Fall 2020 Re-opening update 7/13/20

Fall Opening Update 7/13/2020

Dear ACA Families,

This past Wednesday Gov. Cuomo finally announced the timeline for the regulations for opening this fall. The new regs will be released on Monday and schools will have a few weeks to put together plans and submit them to the State for approval by Aug 1st. Interestingly, his comments on Wednesday made no mention of independent schools and thankfully our faithful Assemblywoman, Carrie Woerner was able to make some calls on our behalf and found that there will be guidance specific to independent schools that will come out alongside, or shortly after, the public school regs come out. I was very grateful to also hear from our regional member of the NYS Board of Regents that, indeed much consideration has been given to the differences between independent schools and state schools. As such I continue to be optimistic that we will indeed be as on time, on campus, and in full as the extent of the regulations permit.

For our part, as we wait for specifics, we continue to work on maximizing our classroom space as the spacing out of students will certainly be a key element of any re-opening plan. And we continue to work out provision for those among us with higher risk or greater concern that would preclude them from being on campus for in-person instruction. We are making plans so that, in one way or another, all of us can “be there” (in person or remotely) on the first day of classes.

In considering our experience this spring, I found myself boiling school down into three buckets: Instruction, Plan, and Community. Since our start we have worked hard to put a biblically-consistent and excellent plan into the hands of expert instructors in the midst of committed community of like-minded parents. This past spring when we went to remote instruction we found our basic formula greatly challenged. While our plan remained remarkably intact, our teachers were often scrambling to figure out this new context and our community largely disappeared. While we expect to be on campus in September, a big chunk of our planning now is focused on shoring up our instruction and our community should we find ourselves online again at some point during this coming school year.

The rest of our energy is going to make sure that we can best respond to the requirements of the regulations that we will hopefully see in this current week. If indeed the independent school regs come out alongside the public school regs, then this letter next week will have a very different subject line.

In the meantime I would ask you to begin your own preparations for Fall with two considerations:

Transportation: The public school world is very concerned with how to manage busing. Many schools are saying that busing will be their Achilles heal: they have plenty of classroom space, but will not have enough space on buses to get the students to school as a group. Be prepared for your school districts to offer alternative arrangements than you have enjoyed in the past. Or, you may want to limit your interactions with these vehicles of public transportation for other reasons. Start thinking about what your carpooling or ride-sharing options might be.

Clothing: I expect that our students will be spending much more time outside this year. As Ann, Tamra, and I have talked about how to use our small spaces, we have often come to the conclusion that outside will be best. From dismissal lines and lunch tables in the parking lot to walking around buildings rather than through them, we need to all start embracing the iconic German Kindergarten adage that there is no “bad” weather, only “badly dressed children.” Certainly extreme rain and cold will keep the students inside, but whenever we can get out, we will be expecting the students to be ready to do so. Please be making your own preparations for hardy school wear (hats, mittens, layers) and if you have a heart and head for these things, please don’t hesitate to speak up with suggestions for modifications to the dress code that will better equip our students to be outside.

While re-envisioning school for the coming year has been overwhelming and disheartening for the past few weeks, I am grateful now for the opportunities it affords. God has gifted us with an excellent and historic plan for discipleship. He has provided a talented and committed faculty. He has created a community of like-minded parents that we can join together in this time of adversity. These three elements, honed and strengthened, will enable us together to effectively disciple this next generation through whatever storms we face.

Gen Z Blues

Recently I have been reading a book full of wisdom about the nature of the current rising generation of kids (Gen Z) and effective strategies for reaching them. A very timely subject given the ever-increasing rise in the number of children who are walking away from the faith of their youth. Polls show that as many as 80% of young believers in this generation are not darkening the doorways of churches once they leave home. This is pretty humbling stuff for a parent of children in this age group. While I very much enjoy reading books of the kind I have in hand, I have found this particular one disappointing. Certainly, it seems to be spot on in understanding the nature of this group of young people and quite insightful in its assessment of effective ways to communicate God’s truth to them. But it lacks in one critical idea: scripture calls us to be in the world and not of it. Our homes, churches, and schools should be distinctly counter cultural. Because of our commitment to living out Godly lives and teaching our children scripture, it is reasonable to expect that our children would be conformed to Christ and not the popular culture around them. We should not be living like the world, expecting our children to be consumed by it, and then reading clever books that will show us how best to approach them once they have departed. Proverbs 22:6 is a huge promise to us (“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”). Our assumption here at ACA is that our families are training up counter-cultural children and that our mission is to be a place that affirms a Christ-centered culture. We all have our ways of steering our kids away from a culture that denies Christ and threatens to consume them. We limit screen time, and some shoot their TV’s all together. We read to our kids and create opportunities to teach them scripture. We celebrate their, and our, counter-culturalness rather than apologizing for it.
If we have done our job well, our kids will not fit in so well to the Gen Z crowd. Lord willing, they will be broken hearted by their peers and be fully equipped to share the Gospel with them, not wounded and staggering along with them.

