Thursday, July 2, 2020

God Does Have a Plan for Your Child's Life (Part 1)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28, NRSV

Several years ago, while serving at another school, we had the fortunate circumstance of seeing the enrollment of a class moving from fifth to sixth grade increase to the point where we needed two homerooms and two teachers.  Sixth grade was a busy year that included a year-long history class project and it was also the year that students tested for math aptitude for placement in Pre-Algebra in seventh grade.  So getting the class size a little smaller was important.

Finding a teacher who would be willing to work for the salary we paid was always the first consideration whenever there was a staff opening.  Sixth grade in this particular school was still a self-contained classroom, meaning the homeroom teacher would provide instruction in the core subject areas including Bible, math, science, social studies, reading and English/Language Arts.  The other consideration that always pops up when there is more than one class on a grade level in a Christian school is whether or not parents will be allowed to choose their child's teacher.

God is always faithful when it comes to providing teachers who are committed to their job and willing to work for a salary that is, in most Christian schools, not a lot more than minimum wage when you consider all the work that must be done.  In this case, he provided a teacher who had been a former high school student of mine when I was teaching at a Christian school in another state.   Brought to our area by her husband's job at a time when the public schools in the area were consolidating campuses and laying off veteran teachers, I became aware of her presence and her interest through what appeared to be a random social media post, but which was, of course, the way God chose to answer prayer.  It was a blessing to hire someone I knew, who was trained, fully qualified, had attended Christian school since Kindergarten and was working on a degree as a math specialist.

The sixth grade was blessed that year.  The other teacher was a veteran who was getting ready to retire at the end of the year.  At some point, she'd taught every grade level in the school over the more than 20 years she had served there.  Her specialty was reading and language arts.  She was also very familiar with the history class project for the year.  Both classes would have excellent preparation as they crossed the bridge to the middle school.  At least, that's the way I saw it.  But of course, controversy comes along when you least expect it.  Fortunately, God is able to provide his wisdom and direction when it is needed.

Though the school had a policy which stated parents were not permitted to request a specific child for their teacher when there was a choice, this particular class had never been split prior to sixth grade.  And of course there were parents who felt that if they were paying for it, they should get their preference.  Both teachers, along with the fifth grade teacher, were included in the process to assign the students to the two homerooms based on what we felt would be a good arrangement from a social and academic perspective.

In a Christian school, which is a discipleship ministry, I believe that each teacher who crosses the pathway of each child has been placed in that position because their approach to teaching, their commitment to their students and all of the things that make them who they are will contribute exactly what that child needs to grow and develop and help them get to the point where they know and accept God's purpose for their lives. Decisions like this should be made with prayerful discernment, considering professional observation from an objective perspective by those who will be held accountable for resolving problems and solving difficulties.

I certainly hope that the day will come at MCA when we have a few classes that require being split into more than one homeroom on a grade level.  But even now, as students move from one grade to another, knowing in advance who their teacher will be, I believe that their pathway through their education is being guided by the Holy Spirit, who is giving each child the teacher who has the ability, personality, set of spiritual gifts and academic skills to teach "the whole child."

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.  Romans 8:29-30, NRSV

That's what follows the scripture that I cited at the beginning.  God knows your child intimately.  He is their creator.  He has brought you and your family to this school for a reason in exactly the same way he brought a former student of mine to a previous school for a reason. God does indeed have a plan for their life.  God's Holy Spirit has led you here where their paths will cross with a succession of teachers who have also been predestined, chosen, called and justified by Christ's sacrifice who will, in their own unique way, give that of themselves that will meet the needs of each student who crosses their path.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Teaching Students to Have the Mind of Christ

This is always our basic educational philosophy in a Christian school.  It will be the theme for our 2020-21 school term.  

