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A Tripartite Standard for School Success, Part 2 of 3

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By John DePoe, Academic Dean for the Schools of Logic and Rhetoric

In a previous post, I introduced the notion of measuring a school’s success by looking at the transformation of the students’ lives through three questions inspired by C. S. Lewis:

  1. What are our students learning about how the relate to others?
  2. What are our students learning about themselves?
  3. What are our students learning about the ultimate purposes of life?

Let’s dive into the first two questions in this post, but let me first state a caveat. My answer will heavily reflect the current curriculum of the Schools of Logic and Rhetoric since this is an aspect of students’ learning with which I am very familiar. Although, I don’t want to give the impression that these questions cannot be answered by looking at other aspects of the school.

So, what are our students learning about how to relate to others? One of the first things that comes to mind is that they are learning to collaborate and work as a team through projects and presentations. For example, this semester our 8th grade History students put together “shark tank” presentations to create a mock pitch to investors (or “sharks”) for inventions from the industrial revolution like the telegraph, cotton gin, and spinning jenny. Students were assigned groups and tasked with doing research, preparing a presentation (each student had to speak in part of the presentation), and creating visual aids for their proposals—some even created working models of their invention. Through assignments like these, students practice skills that are used in many aspects of adult life (e.g., working, family life, participation in church, athletics, higher education, etc.). These kinds of assignments teach students how to relate to their classmates, which involves the delegation of responsibility, open communication, and wise planning. In these learning exercises they see that different roles need to be played, and they often discover strengths among themselves that they didn’t realize were present. They learn to trust one another in working together to a single goal.

Another thing that KPA students are learning about relating to others is how to argue, debate, and disagree with one another, while showing respect to one another. I had the joy of overseeing a Socratic seminar in 10th grade English recently where students discussed the first quarter of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Students prepare questions that guide their forty-minute long discussion. In the course of the seminar, the teacher says virtually nothing, while the students debate and discuss the questions provoked from the text ranging from how come Queen Margaret always seems so bitter? to do you believe that Richard’s motivations for his villainy are justified? and even when is it ever permissible to kill another person? The discussion itself was and thought-provoking (I rarely find this level of discussion among adults!). But beyond what they said, it was gratifying to observe how they said it. Students often disagreed with one another, but no one ever made the disagreement personal. In fact, students were often more aware of the need to cite textual evidence from Shakespeare to make their point when they had a different point of view from their classmate. This kind of exercise teaches students how to disagree without being disagreeable. They focus on the issue, state supporting reasons for their positions, and look each other in the eye with respect as they do it. I often wish more adults possessed the skills I see our students practicing regularly in our school.

What are students learning about themselves? Through our academic coursework, they develop a biblical understanding of anthropology or an understanding of human nature. The biblical worldview teaches that human beings have become walking oxymorons, creatures with conflicting natures: humans are created in the image of God and humans have a sinful nature. I can’t resist quoting a statement of this oxymoronic state of man from the French philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“The point is that if man had never been corrupted, he would, in his innocence, confidently enjoy both truth and felicity, and, if man had never been anything but corrupt, he would have no idea either of truth or bliss. But unhappy as we are (and we should be less so if there were no element of greatness in our condition) we have an idea of happiness but we cannot attain it. We perceive an image of the truth and possess nothing but falsehood.”

Recently, our 12th grade students in Rhetoric class had a discussion comparing and contrasting the competing views of anthropology posed by Socrates and St. Augustine. Socrates held to a view that all people desire to do what is good, and therefore any volitional act that results in evil must come from ignorance. Augustine, by contrast, claims that humans often do evil from evil motives; they even sometimes do evil for the sake of evil itself (see Confessions, book II). Although there is much to study, emulate, and praise from Socrates’s philosophy, his view of human nature is thoroughly secular and ignores the depravity of human nature, and echoes of his anthropology can be heard today in those who think more education, a better home, or other modifications to a person’s environment could eliminate evil. Augustine holds to the biblical view that acknowledges the depraved state of human nature. The Rhetoric students uncovered these differences in our class, and they recognized how different views of human nature make a difference. How delightful it was to see students understand these important truths about human nature!

