Great things come to those who…check the power supply!

The classroom’s laptop must love to take walks, because it was missing again when I got to the classroom.

Thankfully I had not planned to use it today since the kids started their arts and crafts for the mission project’s flyers and posters!

Fifteen minutes into class time, Pastor Brad came into the room with a spare laptop. He worked diligently for the next ten minutes to connect to the Internet in the room, even though I told him we were not using the DVD for class. This Internet has been giving us problems for the past month, and Pastor Brad has tried everything imaginable to get the router working. He told me the ‘Geek Squad’ was supposed to work on it later this week, and that it may be fixed within the month.

I had pretty much accepted the fact that we would not have Internet for the rest of the year, and I had adapted the lesson plans accordingly. Little did I know that Pastor Brad had another plan. He was determined to get the Internet working for us. He knew the kids needed it to research their mission project.

The kids were SO EXCITED to work on crafts today! I had not seen them smile as big as they did when I told them they were starting their posters and flyers. Even the boys were excited (As you can see in the pictures below!!).

I was not expecting such an energetic response, or such an emphatic dedication to the project. One of the girls came with more preparation than most professionals do at board meetings.

Last week, she and her friend (who is also in the class but was absent today) made flyers, stickers, and had already collected donations for some Life Straws! I could not believe it, and I am grateful for her proactive leadership. It is encouraging to see kids carrying out the mission and incorporating it into their lives. I could not have been happier at that moment.

She showed the stickers to her peers. They read: “I just donated a Life Straw, you should too.”

Really? I thought to myself, “I cannot believe she did that. All on her own. ALL on her own!!”

I was taken aback by such a small gesture and by the work of two fifth grade girls outside of Sunday School class. That is what this year is about for me: to watch these kids mature into independent, resourceful, and thankful individuals; to grow up in a supportive environment and find their purpose in life; to seek guidance when needed; and to feel nurtured in a welcoming place outside of the rigors of school and bitterness of society.

Today truly solidified my purpose in being at the church each Sunday, and in preparing lessons, coordinating the mission project, and encouraging these kids.

Not long after Mallory and her friend overwhelmed me with pride about their work, Pastor Brad returned and turned on the Internet! FINALLY, it works!! He realized that the power supply to the router was dead, so he changed it. We were able to use the Internet to research facts, pictures, and ideas for the posters. How cool is that?!

Building upon the work ethic Mallory and her friend set forth in their external efforts, the rest of the kids made magnificent posters and flyers to put around the church. It is going to be a wonderful service project, and everyone will know what the kids hope to accomplish. They will see the kids’ passion for the mission and the effort they are putting into helping individuals thousands of miles away.

A Day Full of Wonderful Reminders

As I was walking to the classroom today, I was pleasantly surprised to pass by one of the church’s pastors. She has been ill for quite some time, and I had not seen her for at least a year. I think there is a comfort in knowing someone is feeling better and/or has overcome a huge obstacle or sickness. Talking to her profoundly influenced my day and reminded me to focus on the positives and the beauty in life.

Not long after I saw her, I walked into the room and found an empty space where the computer normally sits. It has been throwing tantrums the past few weeks, so my immediate thought was that perhaps maintenance took it to their shop to fix it. I inquired about it in the Children’s Ministry office, and they were very perplexed. They said maintenance normally does not work on the laptops.

After looking everywhere for it, someone came walking down the hall with a laptop, its’ cords, and a note that read “John let me use this for staff training.” It was left in the church’s main office, and had not been returned to our room. Unfortunately, a similar situation had occurred the week prior. I thought to myself, “Wow, what another great reminder to communicate!!”

Once I started the brainstorming session for the mission project, I was given another important reminder: never lose your creativity! The kids came up with great ideas for fundraising, collection boxes, table decorations, and information flyers.

It was a good day to be paying attention to life’s little reminders.

Looking back on the lesson, I remember feeling very cautious of what I said. I know it is easy for adults to jump in and try to do everything for kids or make decisions for them, and I am committed to avoiding that. I want the project to remain in their hands because they deserve to know how rewarding and valuable this experience is. If their parents or other teachers do it for them, they will only learn to become dependent rather than creative, entrepreneurial, and independent leaders.

I am hopeful that this project guides them on the path of becoming independent.

While it may not be the epiphanic moment or enlightening experience Dean Brackley uses to describe Richard Rorty’s concept of individualization, this service project may be the catalyst for the kids to lead a purposeful life. I realize that I cannot expect them to walk away with an individualized understanding of the world (they have not even finished socialization in their primary and secondary education!), but I do think I can expect them to better understand the world and hopefully themselves. They may not realize it yet, either. A few years might go by before they reflect on this experience and appreciate the work they have done and the lives they have saved.

