COSTA MESA — When Chris Spurgin walked the halls of Mariners Christian School as a student, it was a lot different.
The private school in Costa Mesa was on Bison Avenue in Irvine. It only offered one class per grade, and there weren't any extracurricular or athletic activities, either.
Much has changed since Spurgin, now 29, attended the school, but the feeling he got of being welcomed as a student didn't change when he came back as a teacher.
"From the moment I stepped on that campus, I was accepted with open arms," he said.
Spurgin came back in fall as the private school's first alumni teacher. The Lake Forest resident attended Mariners when it opened in 1988 for first grade and stayed through sixth grade.
A part of a "Mariners family," Spurgin was the first of four siblings to attend the school.
Plaques and awards bearing his family's surname from their time at the now-K-8 school still hang in the halls, leaving students with questions for their teacher.
Spurgin, who teaches sixth-grade history and seventh- and eighth-grade math, said his students like to ask him about his time at Mariners.
"They ask questions all the time about what was here when I was here," he said. "They love to ask if I've had any of the teachers here."
Being an alumnus has given Spurgin an insider's knowledge of what it's like to be a Mariner, but he acknowledged that it only goes so far.
Being a student is so different nowadays, Spurgin said. His students face more challenges and are busier than he was.
Although much has changed with time, Spurgin said the school's philosophy and core values of Christ-centered education, hasn't and that's one of the reasons he came back.
After graduating from Biola University with a bachelor's in Christian education and getting his teaching credentials and master's from Concordia University in Irvine, Spurgin taught high school at Calvary Chapel Santa Ana for six years.
It wasn't until last year that Spurgin applied to his alma mater. The school's strong reputation and ability to make a difference in the lives of its students drove his desire to work there.
"I feel like the quality of kids here, and the quality of teachers here, is second to none," he said. "For me, it's a privilege to work here."
Now that he is back, Spurgin is teaching the belief that kids will rise to the bar set for them — a philosophy he lived first-hand at Mariners.
Even in first grade, Spurgin said he remembers his teachers challenging him to think beyond what most people believe that age group is capable of.
Spurgin said he has developed the philosophy himself and is continuing the tradition.
"Kids have a very high potential — they're so gifted," he said. "To offer them an opportunity to reach their potential is what teaching is all about."