Many aspects of human nature are raised through our students’ studies throughout the school, whether it is from their study of ancient Egypt, The Bronze Bow, To Kill a Mockingbird, the plays of Sophocles, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Over and over again, we reinforce the Christian anthropology that sees that humans are both created in God’s image (rendering them as creatures of great dignity and value) and sinners depraved from birth (resulting in their selfishness and estrangement from God).

In sum, I am delighted with the beliefs and values about how to relate to themselves and others in which we raise our students. These foundational truths prepare them to see reality in focus through the lens of a Christian worldview. In a final blog post, I will touch on the third question: what are our students learning about the ultimate purposes of life?

The Long Game: Embracing a Slow Walk of Faith

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By Amanda Jackson

“I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future.”

-Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmstead was the landscape architect most famously known for his design of Central Park in New York City and for the grounds and gardens of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. What struck me so profoundly the last time I was at the Biltmore was the knowledge that the breathtaking beauty that I and my family were beholding was not what he ever witnessed in his lifetime. He had a vision for the long-term growth and development of the landscape. Growth that would take many years to come to fruition. You can walk on the grounds of that most impressive estate today and think it must be nice to have wealth of that scale to create such a place to live in and enjoy. The fact of the matter, however, is that neither Olmstead the landscape architect, nor Vanderbilt, the owner, ever saw it as we are able to today. That realization struck my modern-day instant gratification mindset as unfair. Further reflection has caused me to see it as incredibly beautiful and very healthy. When I parallel this to my spiritual walk I am able to settle into an appreciation for what our lives on this earth are capable of.

We are capable of so much, to be sure. We can effect much change and do much good for the kingdom. I fear, however, that in our culture of social media highlight reels and the emphasis of making a huge impact in whatever way you can, we might miss what is actually true for the average person: our life in Christ is a slow, mundane, and very ordinary feeling process. Eugene Peterson wrote a book entitled The Long, Slow Walk of Obedience. The title alone captivated me and ministered to my heart before I read a word. It rang true to me. This is a long game we are in here. Morgan Snyder of Ransomed Heart ministries encourages people to measure their walk with the Lord by the DECADE. We want instant sanctification, don’t we? We want quantifiable success and fast. We want TO MAKE THE BIGGEST IMPACT possible. I’m not arguing that people don’t lead very fruitful and productive lives that make enormous kingdom impact. I AM arguing that MOST won’t see that kind of measurable influence in their day to day life. That’s not to say it isn’t there or isn’t growing in the soil of their obedience. It just may take time. Much like Olmstead’s landscapes. Moses’s ministry didn’t start until he was 80 years old. In the end, he never even settled into the promised land with the people he was leading. David never built the temple he had the passion and the vision to build. Abraham had to wait years before God fulfilled His promise of a son through Sarah. (I could devote an entire blog post to the mistake he made of trying to force God’s promise. I use the phrase “birthing an Ishmael” often; as in, I don’t want to do that!) We live in this culture that is trying to sell us the lie we’ve got to hurry up and get the thing done. Hurry, hurry, hurry. That sounds all fine and good until the Lord hits pause on your life. Will you trust Him in that? Will you allow Him to do a quiet work in you that no one will see or know about? Will you be content if it takes years? We are on His timetable, and it’s measured by eternity. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us this “slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”  We have no idea what God is trying to cultivate in our hearts for His purposes and His plans. He is the potter and we are the clay. I heard a song this summer that had me in tears in this season of my life where I feel a bit “paused” by the Lord. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves:

“Seasons” by Hillsong

Like the frost on a rose
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience

Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to sequoia

I know
Though the winter is long
Even richer
The harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs
Even greater
Your promise for me
Like a seed
I believe that my season will come

Lord I think of Your love
Like the low winter sun
As I gaze I am blinded
In the light of Your brightness

Like a fire to the snow
I’m renewed in Your warmth
Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful

I can see the promise
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting

You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child

Like a seed You were sown
For the sake of us all
From Bethlehem’s soil
Grew Calvary’s sequoia

Please go and listen to this song (on the There is More album from Hillsong) with the lyrics in front of you. It’s so beautiful. I sat in worship as the tears fell down my face, praising the God who “came as a child.” He’s a long-game God. He just is. He is a cultivator. A pruner. A crock-pot, not a microwave. If we can be willing to submit ourselves to this patient, loving Father and walk out this steady journey back to the garden, we will find ourselves content with His timing and trusting of His cultivating. We will be just as grateful for the mundane tasks set before us as we are for the more visible and noticeable ones. We will be accepting of the winter seasons that are quiet and dormant. We will learn to trust Him with the soil of our children’s souls. They are His and this life of growth in Him is a process that takes time. We must not forget Who we serve. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” Surely do what? Verse 23 says “sanctify you completely.” I’m so thankful to serve an active, pursuing God. I rest that He will surely do it. It may not look like what my vision of it would be. But in obedient submission to Him? It will be exactly what I need.

