A Trip to Chicago

As the weeks of October began to fly by,  Stephen came home announcing that he was planning on attending a conference at the end of the month that would help the school develop a HomeStay Boarding program. He was really excited about this concept, because it was something that he had a vision for since his years working at Shenandoah Valley Christian School in Virginia.  A HomeStay program would open the door for international high school students to attend particular schools in the United States.  The idea was not to use a dormitory to house these students, but to ask local families to take in one or more students into their home.  Each family would be given a certain amount of compensation by the school for room and board and they would be responsible for making sure the student had transportation to and from school.  This would all be included in the tuition charged to the students’ parents.

Stephen used Southwest to find an affordable one-stop flight to Chicago.

Therefore, Stephen was off to Chicago from Monday, October 24 to Wednesday, October 26. The conference was hosted by Wheaton Academy in West Chicago. Stephen was able to attend various workshops concerning all the logistics of bringing international students into a U.S. school system and finding host families to take care of them.  He got to meet some of the international students who attend Wheaton Academy and talk to administrators from schools where the HomeStay Boarding program is working.

The keynote speaker of the symposium was none other than Dan Egler, who had once been a secondary principal and director of the Alliance Academy in Quito, Ecuador.  Stephen had first met Dan Egler at various events held in Quito for ACSI.

Stephen returned to Lake Jackson very excited about starting this program at Brazosport Christian School as soon as possible. He has a vision for 15 international students to start attending the school as early as the second semester of this year. It took a few meetings to convince some of the teachers at BCS, but everyone is on board for this new project. The school currently has a handful of international students, but all of them live at home with their parents who have moved to Lake Jackson, as well. So, the biggest challenge right now would be finding the host families who would be willing to take on one or more students right after the Christmas holidays.

It’s an amibition plan.  But those of you who know Stephen know that he doesn’t every dream little. Keep him in your prayers as he works to make this project a success that will help the school grow.


A Census Worth Remembering

Luke is really excited about putting up the tree lights.

Perhaps it was the upcoming Christmas season, but I couldn’t help but think of the national 10 year census in the country of Ecuador in light of another national census taken many, many years ago in the Europe and Asia.

Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Well, I’m glad that census-taking has become a little more sophisticated in the 21st century, but I still wonder about the decisions made by Ecuador’s political leaders in deciding how to do a national census.  I don’t know if the census was done in the same way ten years ago, but this time around they decided to “volunteer” the middle and high school students from all the Ecuadorian public schools to participate as census takers.  They actually gave the students several days off from classes so that they could be trained properly in the method of gathering census information.

The plan was to send all these students out on one day to gather the census data while everyone else stayed in their homes “waiting to be counted.” Each student would be assigned a specific sector of the city in which they lived and a police officer would accompany them all day as they made their rounds to different homes. 

Perhaps that seems strange to societies in which a dependable, mail-service system is in place.  In the United States, the national census is always conducted through a mailed “form” being sent to select homes.  Some homes get a short form and others get a “long form” in which they seem to be asked all kinds of strange questions about their home and property.  In Ecuador, the post office system is anything but reliable.  Mail is lost on a regular basis.  Any valuables are at risk of being stolen, even by the post office employees themselves.

Regardless of how the census data is collected, there is always a certain amount of controversy about the questions asked and how the collected data will be used.

The day scheduled for the 2010 Ecuadorian national census was the final Sunday of November; which was November 28.  Businesses were required to stay closed that day.  No church could hold a service.  No one was to leave their homes on that day unless they had special permission (a.k.a. if they were a police officer, hospital employee or a guard. Stephen and I received a little paper in our mailbox from a middle school student attending the nearby military academy.  Little Alex said he would be coming by our home on November 28, and he requested that we wait there for him. 

That day was the final day of our Thanksgiving vacation.  Since we had nowhere else to go, we spent the day putting up the Christmas tree and decorating our home for the holidays.  At about 4:30 in the afternoon, we received a call that our little census taker was on school property and that he would visit us after he talked to another couple who lived in the same building. 

An hour later, we received another phone call from the school guard saying that the boy had already left because he ran out of time.  So, we never got counted as part of the census. 

Jared and Luke help put the limbs on our artificial Christmas tree.

A 24 hour Upheaval in Ecuador

Link to a recent CNN article: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/10/01/ecuador.unrest/index.html

On the morning of Thursday, September 30, I woke up a little earlier than normal and was busy trying to plan out the rest of my day, having little clue of how those plans were going to change in the next few hours.

I was trying to prepare myself to teach my third period class an entire hour earlier than normal.  This week was Spiritual Emphasis Week for our secondary students (seventh through twelfth grades) and the morning schedule had been rearranged to allow for a longer chapel session directly before lunch that ran from 11am to 12:10.  My third period class for Thursday and Friday was scheduled for 8:45am, when I ordinarily teach it at 9:40.

I was not looking forward to it.  I had not been getting enough sleep all week.  By the time my class ended at 9:25, I knew that I was going to be sick if I did not lie down and rest for a bit.  I thought about the fact that faculty and staff members were “highly encouraged” to attend the chapel events, but I didn’t think I would make it through my afternoon classes if I didn’t get some rest that morning.  So, I went home and took a little nap, waking up shortly before noon.