However, in the presence of mature believers, we do impart true wisdom—not the phony wisdom typical of this rebellious age or of the hostile powers who rule this age. Despite what you may think, these ruling spirits are losing their grip on this world.  But we do impart God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom. Before the ages began, God graciously decided to use His wisdom for our glory.  This wisdom has not been grasped by the ruling powers of this age; if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. But as the Scriptures say, 
"No eye has ever seen and no ear has ever heard and it has never occurred to the human heart all the things God prepared for those who love Him."
God has shown us these profound and startling realities through His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep mysteries of God. Who can see into a man’s heart and know his thoughts? Only the spirit that dwells within the man. In the same way, the thoughts of God are known only by His Spirit. You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit. A person who walks by the Spirit examines everything, sizing it up and seeking out truth. But no one is able to examine or size up that kind of spiritual person, for the Scripture asks, “Does anyone know the mind of the Lord well enough to become His advisor? ”But we do possess the mind of the Anointed One. I Corinthians 2:6-16 The Voice
This is one of those passages of scripture where it seems that the author was looking directly at the world we live in now, and writing to it specifically.  In the sense that God was inspiring the author to write, he was speaking to us with relevance and meaning.  Human intellect has never been powerful enough to overcome the problem which is at the base of all of humanity's problems, and that is sin.  Only God can do that, making these words as relevant for Christians today as they were for the Corinthian church to whom they were written.  When the church relies on the Holy Spirit, God reveals his will.  That's the difference between our definition of "education" and the world's definition of it.  
Developing a Distinctively Christian Worldview
When you send your children to a Christian school, one of the goals that set us apart from other forms of education comes directly out of this passage of scripture.  We frequently reference the phrase, "helping children develop a distinctively Christian worldview."  Many of the elements of that objective are found in this one passage of scripture.  The "world," meaning the philosophical foundations which drive our society and culture, sees the lifestyle that is produced by submission to the principles and values of the creator God we worship because we believe that what he wants to give to us is better than what we can come up with on our own.  
The prevailing philosophy in the western, American culture in which we live is a humanistic view that acknowledges the human intellect as the highest form of intelligence in the universe.  And according to that belief, education is the key to resolving all of the problems of humanity.  So the public education system that we have in this country has as one of its goals the salvation of humankind through education.  That's been the predominant view for at least a century now, yet education has clearly neither solved any of the more prevalent problems in our society nor can it point to any real progress in doing so.  Whatever progress we might have thought we've made has paled when placed against the dramatic backdrop of events which have occurred since mid-March.  It has become quite clear that human intellect has failed, and that only God has the power through his spirit to resolve these problems. 
The priority for our little Christian school, one of the few still remaining in the heart of this huge city, is to train our students to listen to God, be redeemed by the blood of Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  "Blessed are the Peacemakers," said Jesus as he enumerated a set of core values that become part of the character of spirit-filled people, "for they shall be called sons of God."
There is Value in Academic Achievement
Many people, even parents who have enrolled their children in a Christian school, tend to look past the academic achievement of the students.  We do not believe that human intellect alone is capable of resolving human problems like poverty and racism.  But that doesn't mean we don't place appropriate value on the quality of an education.  The more we learn, the better capable we are of understanding who God is and who we are.  Who knows us better than God, who created us?  Education is one of the main functions of the church, a process through which God's wisdom is revealed to us in a systematic, orderly way.  It provides us with the means to interpret the revealed wisdom and knowledge of God in a way that puts us in a position to be salt and light.  
A person who walks by the Spirit examines everything, sizing it up and seeking out truth. So in our Christian school, we challenge our students to achieve the highest academic goals possible at their age and to work to do their best as "unto the Lord."  Look, compare and see how our students perform when it comes to measuring what they have learned and the ability they have gained to practically apply it.  The world needs people who understand how to take the wisdom and knowledge given to us by God in his written word and not be afraid to exercise the kind of leadership that, more than any human effort, brings the very Spirit of the living God right into the middle of the problem.  
An Environment Where the Truths of Scripture are Models on Display
Your local public school is a microcosm of the community from which the students come.  What that means is that within the walls of a building where a student spends from seven to nine hours a day depending on how involved in extra-curricular activities they are, children from as young as 4 in some cases, 5 in most, up to 18 are exposed to whatever comes through the door with the rest of the student body.  Most of what they encounter will be something for which they have not been prepared at home.  And in many cases, if they come from a home environment that doesn't conform to the influences of the social norm, they will be ridiculed, tormented and made the victims of someone's derision or insecurity.  
That philosophy that I mentioned earlier, the one that dominates our culture, including its educational institutions, seeks to make converts.  When you think "school," the content that comes to your mind is learning how to calculate math problems, learning to read words, phrases and sentences, learning how to spell and communicate in written form, learning about George Washington's presidency and the impact of World War 2 on America, and making calculations in order to get a chemical reaction from a drop of sodium in a beaker of water.  But that's only part of it. 
For seven hours a day, part of what your child will also be taught, in an authoritative manner designed to mold and shape their "worldview" will include acceptance of moral principles which are based on human reason, leaving out any acknowledgement or mention of God, or the Bible.  They will be taught a subjective view of right and wrong, values based on personal experience and feeling which, for the most part, reject Christian principles and deny the existence of God or claim that the idea of an all-powerful creator is a product of human reason without scientific explanation.  
"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy because I am holy."  I Peter 1:13-16 ESV
We're certainly not perfect, and when kids get together, because they lack maturity and haven't learned quite yet how to treat others, it is up to us to model and teach that to them.  A Christian school is a place where parents can send their students and expect that their intellectual ability will be challenged, their spiritual life will be discipled and fed, and they will be in a social atmosphere that sees each one of them as a special creation of God, loved by him equally and treated by us as equals.  They should be able to come together here, learn how to get along with their peers despite differences, feel safe and loved, understand that they will receive discipline to correct what's wrong and praise to reinforce what's right.  The school's staff needs to be color blind, but also able to discern and understand that most kids have already developed sensitivity to racial and ethnic differences and a sense of security and acceptance needs to be present.  
A Christian School is Worth the Sacrifice
There are several generations of Christian school graduates out there working and changing the world around them.  There are no guarantees and of course, not every student responds or appreciates everything they are given when it comes to Christian school.  But most certainly do.  Christian character development is certainly easier when your church ministers to your family to help you with it and the same thing happens in a Christian school, especially since your children will spend far more time in school than they will spend anywhere else outside your home while they are growing up.  
Midwestern Christian Academy has been here for over 60 years, and we have generations of students who have left here with the character and the tools they need to make a difference for Christ in the world.  We have graduates making a difference as policemen on the streets of Chicago, lawyers in the courtrooms, business owners who serve their customers with integrity and homemakers who are raising their children to understand what it means to be a peacemaker and believe in God.  