This is a long road. It’s going to have curves, rocks, pits, and seeming dead ends. It won’t be flashy or impressive on most days. We may not get to see the fulfillment of the vision we had for His Kingdom. We will even have seasons that may feel entirely fruitless. We have to trust God. He will give us the feet and equip us for everything the road brings. Be encouraged. You are living this truth right now. My hope is to show you that nothing is wasted and that He is a God who takes His time. But in the end? I bet our faithful journey will leave behind a beautiful landscape for our lineage to inherit. And beyond even that? The journey we are on this side of heaven is merely a blip on the line of eternity. You have a Kingdom position that awaits you that I believe the Lord is preparing you for even now. Moses may not have lived in the promised land but He made it to THE PROMISED LAND and is walking in His inheritance. So will you. Our whole life is a preparation for the one to come. Take Heart! He has got you. Rest in this long walk. It’s not the end of your story.

Goals with God

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By Jacky Howard, KPA dad

In the business world, now is the time of year that we start the process of evaluating the year and planning for next year. We spend time planning new goals and making a game plan to implement those goals. Goals are important. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  As my kids get older, I want them to develop positive habits in goal setting and plan implementation for success. God has plans for each of us to succeed, according to Jeremiah 29:11, so let’s get His help in the whole process.

PRAYER

The first step is prayer.  Since God has plans for you, it only stands to reason to ask Him for direction and vision. Matthew 6:33 and 1 Chronicles 28:9, clearly say to seek Him. We all need His clarity and If we seek Him, we get answers. Seek Him to eliminate worry, doubt and confusion.

Now let’s dream. Dream and get crazy. What is something you want, something that seems out of reach? Maybe your dream is a certain job, vacation or boldness to share the gospel. Maybe a new home, running a marathon or even writing a novel. It doesn’t matter, just dream and then write it in your dream journal. Yes, get a dream journal and write the dream down. You see, when you take a dream and write it down, it now becomes a goal.  Kind of sneaky huh? God’s Word says in Habakkuk 2:2, Write down the vision and make it plain! Plus, studies show written goals have better chance of being obtained.  Write it down.

PLAN and PRACTICE

Working backwards, we must create a plan. Read Psalm 20:4, 33:11 as part of seeking Him and your heart will align with the steps to get there. Commit your works to the Lord and your thoughts will be established. – Proverbs 16:3. Ask the Lord for the steps and wisdom to reach the goal. Set aside time to sharpen your skills in the direction God’s leads you. Read books and articles that educate you on the process. Practice the process and get good at winning the plan with a focus on the goal.

PERFORM, PLANT and PERSEVERE

Proverbs 10:4, 12:24, 27, 13:4, 20:4 and 21:5 say a diligent man will prosper but a sluggard will go hungry.  Be diligent and expect God to bless your work with favor, wisdom, guidance and vision.  Be prepared to shift direction if or when the Holy Spirit prompts.  Seek His Word for wisdom then speak the Word into your Life. Seek the Word in all you do, then DO the Word! – James 1:22

Let the Word manifest in your soul so that anything short of God is unacceptable.

If you plant the Word, you are building success on God’s terms. It will bear fruit in every aspect of your life. For business or school, plants seeds and work your field. Look at your plan and stick to it. If you want to write a book, write a page a day. If you want to make the Honor Roll, study an extra few minutes each day. There are no short-cuts. Look to your plan and work it.

With Godly faith (Hebrews 11), turn up your Expector!  If your attitude is negative it will not align with your Expector.  If your Expector is not functioning at optimum momentum; you must change your attitude.  In other words, if you expect to fail, odds are you will!  Turn up your Expector and trust only in The Lord! Psalm 20:7

Be consistent, persistent and always remember your Dream!  DO NOT GIVE UP OR GIVE IN.

