Monday, August 31, 2020

Not the Week We Planned, But Still Counting Blessings

On Monday and Tuesday, our students came back excited and happy to be back and school, but their parents appeared to be even more joyous.  We spent multiple hours over the summer planning for what we knew would be a very different and unusual school year, but at least we were here and able to conduct classes face to face. We are weary from trying to navigate through this viral pandemic, wondering what surprises are waiting tomorrow after we've experienced today's trials.  

We did not expect to become involved in contact tracing and E-learning for all students the first week of school.  But like everything else involved with this viral pandemic, we had to initiate procedures for handling a potential contact with a case of COVID-19 the second day of school.  

Our procedures worked well.  We were able to make the announcement and conduct a parent meeting via zoom that evening, got everyone involved tested the next day and had two full days of E-learning as the testing results came back.  The news turned out to be all good, confirming that the procedures we have in place work very well and accomplish their purpose and providing us with answered prayer and assurance that God is, indeed, watching over our campus. 

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses....

There is a perspective that can be placed with all of this.  Last week, many friends of mine who live along the gulf coast in Southeast Texas, where we lived for over 20 years, spent their week boarding up windows and preparing to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Laura, which turned out to be one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the gulf coast in decades.  Though some parts of Texas got lots of wind and rain, Lake Charles, Louisiana was directly hit by this category 4 hurricane.  Schools there will not be opening for some time, maybe not before Christmas in some cases, because the damage was catastrophic.  We need to thank God that our brush with the virus worked out well and turn our attention to praying for and looking for ways to help people in Southwestern Louisiana.  

"Let us therefore draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

This will not be the last time we have to do contact tracing, quarantine or testing of someone in our school community.  Until medical science gets this under control, either through testing and isolation or by coming up with a useable vaccine, there will be other instances where someone must quarantine or get testing and some students may wind up spending time in E-learning as a result. Hopefully, since we have followed guidelines and grouped students into cohorts, it will not require closing the whole school down again.  But we always have the ability to find strength through prayer and we can always take comfort in knowing that God is watching over us, protecting us and knows exactly what we need when we need it.  This is a great time for our students to get an object lesson in the power of prayer.  

Please pray for the people of Southwest Louisiana.  On top of everything else, they now have the aftermath of a hurricane to deal with.  They need to have some mercy and grace directed their way. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Insights Into Midwestern Christian Academy's Decision to Open for Classes August 24

 The doors at MCA will open to students on Monday, August 24 for the first time since classes were sent home to do online learning on March 16.  We're still in the middle of a viral pandemic, though in both Chicago and Illinois, the numbers have gone down considerably since the peak last April.  Many considerations were taken into account in our decision-making process to open back up this fall.

Faith in God and Belief in the Power of Prayer  

As a Christian school, we believe in the power of prayer and that God provides both guidance and protection as an answer to prayer, and as information was received from multiple sources for the purpose of making this decision, we depended on that guidance for the ability to discern truth from error when making this decision.  Today, members of Midwest Bible Church came to the school after the Sunday service, praying for all of our staff and our students who will gather there tomorrow, adding the element of God's protection to the discernment already provided.  

 Therefore, since 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 one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16 CSB

As multiple sources of information were provided and considered, decisions were made prayerfully, asking God for discernment to determine facts that would lead to practices which would protect students and staff from infection, allowing us to open the school in complete compliance with state and city health department guidelines and orders.  We've also prayed for God to keep those who come to school each day safe and trust in his power and presence to accomplish his will.  And that, very simply, is why we are opening on August 24. 

Compliance With the Law

In discerning exactly how to open and what procedures are necessary for the protection of our students, we are following the guidelines developed for COVID-19 through medical science, distributed by the Centers for Disease Control, the state and city boards of health and the recommendations of key hospital and medical care entities which provide accurate health data.  