Monday, June 8, 2020

Making a Difference Now

There have been many times over the 30-some-odd years that I have been involved in the ministry of Christian education when I've thought that we needed a reminder of why we are here and what we can do.  Events of the past several months have underlined exactly why we need Christian schools and why those of us who work in them need to refresh and energize our commitment to providing an education for students that leads them to become critical thinkers and capable of seeing themselves as spiritually gifted servants of God who are called, regardless of their career field, to go out and make a difference in the world.

We live in a culture and society that, for the most part, now believes it is capable of resolving all of its problems through the power of its own intellect. It accepts a basic premise that the human intellect is the highest power in the universe and if it is properly trained, through education, unlocks knowledge of human behavior and the operation of the universe through pure science leading to the creation of a utopian society.  That's an idea that goes all the way back to ancient Greek philosophers but which was pushed into American society and culture by the progressive education movement around the turn of the twentieth century.

Taking advantage of the "religious neutrality" enforced upon public education by various court rulings over the years, the progressive education movement replaced the influence of the Christian church, particularly the Protestant side of American Christianity, out of the schools and replaced it with "secular humanism", which is now the dominant educational philosophy in this country.  Christians began to notice the shift in the mid-1950's when it was too late to reverse the course.  By then, the universities had been turning out "progressive" teachers steeped in humanist philosophy and practice for several decades.  So churches began to start Christian schools, based on Biblical principles.

"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  I Corinthians 1:25 ESV

"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.   The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one.  'For who has understood the mind of the Lord to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."  I Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV

Human intellect has had a tough time with this viral pandemic.  For all that we know about the human body, the best that medical science has to offer has not yet produced a treatment for symptoms, a cure, or a vaccination to prevent COVID-19.  That it will eventually do so is fairly certain, but in the meantime, it has taken 400,000 lives in just three months, over 100,000 in this country alone.

