Impact for Life

Impact for Life

During spring break, my wife and I went to visit family in Phoenix, Arizona. We saw the Grand Canyon, Sedona and went on some spectacular hikes in the desert. It was a terrific trip.

One of the highlights was a visit to the Kartchner Caverns near Benson. These caves are incredible to see. But they also hold a unique story of stewardship and vision.

The caverns were discovered in 1974 by Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts who followed a narrow crack at the bottom of a sinkhole which had warm, moist air flowing from it. They crawled on their bellies for nearly 6 hours and to their surprise found a huge cavern with exquisite beauty waiting for them at the end. 

Realizing that they had stumbled upon one of the most pristine caves on the planet, they worried that announcing the discovery to the world could bring vandals and careless tourists who might help themselves to stalactites that grow one inch in 750 years.

They kept this amazing discovery a secret for 14 years.

Imagine that!

I have trouble keeping a secret for a week and my secrets are about as significant as a dinner reservations for a Friday night surprise with Debbie.

For more than a decade, the two discoverers made a plan and eventually persuaded Arizona to make the site into what is now the Kartchner Caverns State Park. Upon opening in 1999, over 180,000 people visit each year into a tightly controlled guided tour of a 3 km path system. If you even touch a rock on the path, the guide marks the spot and a team comes back later to sterilize the site.

Most caves on the planet are not pristine because the people who found them didn’t have the ‘long view.’ It takes a very special person to go to the extremes these discoverers went to in order to steward the vision they had for this incredible place.

As we drove away from an inspiring tour, I couldn’t help but think of the vision we continue to steward at ACS.

About 63 years ago, this vision began.

Today, this vision continues to be clear and compelling, even if our structures, spaces and people look a lot different.

We are so fortunate to work in place with so many people who see this work in Christian education as a generational vocation to impact our students for life. 

You Can’t Make Me!

They sat in front of me grimacing. We had been learning how to play band instruments for a few weeks and I just announced it was going to be time for a “check in,” as I call them. I probably could have called the “check in” a marshmallow, or a chocolate bar and they wouldn’t have heard it.

All my students heard was that they would have to “check in” with me in front of their peers. They were not happy.

Calming the crowd

It was like a riot was going to erupt in front of me. The protests started quietly, and then got louder to the point that I needed to explain. “When you play basketball, you dribble the ball in front of others. When you shoot the basketball, you do that in front of others. If the basketball doesn’t make it into the hoop or if the ball gets stolen, your community STILL cheers you on.” This is the same.

Blank faces…angry faces…some tears…I needed to try again.

“How many of you tried walking the first time and stood up and walked without ever falling down?” A few students starting nodding their heads because they understood where I was going with this and only a few bold students raised their hands in attempts to try convince me and others that they had been genius walkers.

I explained that the reality of this is: learning is a progression…some of us walked at 10 months, and some of us at 15 months. Today, generally, we ALL walk. I also explained that despite the time it took us to learn to walk, our parents cheered every time we stumbled and encouraged us to try again.

Band is like this; we are a team and we celebrate learning together.

Fewer angry faces, some nodding, but still…too many mortified frowns and pale faces.

All of a sudden, a line formed in front of me.

“I won’t play in front of others.”

“You can’t make me play in front of others.”

“I’m too scared to play in front of others.” 

This was new…or maybe not so new. Maybe these students were just more articulate and courageous in expressing their fear.   

A fresh look

Fast forward a few hours.

I was on the planning committee for the Sir Ken Robinson Learning Revolution event and one of our sponsors was going to be a company called FreshGrade. During our meeting, they arranged to tell us a little bit more about their product and its capabilities. 

FreshGrade is a digital learning portfolio interface that works similarly to social media, but is a private, secure account linking student, parent and teacher. Students can post pictures of their art work, take videos of themselves reading aloud, comment on their work, ask their parent and teacher for feedback, etc.

Needless to say, that orientation to FreshGrade became my answer to trying to meet my students’ needs and settle their anxieties over playing in front of each other. It also challenged and made me think differently about assessment and the process of learning.

This has been a rich experience for me.

No more frowns and pale faces

While my husband isn’t as happy to listen to 70 versions of the B flat major concert scale while I’m sitting beside him watching hockey, it allows me the ability to not only watch students play for me (from the comfort of their own home as part of their practice routine), it allows me to look back at their progress over the previous months.

I used to have students play for me live, in front of others, while I frantically filled in a rubric. Having to test many students in a short amount of time only allowed me to highlight boxes where I thought their progress fit. FreshGrade gives me the opportunity to provide anecdotal feedback of celebrations and areas of growth.

A “check in” is no longer a number. Instead, I try to give specific feedback that helps students to improve their playing and increase their confidence.

