Esther Tan Gaska ’12
Elementary Dean of Students
HOPE Christian School
Wheaton Major in International Relations and French
Currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
"I have to teach my kids that they, through the power of Christ, can be the light in the darkness of their community."
Wisconsin has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country between its black and white students, according to a 2019 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As the Dean of Students at HOPE Christian School Fortis, Esther Gaska is working to close that gap and help prepare her students for college.
But it’s not easy. The K-8 Christian school in Milwaukee is comprised of mostly low-income students of color who are as much as three grade levels behind their peers. Many of these students would be the first in their families to attend college. To overcome these challenges, Gaska is weaving some of Wheaton’s values into the fabric of HOPE—especially its emphases on strong Christian community and integration of faith and learning. “My job is to guide our staff and students in the pursuit of the 3 C’s—Christ, College and Character,” she says.
“For many of these students, school is where they feel the most loved and where they get to hear about Jesus Christ for the first time,” she says. “These realities make my work very high-stakes—we can’t afford to do it wrong or we leave our kids with a limited future. Therefore, I see my work as a mission and a calling.”
While she loves her work, Gaska acknowledges she has chosen what can be at times a tough profession. When Gaska is filing a report with Child Protective Services or determining the credibility of a suicide threat or breaking up fights, she leans into her Christianity.
“I actually don’t think it would be possible for me to do this without my faith,” she says, “When a student is sent to my office, I have the opportunity to guide their thinking and help build their character into one that reflects and glorifies Christ. I have to model to my students what it means to have Christian grace, mercy, and forgiveness, all balanced with accountability and discipline. I have to teach my kids that they, through the power of Christ, can be the light in the darkness of their community.”