PRAY and PROFESS

Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 Pray the Lord will keep you focused. Pray to be in the right place for God’s guidance. Pray for strength; remember it’s not your strength to succeed, but His! Pray for your peers, teachers, family and leadership. Distance yourself from the drama. – Psalm 20:5

Pray the plans God has set before you and believe, by Faith, you will prosper. Pray and speak GOD’s Word to fertilize and water your efforts and expect an abundant harvest.

Ask for your plan to succeed. We have not because we ask not. Luke 11:9-13; John 16:24

Don’t lose your dream, and honor God with your gratitude and abundance!

Dream Big!

Dyslexia: Understanding the Struggling Reader

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By Heather Jenkins, KPA Mom and Dyslexia Teacher

The other day one of my daughters sent me this picture from campus with this text: “I’ve become a meme.”

Poor thing, she was trying to make light of the situation, but she was really feeling the pressure of looming deadlines and an upcoming Social Work exam. If only we could learn the material in textbooks (or instruction manuals!) through osmosis. I know I’m stating the obvious, but learning how to read is essential to our children’s education. 

Falling Behind

The initial years of school focus on that very thing — learning to read — but by 4th grade children begin the important transition into reading to learn. If a child hasn’t learned to read well enough to comprehend what’s been read, the road to learning will become significantly more difficult. Suddenly, poor readers will notice their peers, who were already a few paces ahead, are now leaving them in the dust. And the truth is, at this point, it will be almost impossible to “catch up” to their peers.

Why? Because as strong readers increase their vocabulary by hundreds of new words each year, weak readers are just struggling to keep up  — and they are missing out on all that new learning.

These struggles cause children to lose confidence in themselves. They become frustrated. They have no desire to read because it is laborious work, with little reward for their effort. They may be called “lazy.” Some, trying to divert attention away from their weaknesses, will become trouble makers. Some, like my own child, will ask you out of the blue one day, “Am I stupid?”

Am I stupid?

Those three words can break a mother’s heart.

Maybe you are wondering if your child has dyslexia. As I watched my bright child struggle with reading, I wondered the same thing. To be honest though, my husband and I dismissed it, because back then we had several misconceptions about dyslexia.

But here’s what I wish I had known: Though it’s not uncommon for small children to invert letters, or find the task of reading a challenge from time to time, persistent reading problems that cause a child to fall further and further behind his peers, is concerning — especially if he is doing well in other subjects. When there is an unexpected difficulty learning to read despite intelligence, motivation, and education, parents should consider the possibility of dyslexia.

What is dyslexia?

Many people assume that dyslexia causes a person to see letters and words backwards, like seeing “dab” instead of “bad.” But people with dyslexia see letters just like everyone else. Dyslexia is not a vision problem. Let me say that again.

Dyslexia is not a vision problem.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability (some would say “difference”) that is neurological in origin and impairs phonological processing.

In other words, it affects how language is processed in the brain.

Dyslexia does not affect a person’s intelligence, nor is it caused by a lower-than-average IQ. People with dyslexia can be great inventors, renowned lawyers, or surgeons, or Pulitzer Prize winners. Gifted people can be dyslexic. Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Agatha Christie, Lewis Carroll, Charles Schwab, Erin Brockovich, Tim Tebow, and Jay Leno (to name just a few) are proof that dyslexics can be massively creative and successful.

People affected by dyslexia don’t have a problem seeing words, they have trouble processing language — especially isolating and manipulating sounds within words.

Here’s an example:

 

Seems simple enough. Right? 

For a child affected by dyslexia, these tasks are difficult. In fact, so much effort is spent on the mechanics of manipulating sounds, and decoding words (reading) that the meaning of words is lost. This leads to the poor comprehension common in struggling readers. Encoding words (spelling) is an even more difficult task!

What We Know About Dyslexia

  • Dyslexia affects 10 – 20% of the population, in varying degrees. 
  • Dyslexia affects girls just as often as boys.
  • Dyslexia is not “outgrown” because it is a life-long condition.
  • Dyslexia runs in families.

Though dyslexia is inherited, its severity may differ. One family member, with mild dyslexia, may only have trouble spelling, while another, with severe dyslexia, may have persistent trouble reading simple, one-syllable words.

