Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
Romans 12:2 (CEB)
Pondering a theme for this most unusual year, the MennoExpressions team observed that the pandemic continues to transform our lives in myriad ways. However, in exploring our topic, it is clear that even in more ordinary times, if those exist, the changes and progressions in life and nature around us continue a never-ending metamorphosis.
Amazingly, flour, yeast and water can be blended and heated to create bread—a fragrant and delicious miracle. Tiny tadpoles wiggle and grow as they sprout legs and finally jump from their pond as frogs. Fuzzy chicks peck their way out of an egg. And a piece of lumber cut from a tree, can be transformed into a beautiful and useful new door, when the artist is skilled and diligent!
As spring gains traction over winter, bulbs, bushes and trees awaken and bring color and fragrance to our yards and gardens. In Japan, celebrations accompany the bursts of cherry blossoms and include a special time of Hanami, or “flower viewing.” Friends and family gather outside to feast and drink under the trees, as they marvel at the transformation of barren branches into scented pink clouds in a floral sky.
This spring issue features photos and stories highlighting our FMC high school seniors, who are to be celebrated for perseverance as they complete their unique year! College and post graduate students will be awarded degrees, and receive congratulations on their years of diligent study! The pandemic transformations in education have been consequential for teachers and students, so we have included views into the experiences of children, as well as university professors.
Our writers share remembrances and images of family gardens, deep ancestral ties, and changes to life and cooking. Looking back at winter thoughts of an icy reservoir accentuates the vernal changes as snowy days melt away. The promise of rebirth in the world around us is a metaphor for the joy and hope found in the resurrection of Jesus after the dark days and hard ground of Lent. To God be the Glory.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!
It is a bit after 7 am Monday and our granddaughter just arrived to “go to school”, from my home-office. She logs on; and there is the teacher. She thinks nothing of her phone, stylus pen, computer, or the technology needed for her to “go to school”– she is here to study.
Watching such huge transformation, my thoughts go back 20+ years when I was Indiana University’s guru for distance education charged to “develop pedagogical models and delivery methods for distance education.”
I traveled IU’s eight campuses presenting the advantages of technology-mediated education. Some faculty were willing; many had questions (read: objections). One faculty member (close to retirement) confessed, privately, he never learned to use overhead projectors, and didn’t want to learn this new stuff.
Their questions ranged from the extra work, no classroom, no eye contact, labs, glitches, etc.
A dedicated committee representing all eight campuses, co-chaired by two devoted deans, and IU President Myles Brand committing $1M toward distance education, launched the project. We issued a 36-page strategic plan, CHARTING A COURSE TOWARD AN INDIANA VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY.
Our main message: key ingredients of effective learning are a master, an engaged student, and time-on-task. Technology-mediated education provides both reach and richness.
So, what is different today compared to 20 years ago? A lot!
Today there is no need to convince anyone that teaching with technology is necessary – the global epidemic has done that for us.
The speed of technology adoption in teaching is unprecedented.
There is no distance education central office – everybody does it.
There is no strategic plan.
Teaching with technology is now in the mainstream of teaching and learning.
Faculty live with hybrid, synchronous, asynchronous, HyFlex, learning management systems, online discussions, online laboratory sessions, etc.
The reach is limitless.
I heard Greta playing her French horn. When asked, she says students play their instrument and no student hears the others unless we un-mute; the teacher is able to listen to all. When asked about chemistry labs, she said the teacher tapes the experiments, we watch and write a report.
I asked Greta what she liked about on-line classes. “I like computers because I grew up with them.”
What did she not like? “No friends – but we get together on weekends”.
Distance education is in her DNA.
Technology-mediated education has transformed education forever. Students can balance duties with studies: family, work, pace of study, and relaxation. The reliability and ubiquitousness, the lower costs compared to brick-and-mortar learning, all have increased technology-mediated learning about five-fold since COVID-19 hit.
Students should keep these hints in mind:
Connect with other students as much as possible either online or, if possible, face-to-face.
Take frequent breaks.
Start early, stay positive, ask for help, and don’t fall behind.