Beyond that, human intellect has been unable to solve the problems that lie at the core of the social upheaval that has occurred following the death of George Floyd.  We have the best educational institutions in the world and yet the racial and ethnic diversity of America is still the primary source of unresolved social problems that are at the root of "institutional racism," including poverty.  We've spent decades tinkering with the curriculum in the public schools and doing everything from trying to achieve a racial balance in enrollment to cutting back on core elements of English-Language Arts, Civics and American History, replacing them with humanist sociology.  Looking at where we are now and what has happened in recent years, and the past couple of weeks, the effort has not met with success and it has also led to a decline in the academic effectiveness of the schools.

When things happen that upset the normal course of life, like a viral pandemic or a social upheaval over racial prejudice and inequality, our students need to know that Christians are peacemakers and the church is a place of peace where people are united.  Here, the Apostle Paul told the Christians in the church in Colossae, there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."  Here is where people come together, united in Jesus.  That's quite a high standard to hold, but that's who we are and we need to teach our children that the church, and by extension their school, is a place where people of all racial backgrounds are both welcome and accepted.

School is a place of misery for many children and youth, not so much because they get bored with the content, but because the social experimentation that has occurred under the current dominant educational philosophy has failed to resolve the fallen nature of humanity.  The vacuum that has been created is filled with the shortcomings of human nature and kids become victims of insults, violence, and a general lack of order.

Reflecting the church's ministry, our Christian school, MCA, should be a place where we put into practice the kind of spiritual unity that resolves problems which human intellect cannot resolve.  While we hope that what our students learn is something they will eventually take with them and be part of the solution in the future, the environment we offer here at school should reflect the unity of the Christian community that Paul speaks about when addressing the Colossians.  If our school community teaches dependence on the Spirit's guidance and models the love of Jesus our students will experience the blessings of unity.  It starts small, but it grows.

Students whose families have experienced the injustice of racial discrimination should find acceptance, peace, and security in their Christian schools.  Students whose parents are police officers and have experienced the trauma that recent circumstances have caused should be able to come to school and find the same things.  Schools should offer security, not fear, order, not confusion, peace, not conflict.  We put love for others ahead of taking care of our own needs.  We have to get this right in our churches and in our school so that our students see what it looks like. Our job is to love others in Jesus name and that will glorify God and testify to Christ as our savior and Lord.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Most Unusual End to a School Year Ever

We're two weeks away from the end of school.  This is most definitely the most unusual end to a school year that I have ever experienced.  By now, if we'd been in class, we'd be seeing the restlessness of students as they wrap up their studies, completing all of the objectives in their core subjects, sensing that freedom is just around the corner.  But our students have been home now for almost as long as the summer break lasts.  The E-learning will end, we will hand out awards to our students, report cards will come out and students will be ready to move to the next grade, but the environment won't change.  One of the good things that may emerge from this stay at home experience is that a much higher percentage of our students will be more than ready to start school in the fall.  I'm sure their parents will be.

Thank You Parents!

 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

We are very grateful for the many compliments, kind words and thank you's we have received from our parents on behalf of the work that our staff has done during this closure.  I think our teachers did an outstanding job turning things around over the course of just a couple of days and getting ready to go to E-learning.  We've made some tweaks and adjustments as needed.  We are still assessing the progress we have made but it has been well worth the effort to keep our learning progress moving forward during this time.  There is a lot of evidence to indicate we have come close to the outcomes we expected at the beginning of the school year.

We always speak about the partnership with parents that is one of the core values of a Christian school.  In online learning, it becomes a vital part of our ability to be successful in achieving the expected outcomes.  Almost all of our students are regularly participating in the E-learning experience at our school because of that parent partnership and that's not something very many schools can claim.