The Science of Dyslexia and Why Early Intervention is Critical

So, remember when I said that dyslexia impairs how language is processed in the brain? The left hemisphere of the brain is largely tasked with processing language, and is ultimately responsible for reading. 

Functional MRI studies, conducted at the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, have revealed how the brains of those with dyslexia work. (An fMRI is conducted while the subject is doing a task, such as reading.) These studies have shown that the brains of those with dyslexia rely more on the right hemisphere than the brains of those without dyslexia.

This means that when those with dyslexia read a word, the signals take a longer path through the brain as they make their way back to their final destination in the left hemisphere. Slow reading is the result.

When those affected by dyslexia read, their brains actually work harder to achieve the same outcome. It can be exhausting.

Here’s the Good News….

The human brain is resilient and is able to “rewire” the pathways to reading.

Through intensive, multi-sensory therapy, which systematically breaks the language down into meaningful parts and teaches the reader how to decode words, the brains of dyslexics begin to use the left hemisphere more efficiently while reading!

 Why is early identification crucial?

While nothing can “cure” dyslexia, early intervention (beginning before the age of 9) has the potential to retrain the brain, making the process of reading more efficient, increasing overall fluency, and improving reading comprehension.

The earlier therapy begins, the faster the brain can adapt.

But, it is never too late to benefit from this type of intervention.

Common characteristics of someone with dyslexia are:

  • has a family member with dyslexia (or one who is a slow reader)
  • dislikes reading (but enjoys being read to)
  • slow, difficult reading (made dramatically worse by time pressure, stress, tiredness, or poor health)
  • easily frustrated and emotional about reading
  • poor spelling
  • difficulty rhyming words (By 4 years of age, most children should be able to easily rhyme words.)
  • directionality problems (confuses left and right; gets lost or disoriented when traveling or giving directions)
  • mispronounces words (saying “estaurant” for restaurant, or “maga” for grandma)
  • difficulty putting thoughts into words; speaks in halting phrases; leaves sentences incomplete; stutters under stress
  • difficulty learning sequenced information (like learning the months of the year)
  • difficulty managing time; losing track of time (for adults this might mean difficulty being on time)

Next Steps

If you suspect that your child may have dyslexia, the best thing you can do for her is to seek formal testing.*  You are not putting a label on your child by doing so. You are trying to identify the problem. You do not need to wait until a certain age or grade to seek testing. Children as young as 5 and 6 can be accurately identified.

Children identified as dyslexic benefit best from an Orton-Gillingham based program (like the Take Flight curriculum developed by the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas) where they can receive therapy that has the potential to be life-changing.

* If you are a Texas resident, your local school district is required by law (see Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act) to assess your child if you request it. This service is provided free of charge, even if your child attends private or home school. The best policy is to ask your school district — in writing — for “an assessment to determine the possibility of the disability of dyslexia.”

Just Keep Swimming: When You Need a Nudge to Persevere

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By Amanda Graves, KPA mom and JH Volleyball Coach

In the movie “Finding Nemo,” Dory is a forgetful but selfless fish that has set out on a daunting mission to help Marlin, a random clownfish who had lost his son. Like any good movie, the journey is full of unknown adventures, doubt in one’s ability to complete the task or survive, and perseverance. At one point in the story, when faced with adversity, Marlin begins to give up, but Dory comes along and begins to recite over and over, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.” This melody has often been my mantra in life, and like Dory, one I share with others in tough times of endurance.

Our family jumped into the deep end of KPA in second grade. We didn’t get the opportunity to become accustomed to the waters or build up our endurance through years of homeschooling before hand. Instead, we floundered our way through Shurley English and doggy-paddled with our heads barely above water all year.

My child loved KPA school days! He loved his teachers and his new friends. He would share about everything they were learning in class and was excited to go each day. Home days, however, were excruciatingly tough. There was lots of arguing…lots! We had frequent moments when I lost my patience and said things I later had to apologize for.  There were more weeks than not when we were still doing school on Sunday night in pajamas, and there were definitely times I questioned if this was something we could make work in the long run. Even if my 2nd grader and I could survive, would we ever actually thrive in this arrangement? Could my house survive yet another flood of the toilet from the toddler flushing who knows what while I taught math? Would I ever get a moment to catch up on laundry? Would we ever learn to swim effectively and keep from drowning?