I am excited by the potential of digital portfolios as a form of recording our students’ journey through their learning. This tool allows students to reflect on their journey, have parents be part of the journey, and is an awesome way to get teachers, like myself, to think differently about what and how we assess learning.

I am thankful that my own students’,“You can’t make me,” encouraged me to approach assessment more authentically.

Ice Cream, New Shoes and Two Parks

When the temperature is in the mid to high 30s, the tinkle of the ice cream cart is a great sound.

We were able to enjoy an ice cream sandwich or a fudge bar when the ice cream man showed up at an opportune time during our trip to Nicaragua. Mostly it was the leaders who enjoyed this treat, though, as the students (ACS and Centro de Fe) were too busy playing, working or talking together.

That gave us an idea. What if we treated all the students on the last day together?

Lester made the arrangements and he showed up right on time. It turned out that the amount we budgeted was a few dollars higher than the actual cost. With little hesitation, we handed over the full amount.

The ice cream man accepted it, looked up and said, “Today I can buy new shoes for my daughter.” Tears came to our eyes as we realized how such a small amount to us could make such a big difference for this man and his little girl.

That was a great experience, but ultimately handouts like that do not make a lasting difference—they do not transform lives. The time we spent talking, praying, working and playing together with the Centro de Fe students does; not only theirs, but ours as well.

What a little paint can do

Three years ago, the team led by Scott and Angela Visser, Bethany Bakker and Andrea Korevaar went with the students from Centro de Fe to clean up a neighbourhood park. They painted, cleaned up garbage and did what they could to make the park look a little better.

The following year, I led a team with Alison Williams and we spent a Saturday doing much of the same thing. I will admit, my cynical mind wondered how much difference this could really make. We found hypodermic needles among the garbage (we were very careful), similarly to the problem we have in some parks here. Surely, it would not take long for the parks to return to the condition in which we found them.

While were doing this, however, a couple of men in uniform came to talk to the Executive Director and Principal of Centro de Fe. I sidled over to find out what was going on.

Were we in trouble?

No, but all I really understood was that they made a record of who was doing the cleaning up, including a bunch of Canadians, and why we were doing it. That was interesting, I thought, but didn’t think too much more about it.

That is, until we went back this year.

Those two parks are completely different.

There is green grass on the baseball diamond and throughout the park (even though we were there at the end of the dry season), new bushes, new playground equipment, new bathrooms, everything had a fresh coat of paint and a fence around the park with a security guard at the gate. It was a delight to spend an afternoon playing basketball, volleyball and soccer in this venue.

More importantly, the local community did all the work, providing income to put gallo pinto on the table and to buy new shoes. The staff, students and families of Centro de Fe can see those parks every day and see what a difference they made.

What a wonderful example of shaping God’s world!

Making History Together

Every year that a team from ACS goes to Centro de Fe, we spend the last day together doing a mural. The art teacher helps us incorporate memories and meaningful events from our few days together. The mural from 2014 shows the structure that the team from that year painted in the park.

As I looked at the murals from past years, the memories and stories came flooding back.

I looked at the white panel that would become this year’s mural, anticipating what that last day was going to be like. It struck me that we now have a history together. Everyday, the students from Centro de Fe see those murals and they know that there is a school in Abbotsford, BC, Canada that cares about them. I also know how much that means to them by way of encouragement. I am writing this article in the hopes of helping our ACS community know them and how important they have been in transforming our lives.

I don’t know how long this relationship will continue or how many more times I will be privileged to go with a team. I hope that it continues for many more years and that I get to go again. Read about our entire story of our trip this year on our blog.

Regardless, their story and our story are indelibly part of God’s story. All praise and glory to Him!

Crossing Borders

As a young boy, who was raised in Ontario, I remember taking multiple family vacations “to the west” to visit my grandparents in Lacombe, Alberta. On one of our trips, my parents decided to traverse the continent mostly in the US, taking in some sights along the way such as Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone etc.

However, one of my most vivid memories of one of these trips was when we were pulled over at the Alberta/Montana border because my dad confessed to the fact that my younger brother (who shall remain nameless) bought a tonne of fireworks on the trip (remember when that was the cool thing to do?). 

Border Guard:  Do you have any firearms in the car?

My Dad:  (while turning around and looking in the back seat) Son – what’s your answer?

My Brother:  Well…I only bought a few fireworks.

My Dad:  (turning back to the border guard) Sounds like we have some fireworks in the car.

Border Guard:  You can’t go into Canada with them in the car.

My Dad:  What do you propose we do?

Border Guard:  You have two choices:  first you could turn them in to me and be on your way or second, you could turn around and find a place to light them and enjoy them.

My Dad:  (without missing a beat) We choose the second one!