Commitment to a Biblical Theme

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 NRSV

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,[k] 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve[l] the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23 NRSV

Through the influence of our membership in the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), we picked up on a theme to help carry us through this period of E-learning.  At the time, we were not expecting to be out of school for the rest of the year.  Still, we needed to send a message of encouragement and even though this was not something anyone was prepared to do, we wanted to do our best.  The theme, "Finish Strong," comes from the verses cited above in Colossians.  Our philosophy of education includes the belief that our school is a ministry, supporting the discipleship function of the church.  Our teachers are committed to the service of the Lord by serving their students and families.  So we do not look at this time away from school as a loss, we see it as an opportunity.  We are not writing it off, we are working to get as much out of it as we can.

The Effectiveness of E-Learning

A novelty when it first came out, online education was initially thought to be a wave of the future and perhaps the way that most students would receive their education in the future.  But its shortcomings came to the surface quickly.  It is an efficient means of delivering instruction, and there are those who are willing to trade off a higher level of academic achievement for the convenience and efficiency it offers.  But those who take the education of children seriously and who believe academic excellence is one of the more important expected outcomes, it is not a sustained, primary means of instruction. 

During the nine weeks we have spent in on-line learning, we have been able to introduce objectives in basic skills in language arts and mathematics on the elementary level and reach most of the expected benchmarks in core subjects for students in middle school.  We have achieved this mainly because our elementary teachers used Google Meet or Zoom for live instruction and kept track of student progress, including one-on-one sessions with students who needed additional support. We will not be able to have a complete assessment of our progress, but we can do some educated guessing.  We have our scores from last year and we can examine the progress students have made in the core subjects this year to guess where we are when the school year ends.  If we'd taken the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, I think we would be pleased with our scores.  I will send home an assessment evaluation for each of our grades before the year is over and that will have to suffice as an assessment.

And When School Opens in August...

Under the current plan, we will be able to open school in the fall.  Here are some things you need to know about what that is going to look like.

Decisions regarding steps our school takes to re-open will be based on the best factual information provided to us by sources that rely completely on the best medical information that is available.  We are accepting a very big responsibility for the safety and security of our students.  That's something we do every day, but this viral pandemic has created a new, serious risk.  It is our desire to provide a learning environment for our students with as few risks as possible and in order to do that, we need to depend on reliable information.

Since what we refer to as "normal" is now changing rapidly, I will use the term "traditional" to refer to the kind of school experience we had prior to this pandemic.  We want to provide our students with as much of their "traditional" school experience as possible.  We can do that by combining common sense to recommendations that come from the experts with what we know works in our school's learning environment.  We take this responsibility seriously.

We will have some practices and procedures that are different, following the advice and guidelines we have received.  There are some obvious things that will change.  For example, we have installed hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere with no-touch feature.  Just put your hand underneath.  We're fortunate that many of our classrooms have sinks.  We will do the social distancing, check temperatures, have gloves and wear masks and use our common sense to put practices into place from the recommendations and guidelines.  We take our responsibility to keep our students safe every day very seriously.  We want school to be a place where you would be comfortable sending your children.

E-Learning is an option that will continue in a modified form.  Now that we've had some experience, our staff will be trained in providing e-learning in the event that there is another long-term closure, or that we have students who must be quarantined because they've been in close contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19.  We will have the ability to offer e-learning even for short-term absences.  Right now, it's something no one wants to think about.  We are also considering having an E-learning option for families who want to educate their children at home.  Right now the obstacles to that are the costs associated with doing it full time (right now apps and internet time are free but that won't last!) and whether we can offer the same quality academic experience that students get in our classrooms.  ISBE hasn't authorized it beyond temporary use yet.

So, we will get through this most unusual ending to the school year and we are most definitely looking forward to the first day of school...

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Christian School Philosophy and Online Learning

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not percieve it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  The wild animals honor me , the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.  Isaiah 43:19-21

A recent webinar presenter made the comment that what has happened to education in America since the middle of March is really not online education, it is "educational triage."  I like that phrase.

The fact of the matter is that there are few schools that were prepared to make a sudden transition from providing education in a classroom to suddenly having to use whatever tools they can find at their disposal to continue to keep their students on track to complete the expected benchmarks by the end of the school year.  So in many ways, what we are doing is, indeed, "triage."

