Monday, July 20, 2020

Open Letter to the MCA School Community About Re-Opening

July 20, 2020

To our Students, their Parents, our Teachers and Staff Members: 

Under the present Phase 4 re-opening status issued by the State of Illinois, Midwestern Christian Academy is planning to begin classes on campus with the first day of school being scheduled for Monday, August 24, 2020.  After closing out the previous school year with online E-learning, we are anxious to get back together as a school community.  We are grateful for all of the work our teachers and staff did in preparing for and conducting nine weeks of distance learning, but as Christian educators who place a high value on both the spiritual atmosphere of the school environment and on the quality of the academic program, we know there is no substitute for the order and dynamics of classroom learning. 

The security and safety of our staff and students is one of our highest priorities.  The process of developing a plan for re-opening school has taken many hours to develop, has involved the input from multiple sources, requiring discernment to make decisions about re-opening that will keep all of the families of students and staff members safe and healthy. 

Prayer is the Foundation
With information coming from many different sources, the school’s commitment to being a Christian ministry has led to our dependence on prayer during this time of planning and decision making.

Trust in the Lord with your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:7-11 NRSV

 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 NRSV

We trust God to answer our prayers and give us the wisdom and discernment we need as we gather the information we need and make decisions regarding the measures we will take to keep our students, staff members and parents safe during this pandemic.  We believe God answers prayers and encourage every student, parent and staff member to pray for the safety of our campus every day! 

Credible and Reliable Information Sources
During the process of developing plans for the re-opening of school, along with contingency plans to address potential situations which may emerge as this pandemic continues, receiving reliable information from credible sources is an issue of major importance.  Recognizing that this virus brings with it a whole new set of issues, we have determined that our decisions will be based on credible information that is supported by medical research.  Consensus has been reached regarding what is known about the spread of COVID-19 in multiple public and private venues around the world. 

This information is provided to us through various public health agencies including the Federal Centers for Disease Control, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health.  Information affecting decisions we must make regarding how school will re-open this fall is also confirmed for us by individuals within our own school and church communities who are medical professionals and who keep us up to date on any recent development that have been supported by medical research.  

Consultation and Consensus in the Larger Christian School Community
Since we are not a public school, there are many situations and needs that we do not have in common with our local public schools.  Our decisions must be made based on the needs of our students and staff members and reflect what is best for them.  The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is a valuable resource in giving general interpretations and applications of each of the re-opening phases of the state to the schools.  It is up to us to interpret and apply this information to our situation.  

We have much in common with other Christian schools, especially those who minister and serve in other parts of our own city.  Both the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and the Chicago Christian Urban Educators (CCUE) Bright Promise Foundation have provided us with valuable resources and information that is much more relevant and applicable to us.  Through these connections, we are in direct contact with other Christian school leaders and are able to share information and insights which have helped us develop a plan for re-opening that will meet our unique needs. 

Christian Community is Necessary for Success
 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,  make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1-4, NRSV

Putting together a plan to re-open school during a viral pandemic has been physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting.  The responsibility we have for making sure our students are able to learn effectively and grow spiritually is already a daily challenge and the level of responsibility has been greatly increased by the risk, at whatever level it may exist, posed by the uncertainties that still exist surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. 

But MCA is a ministry of Christ’s church, and it is made up of people who are Christ’s followers.  Our common bond in education is the faith we have placed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and that is a trust that is powerful enough to bring about spiritual unity that conquers fear and gives us an abundant life.  In most cases, parents have placed their children in this Christian school because that is how they want their education to be seasoned, with the salt and light of God’s grace through faith in Jesus.  It is why our teachers and staff make the sacrifices they do to work in this ministry. 

This is a time which calls for us to come together in a spirit of unity and in the power of the Holy Spirit and be God’s people.  Our school can do this successfully by trusting God.  We have made a written plan which we hope addresses every possible contingency we may face over the next nine months.  But we have a written Bible that addresses the issues we need to overcome to get through these coming days and weeks and give our students what they need to become the people that God is calling them to be.  Let’s step out on faith, trust God and see what he does.