We pulled the car over to the side of the road, right at the border, asked my brother to fetch his fireworks out of the trunk and set up a lighting station. Then we all pulled out the lawn chairs of the camper and sat back in astonishment and nervous joy as my dad set fire to a 20 minute fireworks show. We attracted a crowd as people delighted in watching the lights dance into the early evening sky. There were booms and cracks and it was extravagant (at least this is how I remember it!) I recall that it was right around July 4 and it didn’t seem abnormal to be lighting them. At first, we were a bit embarrassed that my dad chose to do this, but as the crowd grew larger, there was this sense of satisfaction and admiration as we enjoyed the light show that was happening.

This became “the” event of the vacation and to this day, as siblings, we reminisce the day that our dad decided to light my brother’s fireworks at the border! 

Poutine or Apple pie?

Obviously, crossing the border today is much different than it was 30 years ago or even 15 years ago—things have changed. But our stories remain and there is always a border crossing story that trumps the last one!

Crossing borders is something that Heidi and I and our family have done a lot of over the years of living in Abbotsford; it’s become a part of life for us. As a Canadian who married an American, crossing borders in the metaphorical sense has also been a way of life. After having been raised as a Canadian and living in Canada, I lived in the United States for 16 years before moving our family back to Canada 10 years ago.

As an American and living in the US for the first four decades of her life, Heidi has now crossed the border and “become” Canadian (you’ll have to ask Heidi how she actually defines “becoming Canadian”). Our kids were born in the US and are Canadian citizens making them dual citizens. We are living proof that Canadians can “get along” with Americans and vice versa, even amidst this latest political cycle in the US. We aren’t the only ones in our community where an American and Canadian have agreed to marry (and stay married 🙂 ), there are a lot of us and we have a unique perspective on the differences between each country and their cultures.

Crossing borders truly is a way of life.

Growing and going beyond

I love it when I see and hear stories about students who are “crossing borders” at school. Students who cross borders are students who gain a perspective of the other side, the other culture, and other people. In turn, this helps them gain better empathy, a better perspective, and in many cases, a clearer understanding of who they are in the context of “the other.”

I think of our Hands Team going to Nicaragua at the secondary level, or our service project work and environmental stewardship improvements at the middle school and our reading buddy programs and community service work at the elementary. These, along with a whole host of other programs and projects, bring our students beyond themselves and across borders and I get excited because I know that we are coming closer to attaining our mission of Engaging Minds, Nurturing Hearts and Shaping God’s World.

Let’s Go Camping!

My family are avid campers. Not the kind of camping that involves tramping up the sides of mountains carrying your survival necessities on your back. Also not the kind of “camping” that requires that you drive a bus outfitted to resemble your living room from place to place enjoying nature. No, our camping kind of takes the middle ground. 

We like fresh air, cooking outside, feeling the wind but we also like staying dry. 

Dry turns out to be a pretty big deal. 

Looking on the Sunny side

We loaded up our tent trailer and dragged it down to the Oregon coast on the first Monday of spring break. The weather report said that we MIGHT get a SMALL AMOUNT of sun on ONE day but we didn’t care. The trailer would keep us dry and, if it was really cold, it had a heater of sorts.

We’d be fine. We were excited. This is one of our favourite places to visit.

Our trip started out poorly.

There was an electrical problem and none of the trailer lights worked. We found an RV fix-it place and they had us on the road three and a half hours later. 

Oh well…we’re going camping!

It rained (poured actually) all the way to the Oregon coast without a break. It was cold and windy. No problem. 

Except there was actually one problem.

A River Runs through it

When we got to the campsite, the people at the little check-in booth had sort of a, “sorry, folks” kind of look. I was a bit concerned. They explained that the campsite was flooded.

A little flooded?” I asked (we’re seasoned campers…a little extra water is no big deal). 

No, really flooded.

They suggested that we go have a look at our reserved site. We did and noted that the water in the site was actually too deep to drive through. There was a current running through the campground! There was not a spot that wasn’t completely covered in standing water. It was ugly! “Not to worry!” said the friendly park personnel. “We have made arrangements for you to go to the next campground (about 20 km away). They are expecting you.

So off we went.

They were expecting us and directed us to Loop D, which was reserved for all of the campers needing to escape the rising floodwaters of our original campsite.

Upon arriving at Loop D, we found that every site was as flooded as the first campsite! There was a river running through the washrooms!  We couldn’t actually pull our trailer through the site because the water was deeper than the bottom and it would have soaked the inside. 

At this point, we took this as a sign that we were not intended to camp this holiday.

We found a great hotel on the beach and had a great holiday. We dragged our trailer to and from Oregon without ever opening it.

Oh well…life happens.

More than meets the eye

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that God comforts those that suffer so they can comfort others. Now a flooded campground hardly constitutes suffering, but it got me thinking about a student group that also engaged in a trip this spring break.