Online education has been around long enough now for its advantages and disadvantages to be clearly known.  While research is still being done, it has widespread use at the college level with students who have a higher level of self-discipline and maturity necessary to make it work for them.  Even at that level, there are still questions remaining about the quality and effectiveness of the instruction.  In elementary and secondary school, there are multiple factors that must come together in order for students to succeed in achieving the expected outcomes.  A high level of parental involvement is required.  Students also must still develop basic skills apart from dependence on technology in order to succeed.  But now, at least temporarily, almost all American students have been pushed into online education of some sort or another. 

It seems easy enough for a teacher to simply switch over from the classroom to a video app and just "teach."  But it's not.  The ease of conversion to online education is as much of a myth as the once-popular notion that it would one day become the primary means for delivering school instruction because it is less expensive to operate, doesn't require the maintenance of buildings that are expensive to operate and the environment is whatever venue a student chooses in which to learn. 

It is a fact that some students are capable of learning up to their potential in an online educational setting.  It is also a fact that the vast majority of students are not, for almost as many reasons as there are students.  The situation we are in at the moment is how to take what has been handed to us and make it work long enough to get us through this pandemic.  That may be just the nine or ten weeks since schools closed March 16 or it may be until there is viable testing, treatment and a vaccination against COVID-19.  And that will only last until the next pandemic comes along. 

An Essential Human Element
Direct, live instruction is the "gold standard" in on-line education. Technology opens the door for a lot of possibilities, but most online educators will tell you that there is nothing that can replace live, face to face interaction with a teacher.  Within the teacher-student relationship are dynamics that make learning possible.  There are some intangible elements of a student's brain development and emotional and social maturity that just won't happen if their only interaction in their educational experience is with a machine.

The amount of time that can be spent in a class setting using a video streaming app varies with the age and grade level of the students.  It is similar to the amount of time a teacher would spend in direct instructional time in a classroom.  It averages about 90 minutes of math, language arts, phonics and reading instruction per day for elementary students to about 15 minutes a day in each core subject for secondary students.  The difference is that guided and independent practice, which also takes place during classroom time, now takes place after the students have logged out of zoom or meet.

The Main Thing
The scope and sequence of the curriculum in a Christian school is based on belief in the existence of God and use of a pedagogy which incorporates what God has revealed about the nature of human intellect, behavior and free will.

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12, ESV 

The acquisition of basic intellectual skills is directly associated with brain development so our pedagogy is designed to help students develop skills that become "learning pathways".  I remember one of my education professors in college saying that the best thing you can do for your students is to facilitate their ability to take what they have learned and put it to use in a practical way so that they can earn a living and interact with society and so they can connect with the Holy Spirit and keep growing in their relationship with God.  "Give them a Bible, a pencil and a piece of paper and tell them to go figure it out," he said.  And they will, if you've given them the skills they need to read, interpret, discern and think critically, and to express themselves verbally and through written communication. 

Research has discovered a real thing called "technology fatigue" in children who spend an inordinate amount of time on electronic devices.  This real thing actually hinders the learning process because it interferes with brain development in areas involving written expression and communication, being able to focus attention for more than just a few minutes at a time and affects decision-making and critical thinking skills or, as we sometimes refer to it, "common sense."  It also slows down and affects emotional and social development and leads to the inability to relate to peers, poor social skills and immature behavior.  Many online schools have discovered that requiring students to complete a percentage of their assignments the "old fashioned way," using "pencil and paper" strategies, gets them off the device and leads to the development of the expected skills.  Who'd have thought, huh?  ;-)

Temporary, But...  
Prior to this pandemic, we'd heard talk about these kinds of possibilities but few schools ever had to prepare for long term absences.  In Chicago, we might have a week or maybe 10 days we'd miss due to a major blizzard or week of polar vortex, but this was a new experience.  At MCA, we had some advantages which have helped us get through this time perhaps a little better off than we might have been otherwise, or in comparison to many other schools for which this has been a monumental burden, just because of their size.

