young Murray’s development. Instead of becoming angry and bitter about life, he mirrored that attitude in loving and supporting others, particularly troubled youths. “I began working full-time at Camp Arnes and their
wilderness getaway for troubled kids,” he says. “That continued, and I also got involved with an organization called Adventurous Leadership and their youth outdoor project. I’m now working as a wilderness guide for Wilderland Adventure Company taking clients – usually
youth – out on wilderness trips.
At the same time, Murray, 27, has been studying geography at the University of Winnipeg, where he’s excelled in his studies and is now working on his thesis. Brent headed off to Australia on May 29 to gain extra material for his thesis. “I actually received three academic grants for the trip to Australia. I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “As a remote sensing analyst, I’ll be looking at satellite images of a rain forest to track its health and will also be using the data for studies on climate change and cultural ecosystems of Indigenous people in the area.”
As for his future, Murray says his plans are fluid. “I’ll come back home at the beginning of September and will have to do another semester at the U of W,” he notes. “I’ll graduate in January 2020, and through all that will still have the opportunity to work with Wilderland Adventure Company.”
In the meantime, Murray will continue to live out the life-changing faith the he found at LCS.
“I want to model what I saw at LCS. I don’t shove my faith down people’s throats, I just work at being consistent with my actions and loving people regardless of whether they’re a Christian or not. I’ll walk them through things in a loving way, pray for them and plant seeds. It’s their choice to become a Christian. All I can do is be attractive to them with my actions.”
As has been the case for the last 10 years, he’s content to let God lead the way. “Life is a God-led adventure,” he says. “I can see God’s work in every area of my life, particularly when I was younger. I’m just trusting Him moving forward. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but I’m trusting it will work out due to His will.”
In the fall of 2018, LCS Class of 2004 grad Michael Streuber came back to register his five-year-old son for kindergarten. In the span of 14 years, life had come full circle. “It was surreal coming back,” says Streuber, 33, who currently serves as Senior Director of Operations at Youth for Christ Winnipeg. “I felt like I was in school again.”
Unlike his son, Streuber started at Linden in Grade 3. His parents were dissatisfied with the school where he was originally enrolled and made the decision to move him and his sisters to Linden, hoping there would be a marked improvement in the atmosphere and overall quality of education.
“You felt like you were part of a big family,” he says. “I have a lot of positive memories.” Foremost among those memories is how stable the atmosphere was at LCS. “The first thing I remember is the consistency. I basically went to school with many of the same kids from elementary into high school. For the ten years I went there, I knew most of the same students for the whole time. I still connect with some of the people I went to school with over those years.”
His next memory involves the genuine concern his teachers showed for him on a day-in, day-out basis. “The care they showed was a significant thing for me,” says Streuber, who was active in music from Grade 6 through to his graduation. “I wasn’t always perfect, yet they still loved me. And that love and care was genuine. I wasn’t just a student they had to put up with. That came through in how they treated me.”
While the consistency and care resonated with him during his time at LCS, something else made a big impression on him: the school’s Christ-centred approach to delivering education. “Being in chapel, doing worship and praying with people was a very positive experience. At the time, I may not have realized it, but it laid a foundation in me.”
That foundation proved to be of critical importance after Streuber graduated. As is often the case with many high school graduates, he struggled to find his place in the world. After attending Providence College for one year, he enrolled at the University of Manitoba, where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Still searching for his place in life, Streuber took a job at a trucking firm. All the while, he was wondering how he was having an eternal effect on people. Then, his sister called. “She saw a job posting she thought I’d like at Youth for Christ. It turned out to be in a missionary role, which wasn’t exactly what I expected. Still, I spent some time discerning what the Lord was calling me to do and decided to join the mission of Youth for Christ. I stepped out in faith and said yes.”
Eight years later, he’s still with YFC Winnipeg and playing a central role in the organization’s operations. “You know, if I didn’t have that core foundation from LCS, I might have pulled away from Christ – there are a lot of distractions in the world,” he says. “But I had my faith and knew what was important in life.”
Today, that unwavering faith is helping him deal with the daily challenges of youth ministry. “You won’t last long in this type of ministry without it. With youth ministry, the enemy is always trying to derail things and there are always challenges. But I keep my eyes on Christ and stay locked in on my faith. The more you exercise it, the more trust and strength you find.”
Thanks in large part to Linden Christian School, the father of three (and husband of Kimberly) has found his place in life. “It all goes back to the foundational work that was done over the time I attended LCS,” says Streuber. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Now, my son is going to Linden, and so will my other kids. I have total trust and peace because I know the teachers and staff will treat my kids with the same consistency and care I received.”
Chantelle Byrnes vividly recalls her first day attending Linden Christian School back in the late nineties.
“As you might imagine, I had that type of nervousness you get when you start anything new,” she says, noting that she had been home schooled up to Grade 4. “There I was, starting Grade 5 in a new school, and a girl named Laura Jane came bounding up to me and asked me to be her friend.”
Having a friend right away not only put Chantelle at ease – Byrnes has remained friends with Laura Jane to this day, incidentally – but also proved to be a positive precursor of what was to come at LCS. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” she says. “I hadn’t been in a classroom environment, so I just hoped that I’d fit in. It really helped that my classmates and teachers were very friendly. The welcoming environment definitely had a calming effect on me.”
That calming environment proved to be balm to the soul for a young person searching for acceptance and guidance. Byrnes says her teachers went beyond the normal call of duty to create a fostering, friendly environment. “I had Mrs. Haberman for half of Grade 5 and all of Grade 6,” says Byrnes. “She was amazing and really connected well with her students. Again,
she had such a friendly, calming effect on us.”
She adds that the loving, supportive environment promoted at Linden really helped her flourish as a student and person. “There’s a calmness and peace that comes from being in such an environment. It really built me up as a young person and gave me more confidence.”
Byrnes says she knows exactly where that calm feeling of assurance came from, both in good and challenging times. “Looking back, no one’s life is perfect. But at LCS, God was at the center of everything, so no matter what was happening in your life, you could pray and find God. That’s where the calmness comes from. With God at the center, I knew my parents, church community and my teachers were with me. That knowledge really builds into your spiritual formation.”
Above all, the connections that teachers intentionally developed with students were priceless. “Mrs. Haberman actually invited us all (students in her class) to her wedding ceremony – something we all loved. A lot of my teachers also made the effort to make connections outside the classroom.”
That sense of connection is what makes Linden so special and is what brings alumni back, says Byrnes. “That piece of connection to the LCS community is what led me and my husband Jeremy to want to enroll our children here,” says Linden’s current high school resource teacher. “My daughter is now attending Kindergarten at LCS.”
Byrnes says her confidence in Linden is derived from the knowledge that everyone at the school genuinely cares about her child. “I have a lot of confidence in what my daughter is going to receive because I know the quality of the people I work with. I know that everyone cares deeply, has high standards, and that they will hold her to those high standards.”
Not surprisingly, Chantelle’s daughter is loving everything about attending Kindergarten at LCS. “Her teachers have really made a point of developing a relationship with her. It’s clear that she feels valued and affirmed.”
That intentional commitment to fostering relationships, building up children – and using the living word of God in every aspect of school life – is what makes Linden Christian School stand out,”concludes Byrnes, 33, who graduated from LCS in 2004, “As parents, we feel that we’re partnering with people and an organization that we trust. All of us are grounded in the Bible, which connects the whole school as a community. I want truth spoken into my daughter’s life from a Christian perspective and for her to be built up in a supportive, loving environment. I know that will happen at Linden because of my experience.”