I groggily came out of my bedroom to help the nanny get Jared and Luke and little Isabella ready for lunch and their afternoon naps.  I also had a lunch meeting with some students that I needed to prepare for. 

My thoughts were interrupted by a series of 10 bells ringing out from the speakers placed all aroundcampus. Sonia continued with her duties while I listened to the voice of the director of the school announce that he was beginning the emergency evacuation drill and that all students needed to go pick up their things and be ready to leave campus.

My first thought was, “Why are we having a drill right before lunch time?  We didn’t even get an e-mail to prepare us for this.” 

Then I began trying to explain the process of preparing for an evacuation drill to Sonia, because this was her first experience with it.  I told her that this was only a practice drill and that she needed to take the three children to the back corner of the room until we received further notice of where we should go. 

Just as I was  finishing explaining the evacuation procedures, I heard the director announce again that all secondary students whose parents did not work for the U.S. embassy needed to go to their 6th period classes and that their teachers should meet them there. 

I felt confused as my heart pulled me in two different directions.  I didn’t want to leave Sonia and the kids to figure out what to do by themselves, but I did have a group of 10 students who would be waiting for me to show up in the computer lab.  I also felt annoyed by what I still thought was just a procedural practice drill to prepare us for real situations in the future.

I asked Sonia if she had her cell phone with her, and she said that she didn’t bring it to work with her that day because she had lent it to someone.  After a few minutes, I promised Sonia to call her on the house phone and let her know what she should do next.

Then I scurried off to my sixth period class. 

As I walked down the hallway, through the secondary locker area and toward the building where my class was, I saw different scenes that seemed strange and unusual.  Students were gathering items from their lockers as if they were getting ready to leave.  Some students were with their parents.  There was a general sense of confusion in the air. 

I arrived in my classroom to find my students and another teacher who was trying to cover for me until I arrived.  The first thing I heard was her voice as she argued with the students not to listen to rumors but to wait and find out what was really going on.  Some of the students were asking if they were going to die, if there was a bomb in the school, or if some other natural disaster was about to occur. 

I was told by the teacher that I was supposed to stay in the classroom until each of the students were picked up and taken home by their parents.

That was the first moment that I really began to realize that this was not just an ordinary drill.  Something was happening.  The first thing I did was call Sonia and told her to start feeding the kids, because they wouldn’t be going anywhere.  The connection was bad, so I didn’t bother explaining the situation.

I followed this with a call to Stephen to find out what was going on and what I was supposed to be doing with the students in my charge.  He came up and explained that parents were currently being notified and that they were supposed to come and pick up their kids and take them home as soon as possible.

“A student cannot leave unless his name is called over the loud speaker or if a parent arrives with a notice from the office saying that the child is free to go with them,” Stephen told me.  

I looked at my watch.  It was nearly 12:40pm.  I looked at my students.  One student was out sick and one other student has been picked up by his mom.  That left me with nine students to supervise.

My head started to swim as I realized that I was getting hungry and I had no idea how long I would be up here with these students.  Some of them were worried that their parents would not be able to pick them up because they lived outside of the city. 

Then a new thought jolted my brain.

“Is this thing affecting the Alliance Academy only, or all schools in Quito?” I asked Stephen.

After he told me that all schools in the city were being shut down, I suddenly thought of the nanny.  Sonia Yanchapaxi has two teenage daughters attending schools in Quito.  One is an eighth grader and the other is twelfth grade.  She had no idea what was going on, because she didn’t have her cell phone. 

I told Stephen that I had to get home as soon as possible and let her know that she had to take care of her own kids.  After he found someone to take over my class, I rushed home in time to find Sonia calmly trying to put my boys down for their nap, oblivious to the sounds of various students names being blasted over the loud speaker intermittently telling them to go to the office or meet their parents at one of the entrances to the school.

“This was a bad day to forget your cell phone,” I told her. 

Her eyes got big as I explained the evacuation situation happening across the city and that it had to do with some kind of rioting going on in the city. I gave her my cell phone so that she could start calling her family members and took over the job of getting the boys settled down for their nap. 

Meanwhile, Isabella’s mom came to take her home.  By the time the boys were asleep it was 1pm.  Sonia told me that the police force was on strike at that there were bands of thieves taking advantage of the situation to rob banks and other local businesses.  A couple of malls had also been attacked that very morning. 

“My husband closed his shop, because the police aren’t doing anything to stop these thieves,” she told me. 

Businesses all across Quito had already closed at some point that morning and schools were officially told to close at noon by the ministry of Education. 

After I let Sonia leave to meet up with her husband and daughters, I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the local television news to figure out what was going on.  That was when I realized what had started at approximately 8am that morning.  Watching images of people rioting on the television, made the situation seem as it was thousands of miles away. As I watched, I heard the director make more announcements over the loudspeakers.  By 2:30 all the students had been picked up by their parents.  Then there was an announcement that school would be closed on Friday.  In the end, there was silence across campus.  The only action happening was on the television screen.