Stick to studies even if the doorbell rings; stay away from the refrigerator.
Observe online etiquette.
Remember, it is natural to feel anxious.
Interact with, and support students even more than in face-to-face settings.
When possible, keep sessions short and live.
Study current events such as coronavirus.
Without close and frequent supervision, students will fall behind.
Have tests monitored by a supervisor, parent, or make tests optional.
We all live with transformations. Whether it is the change in seasons, the metamorphosis of a cocoon into a butterfly, or the transformation from in-person to on-line classes; all are transformations. In fact, life could not exist without transformations. Life is transformations, and transformations bring life. The opposite is a rock which does not change – and it does not live.
Acknowledgement: Written at the suggestion of E. Eric Boschmann, University of Denver.
“Kids! Time to log on for Morning Meeting! Get to your stations!”
Bare feet hit the floor running as breakfast is forgotten on the dining room table. The kids finger-comb their hair, still in their pajama bottoms. I hear the click-clack of frantically typed usernames and passwords. Lyra’s teacher begins roll call as Cody’s teacher blasts “Happy” and encourages the kids to dance. A couple of the 1st graders are asleep on their screens. One is hiding under her bed with stuffed animals–sneaking some Cheerios. I can hear Lyra’s teacher trying to remain patient as a student has internet problems, while yet another has to be reminded to “un-mute” for the hundredth time. I open my laptop and begin to answer work emails while the final, staticky chords of “Happy” are playing in the background. Cody’s teacher begins a lesson on the consonant blend “th”, and he is already trying to sneak a copy of Dogman under his Chromebook to read. So starts another day in virtual learning paradise…
When I look back on the almost seven months that our children participated in e-learning, it all feels like a bit of a blur. I would like to say that I was that Pinterest Mom who established a clear, calm routine to the days–with organic strawberries cutely arranged and fanned out after a leisurely morning walk/ “brain break.” But that would be a lie. I did take a stab at the scheduling thing and made a cute, colorful visual schedule that we sometimes used. I dug through closets and found some old sensory toys, and made the kids run up and down the hallway when they started to have what I refer to as “Zombie Eyes” from staring at their screens too long. On our better days, we took bike rides after lunch and enjoyed one another’s company between scheduled Zooms. On our worst days, we would all end up in tears and click our way to the “Stop Sign icons,” whether the work had been completed “correctly” or not.
Detailing the experience of e-learning for almost a year could literally constitute an entire novel, but I’m not going to do that here. I would, however, like to share some of the big take-a-ways for our family. After having lived through this experience with my children, here’s what I know for sure:
Teachers had to completely reinvent their profession this year–whether they were internet savvy or not. It wasn’t always pretty, but they leaned into the discomfort because they love their students and failing them was not an option.
Children are resilient. If they are fed, loved, have a safe place to call home, and a semi-stable internet connection–they are going to be okay. They are equipped to not only survive this pandemic, but come out of it stronger, more creative human beings.
Surviving this pandemic and wading through the e-learning experience with my children has made us closer. I gained a front row seat to their classes, peers, and teachers in a way that I will probably never experience again.
I have emerged from this experience with an even deeper appreciation for our public schools. While so many federal and state officials were throwing their hands in the air, wailing about the circumstances, our schools got busy feeding and supporting families.
Screens are great, but nothing can replace a real hug or in-person conversation.
Our own Beth Goering just won one of IU’s oldest and most prestigious teaching awards. Known as the Herman Fredric Lieber Memorial Award, it was established in 1960 to recognize faculty who are not just excellent teachers, but who also show evidence of having made a profound impact on learning and having had a life-changing influence on students over time.
Beth won the award for on-going engagement in curriculum and course development in Communication Studies, at the departmental, university, and national levels. She was part of a nationally chosen 30-mermber team to define learning outcomes in her discipline. Her abiding interest in sound pedagogy is coupled with her dedication to mentoring undergraduates as well as graduate students. In her long career (32 years at IUPUI!), Beth has also been able take her teaching across town, engaging her students in service-learning work with organizations such as the Peace Learning Center and Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigrant Services, as well as across the ocean, regularly working with students in Germany and Russia.