Even if it takes ten years, I will still think of it as a success.

It never hurts to be reminded of the power of optimism, communication, and creativity. Sometimes we take them for granted. We forget the influence we have on others. I hope you are able to reflect on yourself for a moment and make sure you are radiating joy rather than hatred and peace rather than hostility.

Our mission is about to begin!

It was a GREAT day! A whirlwind, but great.

I must admit, I was more excited to go to class today than I have ever been. Why? Because the kids were voting on their mission project!!!! That is something worth celebrating.

It was a tough decision…it got down to the wire…we had to pull in referees and flip a coin. Actually, no, we didn’t. It was the easiest “vote” I have ever seen.

Here’s the deal.

Last week we had a preliminary vote, and the kids were tied 4-4 for Life Straws or Dodge for a Cause/Y Challenger. I did some research and found that Dodge for a Cause ended today, so that was out, and Y Challenger is more of an active project and does not really involve fundraising. I am sure it would accept donations, but the program is basically a place where children go to play games (like basketball, tennis, etc.) with special needs kids (ie: those with autism, cerebral palsy…). Once I explained all of that in fifth grade terms, as best I could, the kids who were in favor of Y Challenger last week switched to Life Straws.

We still took a vote though. After the twelfth and final yes to Life Straws, we had a unanimous decision that it was going to be their service project. To make sure they understood what this meant I had them discuss the idea and talk about how they felt about it.

Before we started class today, we went down to the Youth Pastor’s office to watch a short video on Life Straws. We were going to explore the Y Challenger website, but since the Internet was not working (and never will work, most likely) in our classroom, we had to manage with only a few generous minutes in the pastor’s office. We watched this video clip, which highlights the importance of clean water, the horrible conditions millions of people face, and the actions we can take to mitigate the issue.

We discussed how the video made them feel, what they thought about when watching it, and what it would be like for them to not have clean water. I told them that since our bodies are about ¾ water, we cannot survive without H2O in its purest form. This fact seemed to be the most influential to them because right away they wanted to start working on posters and making donation boxes. I told them we would have to wait until next week because we still had some material to review for class. It was so inspiring to see their passion for this project, and to know that they truly chose it out of compassion for those suffering.

Needless to say, I am also excited to work with them on the project. It is something that my high school supported when I was younger, and I think it is a great cause.

Next week we will brainstorm ideas, make a timeline and an outline for our fundraising plan, and start our new curriculum that parallels their mission project.

Lots to do in such little time between now and Easter, but I am confident in the kids to make it happen!

The chaos before (?) the storm.

So today was just a bit crazy…

The kids stayed focused on the right idea though!

We began with a review of the material from the last few weeks before the sixth graders joined us. Then we discussed the process of their service project, which is going to span the next few months and will require a significant portion of class time.

Since the sixth graders enjoyed their project so much, they were willing to talk to the fifth graders about their experience. We had barely finished our review and preview of the service project before it was time to welcome the sixth graders!

It was great for the fifth graders to see their peers as role models and leaders as they head into their own project. I am sure it is all a bit cumbersome at this point.

While I know the kids probably do not and will not comprehend the different kinds of service they are about to encounter, I cannot help but notice the surfacing dichotomies. In discussing options for projects, the kids found themselves tied between two ideas: LifeStraws (a filtrating ‘straw’ available for $2 that filters out 99.99% of all bacteria, viruses, and parasites, and helps save thousands of lives in areas with dirty water) and Dodge for a Cause or Challengers (not quite sure at this point what those entail, but the kids are the ones choosing and presenting the ideas here). To use Morton’s critical diction, LifeStraws is a project-based organization for which we would fundraise. The latter would require more direct service and charity work to interact with special-needs kids and provide them an outlet to have fun.

Phew. A lot to fit into a short time frame, and a lot of information!

Between the sixth graders speaking, their teacher explaining the process, and the Children’s Ministry pastor speaking about Lent programs, we barely had any time to summarize and process it all!

In the end, I think the kids managed to successfully analyze the process they are about to begin, brainstorm ideas about possible projects, and focus on the main idea: assist where possible, build awareness, and use faith to serve others in all situations.

As we approach the onset of the project, which will kickoff next week after our final voting process, I am curious to see if the kids recognize different kinds of service. They may start to wonder if this type of service differs from things they have done previously. Raising money may be different than going to a soup kitchen or having a special tournament to support a cause.

With only a week to prepare for our official vote day, I find myself anxious to see if the kids will take the time to think about their service project. Maybe they will have too many ideas to vote on, or maybe they won’t even remember what we are doing. Hopefully there is a balance between the two and they can decide on a fun project.