  • All students and staff will wear face protection.
  • All students and staff will practice social distancing everywhere in the building. 
  • Handwashing, hand sanitizing and general health safety practices will be elements of daily instruction until they become routine habits. 
  • The building will be cleaned and disinfected several times each day. 
  • Movement between classrooms by students is limited to only that which is absolutely necessary.  Students are grouped into "cohorts" with group size fitting the footprint of the classroom to which they have been assigned.  
  • Wellness checks at home and at school, including a daily screening and temperature check, will be performed.  Students with suspicious symptoms or a fever will remain at home until a negative test is established or the symptoms have been resolved for more than 24 hours.  
These measures have a well-established track record of preventing the spread of coronavirus and are supported by current, up-to-date medical research.  

Under the current phase of the Illinois emergency act related to the pandemic, schools are permitted to open with these measures in place and with limits on the size of gatherings and class sizes.  MCA is in compliance with all of these measures and is opening in accordance with the conditions of the current phase for our region.  

See Romans 12:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-17 for Biblical principles related to this specific matter.  If we are teaching our students to be obedient to God's word, then so must we be obedient to it.

Considerations in Our Own Unique Situation

While our local public schools, along with many other school systems around the state and the country, have determined that it is safer for them to keep their students in an online learning situation, we have based our decision based on our own school community.  We received the support of an overwhelming number of the members of our school community in a recent survey.  Over 85% of our parents favor re-opening, leading us to offer both a face-to-face classroom experience and E-learning for those who prefer to keep their kids at home for a little bit longer.  

Class sizes in the public schools are too large to effectively "social distance" students in most of their classrooms.  Our class sizes don't overwhelm our facility, and the caps we placed on our numbers allowed us to accommodate our numbers.  Our class size limits now are smaller than they were prior to the pandemic, but the classes we have will fit within the classrooms with the ability to distance safely.  If our classes had been much larger, we may have had to consider a "hybrid" plan to keep from turning away students but at the present time, the balance between students who will be on campus and those who will be E-learning allows us to accommodate everyone who wants to come to school.  

Most Christian schools across the country have similar circumstances.  They can accommodate their students and the familiarity that exists between families and the school allows for much tighter control of circumstances than the public schools may be able to exercise over their students.  There are many advantages to being small, and this is turning out to be one that is significant during a time of need. 

Value Placed on Academic Achievement

MCA places the highest value on our Christian identity and atmosphere, but we also place a high priority on academic achievement.  Our students achieve mastery of academic benchmarks at a much higher percentage than their counterparts in the public school system, even those students in selective enrollment and honor programs or academic charter schools.  E-learning at home served as a stop-gap measure as we figured out how to navigate during a viral pandemic, but it can't replace what happens in one of our classrooms.  Our most recent standardized achievement test results indicate over 90 percent of MCA students meet the expected student outcomes in mathematics, reading and language arts, and an even higher percentage in social studies and science.  That's 40% higher than the top achieving "scholastic" public school in our part of the city and ranks among the top-performing religious-based private schools in our area. 

We have no control over how this virus will spread and whether or not that will affect the operation of our school down the road.   We are praying that the worst is over and that we can remain in school without interruption throughout the school year.  We see this window of opportunity as a gift and we're grateful for it.  

Please Join Us 

We have chosen Philippians 2:4 as our theme verse for this school year.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.  Like many of our fellow Christian schools, the pandemic has had a long term negative effect on our whole ministry.  Contributors were unable to support our scholarship fund to the extent they had done previously.  We have reached out to help as many of our families in need as we can, but we have some families who are now in circumstances that have prevented their return to MCA.  

The best thing you can do for us is to join us in prayer.  This is something we can benefit from each day.  Be patient as we make adjustments and figure things out.  That's a daily struggle.  We have families who can use a hand financially.  Are you blessed?  Think about helping meet someone else's needs.  

During a webinar last spring, after a presentation on E-learning strategies, an education professor from Grand Canyon University, my alma mater, said that this pandemic is giving Christian schools the opportunity to show that this is our finest hour.  It is my hope and prayer that these coming days will be the finest hours of Midwestern Christian Academy.