In the end, the news could come out that the president had been kidnapped and sequestered in a hospital building for the whole day.  I have actually been in that building in the past, because it is adjacent to the hospital building were Luke was born and I used their civil registration office to get Luke’s paperwork done.

Throughout the day, a group of rioters came out to protest what the police were doing and a group of rioters (who agreed with the police) came out to protest the president’s new law.  Those who were involved in these riots were the ones at risk of injury or death.  For the rest of the population, who went home and stayed out of the way, they stayed safe.  For those who were in the center of Quito, trying to leave the city, they faced a few challenges and obstructions in the way of rioters burning tires. The rescue of the president, late that Thursday evening, signaled the end of the riot at the cost of the lives of two police officers. 

By Friday morning, there was no trace left of the event.  I took a taxi through the center of the city to do my grocery shopping and nothing on the street could give me any indicators of what had happened the day before.  The only big difference was the amount of people shopping with my on a Friday morning.  Typically, it is very quiet at that time.  That day, however, the store was packed to capacity.  The lines behind the check out counters curved around the back of the front isle to accommodate the 6 to 10 different people standing at each counter. I think it took me 45 minutes standing at the front of the store, before I reached the check out counter myself. 

Now, it is the weekend and it looks like the situation that had been created such tension and distress for a few hours, has settled into a dust of recovery.  I am guessing that school will be back in session on Monday, as the police force is doing their best to gain back the  trust of the people and hope that they will not be among the group of officers who are “purged” from their jobs for the actions that took place on the last day of September.

As for me, I am grateful to be living in a place where we remained virtually untouched by the turmoil around us.

World Cup Fever

I have to take a few minutes to go back in time to the beginning of June.  It was the last month of school.  The world was getting prepared for the most televised soccer games in the past four years.  The FIFA World Cup of Soccer was being hosted in South Africa which was seven hours ahead of us in Quito. 

The normal afternoon and evening games, taking place in South Africa, were played in the early morning hours and early afternoon hours in Quito. 

The first day, a game started at 9am and a second game started at 1:30pm.  My first class of the day started at 10:35, which was right at the half-time of the game.  When I strode into my classroom, I could feel the excitement among the students as they talked about the first half of the game between France and South Africa.  They turned to beg me to let them see the game.  They were currently working on a final project for the class, so I was feeling more lenient toward them.  I made it clear to them that they would have one less day to work on their project if they watched the game instead.  They said they didn’t mind.  So, I brought all 12 students back to my home to watch the game.  (Living on campus allowed me to do with without taking my students off campus.)

After lunch, my sixth period class began at 1pm.  But there was an excitement and energy in the air about the upcoming game.  A few teachers had brought their television sets from home to hook up in their classrooms so that students could watch the game as they studied.  (Studied? Ha!)

I told my students that they had to complete the day’s assignment before 1:30 if they wanted to watch the beginning of the game.  To my surprise, they all finished.  This time, we headed up to the library where AV center was also playing the game. 

The rest of the afternoon, I was stricter on my students.  My middle school computer students really didn’t have the time to take away from working on their final projects.  However, I had some very grumpy students for the rest of the day. 

It was very interesting to watch the way everything seemed to come to a halt during the times the games were taking place.  A few years ago, AAI put up a television screen just inside the entrance to the school for putting up special announcements.  However, they began to use this television to let students watch the games between classes or if they had a study hall. For two weeks there was a game every day at 6:30am, 9am and 1:30pm.  Each one of these games went into class time.  It was hard for the teachers who were trying to keep their kids focused in class.  However, the good news was that students had no reason not to do their homework at night, because the games were finished by the time school was over. 

During that time, I watched as many of the games as I could (when I wasn’t in class).  The boys got used to a routine of seeing the television on when they woke up in the morning.  Cristina taught Jared how to recognize when a goal was made.  It wasn’t too difficult.  Especially since the announcer would start screaming, “GOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!” for nearly two minutes after the goal was scored. 

There is nothing like watching world cup soccer games in a country where soccer is most popular sport around.

Another successful week in spiritual emphasis

     All middle and high school students attend chapel every Wednesday. However, there is also a special week of chapels planned for each semester of the school year to emphasize areas of spiritual growth for all students who participate. Soon after the second semester began at the Alliance Academy International (AAI), they had their second spiritual emphasis week from February 9-13.  A graduate of the school, Paul Reichert (98) was the speaker for the week. 

      Although Cristina was unable to attend any of the chapels, Stephen was able to attend parts of the chapels.  He noted the dramatic transformation of the chapel into a dark room with three projectors pointing toward the center of the room where the speaker was located.  The students sat in chairs in the stages that surrounded the speaker as he focused on how one can “know God” and how to share God with others.
     Stephen found Paul’s first chapel message to be interesting as he focused on the aspects of evangelism and how to present the gospel message to those who are atheists.  As the week wore on, Stephen also noted that the students were very receptive to Paul’s message and responded well to him.  
     In summary, it was successful on both a spiritual and personal level.