What would your pick be? Raising money for an international or a local cause?

Are you ready for some…Sunday School?

Today we considered a prophet and an evangelist.

Quite the contrary to the day’s emphasis on a much anticipated football game.

There were only six kids in the class, and maintaining focus was an issue.

Once all six were seated, nonstop betting and discussion about the game ensued. At this point I realized that complete adhesion to the lecture outline was not going to prevail. I was a little apprehensive, but I figured it would work out all right.

In some instances I can see how it would be important to follow a set plan, but in a group of kids that just want to have fun and enjoy the surprisingly warm winter day, it would be more detrimental than beneficial. While I did loosen the schedule and order of topics and discussion, I did not abandon the information.

Midway through this improvisation experiment and shuffling of topics, I remembered an essay we read in class two weeks ago. Richard Rorty firmly believes that professors should demonstrate freedom in front of their students to encourage individualization.

What does that mean? Well, generally, if you see someone doing something, you are likely to follow (people are sheep, etc.). Therefore, if your professor is a unique person that shows his or her personality and does not adhere to strict guidelines, you are more apt to do the same. You will, as Rorty mentions, be able to interact with others once you have a solid foundation in yourself and participate in a ‘community of inquiry.’

Like I said, I did not abandon the lesson, but I used their excitement to fuel the discussion. They did more talking than I did, and they set the tone for the hour. I asked them what they thought a prophet was, and when we did the consequence matching activity, they read through the numbers and offered explanations. With a few bursts of random football debate mixed into our discovery of doing what is right and encouraging others to stay positive, I think they were ready to leave at the end. I am glad they showed signs of being tired because it tells me they thought about the lesson.

What is your opinion about a teacher’s influence on a student’s development? Do you agree with Rorty or disagree?

A late start, but a productive ending.

Are you a teacher, a leader, or a mentor?

That is what the fifth graders figured out today in the third lesson of the Uniquely You curriculum. It is designed to teach the kids how to recognize their spiritual gifts and then cultivate them.

I must say that I was intimidated to teach my first lesson. I had that sort of deer-in-the-headlights feeling, and I am sure I looked the part as well. When my helper parent, Sandy, came in, I was already running into technical problems. The computer and TV screen were not working, and my IT experience was running out. Thankfully, she brought in her husband and an IT expert, and they solved the problem right away. I had a bit of a panic, but it ended up fine. 

The lesson went well, and as their teacher, I think they grasped the concepts well. In the final moments, I felt a deep respect for the church. It was amazing how receptive the kids were to the information I presented, and how quickly they understood it.

In the next few weeks, I hope to develop a more experienced skillset and mindset (Reitenauer 68). I think I will feel more relaxed in our classroom [as seen above] if I have the right tools to interpret the differences in the cultures and personalities that I encounter. Refining my cultural self-awareness and incorporating it into an intercultural competence, or, as Reitenauer explains, how I understand other cultures, will surely promote my engagement (68).

As I head into the next lesson and following weeks, I look forward to working on the kids’ mission project that will span a few months. I wonder what mission they will choose to work on. I also wonder how my contribution will aid in my understanding of service and social justice.

I am grateful that I stumbled upon this opportunity, and that I asked for a position in the church at the right time. Everyone I meet is appreciative of my service, and I am honored to be a part of the program.

An introduction to service and my blog

It is such a good feeling to be in the right place at the right time. I am sure you know what I mean- when you find a dollar bill on the ground, or you get the last cookie out of the jar. Whatever it is, it is a rewarding experience.

I had that experience after searching for the right volunteer position this semester.

I looked at different hospitals, churches, and other non-profit organizations. Nothing really popped out. Not until I was contacted to assist in the Sunday school at my local church, Platte Woods United Methodist Church (seen below). The semester was about to begin, and I was becoming anxious without a solid volunteer position. Since I got the call, everything has fallen in place. I felt an immediate relief when I set up my orientation, and I am excited to teach my first lesson next week!

Starting the search for a volunteer position was the toughest part of the process because there are SO many options. The trick is to stick with your intuition and only look for positions that involve your passion(s). A narrowed search on a website such as RamblerLink or are great ways to begin. Networking with family, friends, teachers, and co-workers is another promising option. You never know until you ask.

You may or may not have to go through a few orientations to find the right fit, but it will be worth it in the end.

Next week I have to prepare the third lesson in a new curriculum, which I will outline in my next blog entry. It is titled “Uniquely You,” and it emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and each person’s unique gifts. Feel free to ask me about how to start your search for a volunteer position, but be prepared to list your passions and networking results!


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