“Have fun! Be safe!”
It’s been an oft-sung refrain for countless parents over the ages, called out to children as they cavort off to whatever adventure lies before them.
Have fun. Be safe. Both worthwhile charges for children to heed.
And as our collective society prepared for the adventure that would be the 2020-2021 school year, the theme leaned overwhelmingly on the “Be safe!” mantra.
To be fair, opening school during a global pandemic does indeed demand an extra dose of health and safety precautions and awareness. It’s no small task to keep sickness from spreading in a typical school environment - any elementary teacher can tell you that.
But we do our children and our society a great disservice if we sacrifice the fun in the process.
That’s why the administration and faculty at Veritas set about from the very beginning of our reopening planning process ensuring that joy and fun remained firmly implanted in our daily school lives this year, even with safety as a priority.
Because joyful learning at school helps cultivate joyful learners for life. That is what we are after here at Veritas.
TAKING JOY SERIOUSLY
Joyful learning is a hallmark of the educational philosophy at Veritas Academy - and in classical Christian education as a whole. The idea that students who take delight in school will grow into adults who love to learn guides our teachers as they recognize the lifelong impact their lessons have on these kids.
So while COVID-era school meant that we had to rethink classroom layouts and limit student movement within the building, we made it our goal to ensure that whatever sacrifices we had to make in order to ensure health and safety, one thing that would not be sacrificed was the joy.
There are several practical steps we took to create special, enjoyable learning spaces for students, like outdoor classrooms under tents in our charming courtyard and cozy bean bags in our cafeteria for socially-distanced, comfy reading time. No doubt, students are relishing these amenities, which may in fact outlast the pandemic and become entrenched in our repertoire of unique school traditions.
THE EVIDENCE OF JOY
So far, just a few weeks into the school year, it all seems to be working.
At a recent faculty meeting, Dean of Academics Bruce Etter remarked how encouraging it has been to visit classrooms and see so many smiling faces on the students and teachers.
“I have to admit, I was a little worried that COVID would drain some of that enjoyment out of school, but it just doesn’t seem like that’s happening,” he said gladly.
And parents, may we assure you that it’s true: joy continues to radiate from your children's classrooms these days.
At the conclusion of the first week of school this month, we asked students what they’re liking about being back. Overwhelmingly, the biggest resounding answer was just that they were glad to, well, be BACK.
Beyond that, however, Veritas students of all ages are finding a plethora of things that make them excited about school and learning. Here’s a sample:
“I love literature! Today we read Bears on Hemlock Mountain and I really liked it.”
- Emery, second grade (whose class will soon dive into such beloved classics like The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, and Winnie the Pooh!)
“I just like how they do stuff here! It’s fun how every grade has a different theme and I can’t wait to learn all the Egypt things!”
- Beatrice, second grade
“I like learning another language!”
- Asher, second grade. Latin, which begins in second grade, is a big hit with our grammar school students.
“I love math! It’s fun and Mrs. Casey is such a good math teacher,”
- Sylvia, third grade (with most of the class chiming in agreement that they all LOVE math!)
“I like science with Miss Esbenshade!”
- Adeline, third grade
“I loved history this week! It was so cool learning about the Minoans!”
- Silas, third grade
“I really like this history we’re learning about in fourth grade and I’m looking forward to learning about it.”
- William, fourth grade
“I’m looking forward to writing longer papers and stories this year.”
- Taylor, sixth grade
“Learning is just fun, and all our teachers are really nice!”
- Paisley, sixth grade
“Logic! Mrs. Carlson makes it so much fun. It’s kind of like doing a puzzle.”
- Charlotte, eighth grade (and nearly the entire 8th grade class who concur that Logic is simply awesome)
“I like secondary Omnibus. Right now, we’re studying the Hobbit, and I like discussing the material because it makes it fun for me, and it just makes me happy!”
- Hannah, eighth grade
“I just like literally everything about school right now. And I’m really looking forward to Acting class!”