Salt and Light

Salt and light.

Most of us have encountered the idea that the government schools are a critical mission field and that our kids, growing up in God fearing homes should be “salt and light” in those dark halls. For years I struggled with responding to this call. Having worked in public schools I knew full well the need for godly folks to walk along side the students who spend their days in a context that largely rejects the creator God. I also knew that my own children needed opportunities to share their budding faith in Christ. But the idea of sending them into that fray seemed wrong to me and it took a few years before I could articulate why. Clarity came when my then 7 year old son Ben became enamored with the idea of being a soldier. It was so clear to me that it would not be until he was physically mature, emotionally mature, had proper training, was fully equipped, and surrounded by a band of like prepared brothers with great leadership that I would be willing to let him march off to serve his country as a soldier. Our public schools are perhaps one of the most challenging mission environments I can think of. Students are relentlessly bombarded with secular ideology masquerading as “neutrality”. Students regularly get the message that a open declaration of faith in Christ represents a disruptive, unwelcome, and even unconstitutional intrusion of religion in the public sphere. All this while the daily drum beat of secularism is to be swallowed whole. For 10 years I worked as a missionary to a local public school, and during that time I became acutely aware how challenging that environment was and how vulnerable the student leaders I worked with were. Things came to a head for me when a rock star student leader broke down and despaired that “we talk so much about influencing this school for Christ, and yet it is they that influence us”, said as she held out her fore-arms to show the invisible scars of the spiritual battle that raged around her. The “great commission” in Matthew 28 calls us to make disciples of all men, and it is clear from scripture that the discipleship of children is the domaine of parents. For a parent to prioritize the discipleship of the children under their roof is obedience, not selfishness. If a parent feels a call to reach the students and faculty in a government school, then it is obedience for them, in their maturity and with the support of their church and perhaps even a missions organization to respond to that call. But like a war zone is no place for 7 year olds, so to is a public school no place for a young, immature Christian.
Ultimately we need to recognize that while yes, we are called to be fishers of men, we were never called to use our children as bait.

The Table and the Tree

I have had a tree in my life since I was 5 years old.  I first encountered my American Chestnut tree as a rotting stump and a great source of creepy crawly things. The giant had shaded our pre-Independence home and had succumbed to a European tree disease. Its story was my first awareness of the idea of an invasive species, but the story did not end there. One summer during my high school years a shoot came up out of the stump. It sprang up quickly and flourished and then died. The next spring, more shoots grew quickly and likewise died. Each successive round of shoots grew longer and stronger before succumbing to the disease. Later, a conversation with an arborist revealed that indeed the tree was fighting back and was gradually growing resistant to the disease.

Our tree was not unique. All over the Northeast, chestnut trees were rebounding, springing up out of long-rotted stumps. The process appeared painful, as each year new shoots reached for the sky, only to be cut down months later by the virus within. But this growth produced hope. Now, the tree, no longer a stump, produces fruit and is showing no signs of growing weary of the fight. Its trajectory is clear: it will prevail and the disease will be vanquished.

At The Table this past February, Dr. Gregory Thornbury also referenced a tree, The Giving Tree by Shel SIlversten. This morality tale portrays the relationship between a young boy and a tree. In his youth, the boy is perfectly satisfied and blessed by his relationship with the tree. As the boy grows, however, he wants more than the companionship the tree has given him, and he regularly expresses sadness over his lack of material goods. And each time the tree offers up increasingly greater portions of its being—his apples, his branches, his trunk—until finally the boy is an old man and the tree has nothing to offer, except for its stump which the boy now needs as a place to sit and rest. Thornbury used the tree as a picture of the biblical foundations of our nation and society. Like the boy, America presumes upon this legacy, consuming it as needed, and doing nothing to maintain it. While the storybook ends warmly with the boy resting on the stump of his beloved but forsaken tree and the tree happy again to have companionship with the boy, I think that the parallels to life in America need a different ending.

Which brings us back to my tree. Rightly, some in America have begun to question why we are so plagued by mass shootings and failing families and ineffective schools. I believe that we don’t need to wait until our heritage is consumed before our culture acknowledges its biblical foundation. As the “shoots” spring up out of families like those at ACA and influence the culture around them, our nation will catch its first real glimpse of the glory of the tree from which our culture grew. While the trunk may be decayed, the roots of that great tree endure and create resilient and persistent shoots that keep reaching out into the world around them. Like that chestnut tree at my family’s Berkshire home, the awesome power of the Gospel and the weighty legacy of Christendom will sustain and grow this next generation. The trajectory is clear: the Gospel will prevail through this generation of well-discipled, articulate, and winsome young adults. Augustine is delighted to partner with parents to effectively train and equip this generation.