Beth’s department chair, Kristine Karnick, affirms: “Her successful implementation of policies based on her excellence in teaching extend well beyond her department, to the School of Liberal Arts, the IUPUI campus, as well as nationally and internationally.”
The Schmucker family has spent the entire past school year experiencing e-learning from home. Caitlin (3rd grade) and Nora (Kindergarten) attend an IPS district school that has swung between virtual and in-person options.The girls will remain virtual for the remainder of the school year. As with so many families, virtual learning has had many ups and downs, but the Schmucker family has also been able to find the silver linings.
Do you like e-learning/learning at home? If so, what do you like about it?
I do like learning at home because on my breaks I can do whatever I want. And I like it because we have another good teacher (Mom).
I like it because I can play with my toys on my breaks.
We love being able to go on walks or play outside whenever we have some time between meetings.
I’ve been working from home for a year now and it’s been nice to see Caitlin and Nora more often during the day.
You have been virtual learning for a long time now–has it gotten easier/more comfortable over time?
It definitely has gotten easier. I know how to do things better and I know the routine.
In some ways it has definitely gotten better as we’ve adjusted to the routines and expectations. There have also been challenges though when the school switched from virtual only to in-person learning – this has happened twice and each time it takes a couple weeks to adjust to the new schedules and routines (their teachers have to manage both the virtual and in-person students). The majority of the students did go back to in-person learning and it sometimes feels like the virtual learners are overlooked/pushed aside.
What has been hard about learning at home? What do you miss about in-person school?
What’s been hard is that I can’t see my classmates in person. I miss my friends.
It’s been hard for Nora (kindergartner) to make friends through the screen. It’s been challenging for me to be a surrogate teacher (teaching is so NOT my thing).
Have there been any funny/notable moments you’ve experienced while e-learning?
One of my classmates always has the song Let it Go from Frozen playing in the background whenever we are meeting. It’s so funny!
Nora’s teacher has three dogs and when everyone was virtual and she was teaching from home her dogs were constantly barking in the background.
Any other thoughts or memories you think you will remember from this experience?
I’ve had a lot of cool conversations with my teacher.
I’ve enjoyed getting to observe more of their school days and get a feel for the ways they’re learning, much more than I can when they’re in person. I will always remember how much Mel stepped up to be the at-home teacher – she’s done so much good for our girls.
Congratulations to the following FMC young adults who will be graduating from college this spring or summer.
Bethany Habegger will be graduating from IU Bloomington with a B.F.A., Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art.
Jakob Amstutz will be graduating from IU with a degree in Informatics.
Kyra Krall will be graduating from Goshen College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). After graduation, she is moving to Pittsburgh and will be working at UPMC Mercy as a nurse in their Trauma and Burn track graduate nurse program. She will be working on 4 separate floors (Emergency Department, Spinal Rehab, Ortho Trauma, and Burn Unit) for 3 months each.
Emily Fontaine is graduating from IUPUI with a BS degree in Tourism, Conventions and Event Management.
Kealy Ester-Bode will be graduating from IUPUI in May with a major in psychology and minors in nutrition and wellness coaching.
Drew Ester-Bode will be completing a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree in August.
Four decades ago, Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less Cookbook (1976) and Living More with Less (1980) served as a transformational rallying cry for Mennonites to rethink the way we use the world’s resources by doing more with less. As we reflected on the theme of transformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, we found ourselves returning to the notions of doing more with less and discovering the more in less.
COVID-19 has, indeed, forced many of us to make do with less – less shopping, less going out to eat, less social interaction, less hanging out with friends, less frequent visits to coffee shops or movie theaters, fewer haircuts! The list of what has “lessened” goes on and on. While these restrictions have been felt around the world, for the past 5 months, we have experienced “the less” even more acutely as Germany has used various stages of lockdown as a major weapon in its battle against the pandemic.