- Ana, Sophomore
“I’m excited about the classes I picked. My schedule this year allows me to choose an advanced math, science, and language, and I was glad to get to do all three, so I’m looking forward to Anatomy and Physiology, Calculus II, and Spanish IV.”
- Caitlyn, Senior (and can we just take a moment to appreciate 17 year olds who are excited to take Calc II?)
“I’m really enjoying Advanced Art, and I love the opportunity to take art every day, and learn and grow beyond the electives.”
- Erin, Senior
“The discussions we have in Mr. Etter and Mr. Fischer’s Omnibus classes are my favorite. ”
The students aren’t the only ones taking great joy in the experience of school at Veritas. Teachers - the ones predominantly responsible for proliferating that joy - are feeling it, too.
Yes, they’ve had to be flexible in adjusting to new ways of doing things this year, but they’re finding new and unexpected ways to not only teach, but build relationships with their students. From finding spots to read together outside, to playing basketball with the students during break times, to eating lunch with their high school students in the courtyard, teachers are finding extra blessings in being together with the student body now.
“I’m more cognizant of having good personal interaction and downtime with the kids, and just enjoy being with them and getting to know them,” says Graham Dennis, Dean of Students and Omnibus teacher
They’re also looking ahead to the things they’ve planned for students. From field trips to class projects to feasts to engaging discussions, each teacher has traditions that they love to share with their class.
One reason these teachers are so good at creating a joyful learning environment is because they take such joy in learning - and teaching - themselves.
“I enjoy inspiring a love of learning in people,” says Pam Carlson, Logic, Math and Robotics teacher. “I’m a natural coach, and I love to remind my students that they are uniquely and fiercely made, and God has designed them on purpose for His purpose.
“I love to teach, and I especially love to teach logic. I love to bring joy to kids when they’re learning, so that class is never boring. Logic could be very dry, but I enjoy making it exciting and bringing that energy to it. It inspires them to think about things in a different way. Maybe it will shape their career path - someone will want to be a logician or go into a STEM field. It all starts with excitement and joyful learning.”
This sentiment is echoed among so many of our teachers.
“I love teaching. Why? Because I love learning, and I love sharing the things that I’ve learned,” says Amanda Crooks, secondary Art and Science teacher.
“When you find your gifts, you just light up. I would have never thought when I was in high school that I would want to be a teacher. But then God redirected me and I found myself doing things that made me realize ‘This is what I’m meant to do.’ From there, now, I get to operate in the gifts God gave me. I get to be silly, share my story, and of course, talk about body parts! And now here I am, being thrilled that I got a bucket of eyeballs to dissect with my students this week!”
Sharon Strawbridge, our first grade teacher, takes great joy in what she does here each day. “Teaching first grade at Veritas for these 17 years has given me many reasons to love my job," she says. "I enjoy the excitement, curiosity, and joy of children who walk through my classroom doors. I love building upon the foundation of language and learning that they have already begun in their short lives. I love to read to them and we have so many great books in our classroom! I love teaching them to love reading and words and ideas.”
DEEPLY JOYFUL LEARNING
The kind of deeply joyful learning we’re after here goes beyond simply adding fun to the school day. It’s more than just extra outdoor play time or inserting a fun activity into a lesson to keep students engaged.
It means capturing the sheer wonder of God’s creation and truth - in science, math, art, literature, history, and virtually every subject known to mankind - and rejoicing in that wonder with students of all ages.
A classical Christian school truly is - and should be - the most joyful learning environment of all. As Christians, we have the greatest opportunity and capacity to experience joy in learning - not just because the God we know and love has created such wonderful, mysterious, beautiful things, but because we have the source of joy within us.
Ty Fischer, our Head of School, summed this up wonderfully in a recent video message to our school community. Take a listen to part of his message on joy in the video below:
If you’re part of the Veritas community already, we’re so thankful to be able to share this great joy with you - not only in this unique year, but every year. If you’re not, and you would like your child to be able to experience this kind of deep and meaningful joy in learning every day at school, then we invite you to come visit us to see it all in person. Be part of a movement that endeavors to make school not just fun, but a true and lasting JOY.