  • We have a strong instructional program that plans to achieve mastery of about 85% of the expected benchmarks prior to the end of the third quarter.  
  • We don't just check off a list of tasks completed.  We want our students to aim a high goals and achieve them and mastering the necessary skills is more important than getting to the end of the textbook.  
  • As a private, non-public, Christian school, we've been given a lot of independence to do what we see is necessary for our students rather than having to follow a lot of protocols and directives from people who know nothing about our school, its students or its mission and purpose.  
  • We started quickly, have adapted to our perceived needs along the way and we have engaged parents who have made the education of their children a priority.  So we can look at this as an opportunity rather than write off the school year.  
During this pandemic, MCA has been developing a plan for long-term online and distance learning in the event we ever face a situation like this in the future.  We also have developed, and in place, a plan for returning to school in an environment that aims to keep students and parents safe from the transmission of this pandemic.  

It is our privilege to serve you, by which we are blessed by the Holy Spirit. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Kingdom Educator:"Step Up and Support Your Child's Christian School" from April 7, 2020

This article was originally published in the blog, The Kingdom Educatior  It can be found at  It has been posted here with permission.  
As this pandemic crisis has gripped the country, closed schools and businesses everywhere and pushed people inside their homes, there are few corners of any community that have been left untouched.  Even churches have had to go to the internet to provide worship opportunities for their congregations.  There are a lot of changes which we all hope will be temporary, though instead of bApeing overwhelmed by it all, we need to look for new opportunities that we didn’t notice before.  When we are overwhelmed, well, that’s what faith is for.
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.  In the world you face persecution.  But take courage.  I have conquered the world!  John 16:33 NRSV
The observations we are making here may be general, but knowing Christian schools like we do, and being familiar with many school leaders in many states, we feel confident that what you read here will apply to your child’s Christian school.
Most Christian schools operate on limited resources and are largely dependent on tuition and fees and all of that annoying fundraising to pay their bills and provide for their students.  They also depend on teachers, administrators and staff with a mature Christian faith who see their schools as ministries and their work as a spiritual calling so they make a personal sacrifice when it comes to salaries and benefits, earning on average just a little over half of what their public school counterparts make in similar positions.  They are motivated by the desire to see children grow and mature in their Christian faith and become kingdom leaders.  
The Christian school your children attend is not just an educational institution, it is a ministry that follows the pattern of discipleship laid out in scripture.  Because its basic educational philosophy acknowledges the existence of God as the creator of the universe, it also acknowledges that what God has revealed about himself and his nature in the Bible also reveals characteristics and aspects of his human creation that form the foundation of learning.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow, it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12, NRSV
Let’s just be honest here.  Is there something more important to you in the growth and development of your child than their spiritual well-being?   Do you really want to place them in a school where the educational philosophy doesn’t acknowledge the existence of God and where the prevailing social atmosphere resists those who do?
You’re also not sacrificing academic achievement when you put your child in a Christian school.  The classrooms may not be fully equipped with all the technological bells and whistles that money can buy but there’s a massive amount of research which shows those bells and whistles aren’t moving the needle on improving learning.  There’s also a massive amount of research to show that students in Christian schools succeed in achieving accelerated benchmarks and objectives compared to state and national standards and tend to do significantly–yes, I will use that term–significantly better than their peers in the public school system over the thirteen to fifteen years they spend in school, from Pre-kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade.  Ask your child’s Christian school to pull out their test scores and other assessments and measurements of academic achievement, no matter what school or where, and you’ll see it.
Local church ministries and international missions ministries would look considerably different today if not for the personnel within them who are the “products” of Christian schools.  But that’s not the only reason they exist, and not the only place they have influence or where they serve.  From the list of Christian school graduates I know personally, I can point to individuals serving in local, state and in the federal government, including several members of Congress and the Senate and their staff members, including the Chief of Staff to the Senate Majority Leader.  The Executive Vice-President of Technology services for a major Eastern US bank is a Christian school graduate who was under 30 years of age when he was hired.  A Harvard graduate who committed to serve with Teach for America, the majority partner in the firm of the legal counsel for the state of Maryland, a county supervisor in Nevada.  The point is that attending a Christian school doesn’t limit opportunities for students.
So what am I getting at here?  
The current crisis in which we find ourselves is going to have a negative impact on Christian schools across the country, including the one your child attends.  Some parents are already in financial difficulty, and continuing to pay tuition might be out of the question for some families for an extended period of time.  Most Christian schools are marginal enough that a downturn in enrollment, even a small one, may force downsizing, loss of services offered or in some cases, closure.  Schools that aim to provide an education to students for the purpose of Kingdom advancement are in a spiritual battle with an enemy whose aim is to shut them down.  This crisis may bring about factors beyond the control of the schools that endanger their continued existence.
Fortunately, we have a powerful God who sustains and encourages us.  And within the ranks of each school are those families who understand what a blessing it is to have their children in a Christian school and who understand the potential outcome.  You are the army that God has already put in place to help your Christian school stay strong.  You need to step up and help.  Your help shouldn’t be conditional on your personal preferences.  It should be motivated by love and by the recognition of what your child’s Christian school is working to achieve as its mission and purpose and the future impact it will have on students not yet even born.  So step up!
  1.  Schools have been hit hard during re-enrollment and recruitment season.  March, April and May are the months when most new students enroll and when schools have current students re-enroll.  If you are still working and you have the means, there’s no reason to delay.  Go ahead and re-enroll.  Yes, without even knowing about your child’s school, I’ll tell you that it is a better option for them than anything any public school can offer.  So put those bucks down and help out.
  2. Surely you hang out with people in your church who have children, or neighbors or relatives that do.  Become one of your school’s chief recruitment officers.  Word of mouth is the leading way to new student enrollment.  You’re enjoying a benefit and a blessing that you may take for granted.  Don’t do that.  Share it with others.
  3. If you are having difficulties, I can say with confidence that your school will work with you.  One of the sure signs that your school considers its work a ministry and not a business is that the last thing they want to do is disrupt your child’s education at a time when you’re family income is uncertain, through no fault of your own.  Not even knowing who or where they are, I can confidently say that you don’t have to worry about the rest of your child’s school year.  They’ll take care of you.
  4. If God has blessed you, remember that others are suffering and dealing with uncertainty.  Can you help?  Ask if your school has a tuition assistance fund available to help others who are furloughed, laid off or simply had their job eliminated.  Many Christian schools are also helping by pooling resources and providing food assistance and other supplies.  Well, isn’t that what you’d expect?
  5. Make sure your child is participating in whatever online or e-learning experience your school is offering.  Encourage your teachers, they have had to make a difficult adjustment in the way they teach and they are putting in more work than usual to make this happen for you.  Nothing does more to encourage someone else than a note of appreciation and acknowledgement of the work they are putting in on behalf of your children.
  6. Include your school in your daily prayer time.  Put them on whatever prayer list  you can, your church, home group, Bible study, someone else’s church.
Do this now.  Today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