I (Beth) arrived in Germany in early October. Three weeks into my stay – right after two weeks in quarantine and a one-week mini-vacation at the North Sea – Germany went into “lockdown light.” Stores were closed in the hope that shutting them at that moment would allow them to reopen for Christmas shopping by the end of November. Social distancing restrictions at restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs were ramped up, and contact information was collected to facilitate contact tracing. The world of entertainment (sports, movies, theatres, concerts, etc.) went from less to none. We began to make do with less. When November didn’t bring a significant drop in new COVID cases, the government decided to move into “hard lockdown,” pushing a giant PAUSE button on almost all public life. No Christmas shopping, movies, concerts, dining out with friends, and no Christmas markets (a hard one for Beth!). Only grocery stores and drug stores stayed open. Schools and daycares were closed, and more people were moved into home offices for their work. Travel was tightly restricted, and social contacts were limited to small gatherings of no more than two households. We had to make do with even less.
As this government-mandated living-with-less reinforced for us Janzen Longacre’s message from over 40 years ago, we also began discovering that the more in less can, indeed, be transformational. Less traveling actually helped us discover hidden gems in our immediate neighborhood. On our daily walks we “found” three independent bakeries we didn’t know about (with yummy pastries and breads), three churches new to us, a monastery’s secret garden, much interesting lawn “art,” and simply a renewed joy in walking. Less contact with friends and family in real space and time encouraged us to come up with creative ways to use virtual means to stay connected. Our Zoom game nights with one group of friends have become a fun and meaningful new staple in our social lives. We also rediscovered analog modes of connection—writing postcards, Christmas cards, and real birthday cards to friends is tactile fun for both sender and receiver. Less shopping and generally acquiring less stuff has been quite freeing—our newly uncluttered closets, cupboards, shelves, and living spaces seem to think so, too. Less mindless consumerism has also led to less waste and smaller waists. And since eating at home most of all means cooking at home, this brings us full circle back to our battered copy of the More With Less Cookbook, which figuratively and literally has helped us transform the less into more in these strange Corona times.
I must have been six or seven when I first remember eating fresh peas straight off the vine in my grandmother’s garden. Wow. I will never forget that pop of sweetness on my tongue! And no carrot ever tasted fresher, or more flavorful than those I pulled straight out of that black Manitoba soil, with no seasoning except a bit of residual dirt. I learned to love garden vegetables early. My grandmother had a huge garden. While I don’t know the actual dimensions, suffice it to say, one could easily get lost in there– or safely sneak fresh goodies without fear of getting caught! I loved that paradise. It was magical. Grandma grew absolutely everything in that garden. I wish I could talk to her now, and hear what she would have to tell me about it. When I was growing up in Kansas, my parents usually planted a vegetable garden, and my mom always loved her red geraniums and bright orange begonias just like her mother did. But other things held my attention back then. Now in my adult life, I have always enjoyed a garden. Every year I marvel at the miracle of a seed. The Great Force of life that pushes goodness out of dirt, scraps, waste, and refuse. Such a beautiful metaphor for grace, love and forgiveness, such a perfect symbol for the renewal of spirit and blooming of the soul—true transformation.
I like to think that part of my grandmother lives on in me. My mother and several family members living locally are lucky to have a start from Grandma’s fuchsia peonies that once thrived in my grandmother’s magical garden. Though I cannot bring plants across the Canada/US Border, I cherish some of those family peonies from my mother’s home in South Bend before they moved. And though my vegetable garden, of course, does not even begin to compare to Grandmother’s, who grew hers to feed her large family of 13 children, I believe my flower garden may not be far off. This season I hope to stretch my flower growing capacity once again as I try my hand at starting seeds indoors. Many of the seeds are flowers that she grew, like cosmos, zinnias, snapdragons, sweet peas, four-o’clocks, marigolds and petunias. I am reminded of Grandmother every spring when I get out and start digging in that great, green earth. The days are getting longer now, and I’m starting to feel the gardening bug. It’s time to start getting my peas and carrots and potatoes in the ground. I am ever so grateful to my Grandmothers–both of them. They inspired me to love the earth, to treat it well and realize it will give back three thousand-fold both in beauty and in bounty. I have so much gratitude to them for their amazing, determined efforts to feed their families well–and for that little garden bug planted in my soul.