After much planning, praying and preparing, 10 students and 3 teachers travelled to Nicaragua to engage the students at Centro De Fe Christian School. Unlike our camping trip, their trip went very well. They learned in a way that will last forever and that not everyone lives like we do. Those people suffer in real ways yet they are happy, they learn, they care for others and they love Jesus.

Perhaps some of our students experienced the type of spiritual prodding that may result in reconsidering their life plans. Maybe they will be better prepared to deal with suffering and disappointment in their lives. Maybe they realize that the community of believers is big and real and powerful in a way that they didn’t before.

If one of the trips was to result in a less than stellar outcome, I’m glad it was ours.

We had fun anyway, but theirs resulted in changed lives.

The “Low down”

Twenty-four years ago, I was starting my teaching career in a Grade 5 class. After the second month of school, my class was feeling pretty comfortable with me. There was a growing concern on my part about the note passing that was taking place. You remember the notes that were passed between students: “What are you doing after school today?” or “Who do you think is cute?” In this particular class, the note passing was getting out of hand (pun intended).

I announced that the next time I saw a note being passed I would confiscate it and read it aloud to the entire class. My thinking was that the potential for sharing some embarrassing information publicly would be a deterrent. However, almost immediately I saw one student hand-off a scrap of paper to another student.

I quickly confiscated the note, strode to the front of the classroom and began to read.

Mr. Berger, your fly is down.

We all had a good laugh and I was thoroughly embarrassed.

Fast-forward to last week.

I was sitting in our high school gym watching a basketball game. My daughter was score keeping on the other side of the gym. At half time, my cell phone buzzed informing me of a text message.

Dad, it looks like you are flying low. Once again, I was embarrassed, though not quite so publicly!

Write or Type?

This incident made me think.

Back in the day, we sent home a lot of paper from school. Forms and documents, classroom and campus newsletters, all printed and delivered by “kid mail,” just like the notes that were passed between students. The messages today are similar, but the forms of communication have changed dramatically. 

We all know the famous phrase coined by Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Should a rewrite of this quote be something more along the lines of, The thumb is mightier than the IED”?

What does this shift in the methods of communication mean for school? What skills should we teach? Where does handwriting fit? Do we even need to teach keyboarding skills now, as so much communication happens using just our thumbs or speech-to-text software? I heard a news story on how smart phones will be obsolete in five years! What skills will we need in order to navigate the world of communication then?

Take Note

At ACS, we have invested time and energy in teaching our students to be good, responsible digital citizens. Parent information evenings on parenting in a digital world have taken place. All students in the middle school participated in a week long intensive series of lessons on digital citizenship. Students were led through a series of lessons that focused on three main aspects of digital citizenship: protect, educate, and respect.

We want to prepare our students adequately and with discernment for the future they are going to face but with such rapid change, it is difficult to even know which tools they will need.

However, we will continue to work towards our mission to engage their minds, nurture their hearts and encourage our students to shape God’s world, with whichever tools are available to them.

Sometimes I feel like a…

Sometimes I feel like a porcupine, innocent and curious. I have a big imagination and know how to protect myself.”

This is how the small, square book began.

I was browsing for First Nations themed books in our wonderful library. By the time I finished this book by Danielle Daniel, I was hooked and had a plan to engage my students in the new BC curriculum.

The new BC curriculum requires educators to intentionally teach 6 core competencies, focusing on developing well rounded, lifelong learners. The government will eventually require that each student do a self reflection at the end of the year, to put with their report card in their student file.

We began our project with each student in my class picking an animal and then creating a web of words to describe how that animal might feel. We looked through books, asked our classmates and talked about each animal.

After we had a web of describing words, we discussed which words could also describe us. I gave my class the example of a lion. I said to them, “Sometimes I feel like a lion, mean and vicious. Or I could say, sometimes I feel like a lion, strong and wise.”

“Which words describe me better?” I asked them.

As I stood there in front of them, I hoped they would pick the latter, but either way this created some good discussion. Then I sent them off into a speed dating activity. If a word they had on their paper, also described them, they would mark it with a check. If it did not describe them, they would mark it with an X.

One student asked another, “Am I really hyper?” The second student replied, “Yes, you can sometimes be really hyper.”

A different group of students was sitting and asking their partner if they were colourful. The partner replied, You usually wear colourful clothes, but your skin in not that colourful.

It was amazing to hear their grade 1 discussions, talking about their attributes and strengths. 

The end product was a picture of the student, which they changed into the animal they chose, with a sentence using their animal and two words describing the feelings they share with this animal. Each of my students are more aware of who they are, even if I can’t put this art project in their student file.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes I feel like a…

  1. AMY! I LOVE this project…SO much! Great job! Looks like they turned out amazing. I feel like this would be a good project for adults to do too:)

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