E-Learning + Applied Mathematics = Fun!

With schools closed and students learning from home via the internet, mathematics for middle school students at Midwestern Christian Academy has adapted and taken on a more practical, applied form that it usually has in the classroom.  Students in Sajid Chohan's sixth grade general math, seventh grade Pre-Algebra and Eighth grade Algebra 1 classes now have some very practical ways to apply the concepts they are learning in class.  From measuring the height of their house using shadows that fall on the ground to calculating exactly how much it costs to make a meal for your family, Mr. Chohan's on-line math lessons teach the required curriculum benchmarks at the same time they illustrate the practical use of their knowledge while they are doing something at home, like cooking.

Using a video demonstration of the practical use of the math skills being taught in class is not a new thing for students in Mr. Chohan's classes at MCA.  It's a technique he's used for a long time to capture students' interest in math, illustrate exactly how they can use it and help them develop usable skills that will help them do well in high school and do exactly what you want math skills to do--save money.  In addition to that, the byproduct of a class session, in many cases, is edible.  So home learning means that doing a math lesson can be combined with a simple household task like making dinner.

After students complete the video project, they participate in an on-line live video class session where the specific concepts unique to their grade level math course are taught.  That includes sixth grade general math, seventh grade Pre-Algebra and eighth grade Algebra 1.  Of course, if parents want to participate, they can skip the class session and just follow the instructions on the video lesson.

If you'd like to see a sample of Mr. Chohan's cooking, or video math lessons, click the link here and pick your favorite.