R. Lee Saunders

Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Time to Pull Together: Spiritual Unity During Difficult Times

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4 

One of the songs that we used to sing at summer Bible camp and in Vacation Bible School was a little chorus called "Down in My Heart."  It started with a verse that repeated the word "joy" four times, so you'd remember it.  The word was embedded in my memory as an outline of the priorities we value as a Christian.  If you have true "joy," that means you put Jesus first, others second and yourself last.  I've always remembered that, and there are multiple places in the Bible which provide corroboration and support for that particular order.

The Holy Spirit is the bond that draws Christians together.  We are in a spiritual family relationship, brothers and sisters in Christ.  In the Baptist church where I grew up, adults would often address each other that way, as "Brother Jim" led the music in worship and "Sister Johnnie" played the piano.  In sixth grade, I had to get used to hearing my homeroom teacher called "Sister Jeannie" at church, because at school, to me, she was "Mrs. Mangum."  The church is a unique spiritual community that brings believers in Christ together in a community that has a shared vision, mission and purpose.  And at Midwestern Christian Academy, where parents have enrolled their children because they share a common vision, mission and purpose for their education, the Holy Spirit brings us together in community that is united by a bond of faith in Jesus as our savior.

Events of this past spring have had a major impact on the operation of our school. Our classroom instruction was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of schools in Chicago on March 16.  At MCA, our administration and staff invested in some quick adapting and planning to continue with whatever means was left to us, mainly electronic communication via the internet.  Our staff put in the extra work that was necessary to provide our students with up to 3 hours a day of live, on-line instruction and additional guided practice helping students meet the expected benchmarks in their core subjects.

Our parents have provided us with both encouragement and feedback from this experience.  We are equipped, if it becomes necessary at some point down the road, to return to a distance learning experience that will be much more organized and polished than what we offered this past spring.  We listened, learned, observed, compared, analyzed and concluded.

We have also prepared our campus and adjusted our schedule and our way of doing things to make it possible for our students to return to school on August 24 to an environment that is academically excellent, spiritually unified and encouraging and physically safe and healthy.  We have had to change our way of doing some things to make this possible.  But our staff desires to lead the way in setting an example of humility, willing to sacrifice personal comfort and preference so that our students can return.  There is no substitute for students gathering together and learning in a classroom environment.  

This is one of those moments when our whole school community needs to "pull together" and be unified in the Spirit so that this works for everyone.  Some routines will be changed, some classes will be different and there will be changes.  Teachers and staff are willing to do what is necessary to make this work.  We are asking our parents to do the same, to seek out a spirit of unity through prayer and be willing to do what will be asked of them and to pitch in and help out when they see a need.

This isn't going to be easy.  But in all of our planning and preparation, above everything else, we place our trust and hope in God.  This isn't a surprise to him.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has in every respect been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV

So let's ring the bell, open the doors and get the school year started.  Here are some ways you can help us out.
  • Join us in approaching His throne of grace on our behalf, asking for mercy and grace to help in our time of need.  
  • We have given hours of prayerful and careful consideration to our planning for the re-opening of school.  Please read the information you are provided and take on a cooperative spirit of unity as you prepare and send your child to school each day.  Please be patient, especially during the first several days of school as students and teachers adjust to new routines which may slow things down and take some adjusting time.  
  • School may look quite different in the fall than it has in the past.  Be prepared and willing to accept changes even though they may not be your preference.  The decisions we must make are to provide for the safety of all of our students. 
  • We have some families for whom the stay-at-home orders last spring have put in a bind.  Can you share some of what God has given you with them so that their children don't have to leave their school as a result of something over which they had no control? 
  • If you have the ability to volunteer and help out, please speak up and let us know. 
  • Information that we receive comes from reliable, medically sound, scientific research-driven sources.  We consider this information prayerfully when making decisions that involve the safety and security of our students and staff.

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.