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A Tripartite Standard for School Success (Part 1 of 3)

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By Dr. John DePoe, Dean of Upper School Academics

It’s not uncommon for someone to come up to me and ask, “How are things going at school today?” Most of the time I answer, “Things are great,” or when I’m in a droll mood, “We didn’t lose a single student today.” But the question is truly an invitation to reflect on foundational questions about the nature of a successful school. After all, in order for me to give an assessment of how the school is doing today requires me to have a standard by which I can say that the school is doing well or not. Ultimately, the state of our school, I believe, is measured by the transformative learning experiences that are taking place in the lives of our students. I should note that in conversations with other educators it is apparent that this is not a standard shared by all schools as they are quick to affirm that things are going well because the school’s finances are secure, the school’s enrollment is up, there is a new academic program, or the quality of their faculty is distinguished in some peculiar way. Of course, I agree that, all things considered, these are often things I want to say of KPA too, but they are not standards that show that the school is running well. At KPA, we choose to assess the quality of the school by the students.

How should we assess the quality of the students? To this end, I would like to adapt an analogy given by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, book III, chapter 1, when explaining the nature of morality. Lewis writes that morality establishes rules that govern human behavior similar to the rules that a fleet of ships must follow to sail on a voyage together in formation. First, you need rules that prescribe how the ships should avoid crashing into one another. Second, each ship must be maintained well to ensure it remains seaworthy and runs well. Third and finally, the fleet must know its destination. Without all three elements the fleet will not have a successful voyage. Lewis also suggests the analogy could be followed using a band instead of a fleet – the musicians must know how to play with each other, their own instruments need to be properly tuned, and they must all know what piece of music they are trying to play together. Sound morality, likewise, must address these three aspects: (1) how humans ought to behave fairly with one another, (2) how humans ought to treat themselves, and (3) to what purpose or end humans ought to direct the overall course of their lives.

I believe that we can adapt these three aspects of morality to assess whether our students are fulfilling the education we are trying to impart at KPA. Here are the three questions I am constantly asking myself about our students:

  • What are our students learning about how to they relate to others?
  • What are our students learning about themselves?
  • What are our students learning about the ultimate purposes of human life?

To have a rightly-oriented education, we must answer all three questions correctly. Two out of three just won’t cut it. A fleet of ships that knows how to maintain the vessels and keep them afloat is no use if they are all headed in the wrong direction. A band that knows when to play each part of a song that is right for the occasion will go over badly if every instrument is out of tune. Each of the three parts are so deeply interrelated with the success of the others that a failure on a single point is likely to infect the other two with errors as well.

In two forthcoming posts I would like to explore how KPA is answering these three questions in our distinctive Christian, University-Model™, classical education. As members of the KPA community read these posts, let me invite all of you to join me in asking how you are partnering with us in answering these questions as we educate our students.

Raising Responders vs. Reactors: How to Navigate Emotions

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By Amanda Jackson, KPA Mom

What could be more common to the human experience than our daily interactions with our emotions and the emotions of those around us? Not one of us will escape this life without navigating them in some form or fashion. Thankfully, we can choose to do so with intentionality and care and thereby walk in a peace that passes understanding. As we entered the pre-teen/teen years in our home, this subject was constantly on my mind. To be honest, it wasn’t until I started looking at the emotions of my children that I really started learning about my own and about the necessity to engage them purposefully.

The fact is, emotions can serve us well. We need them! God gave us our emotions to benefit us in this human experience. What will happen if we are not intentional, however, is that we will unwittingly become a slave to them. We will find ourselves riding the roller coaster of reacting all day long with an inevitable mess left behind when we go to bed. What we must learn, and what we must teach our children, is how to let our emotions serve US instead of us serving them.

What even are emotions? How can we categorize the most common emotions that the average person feels on a day to day basis? The list I liked best summed them up as such: love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and fear. There are sub-categories that I believe are also worth mentioning based on the frequency with which we tend to experience them. Those would be envy (sub of anger), shame and disappointment (sub of sadness), and anxiety (sub of fear). While certainly not an exhaustive list, I believe these are a fair summation of what we most commonly experience. It’s helpful to define these different emotions for ourselves and notice how we experience them and what tends to trigger them in us and then to teach our children to do the same. I believe it to be crucial to understand them properly and from there know how to engage them. Emotions ARE necessary. They can provide us with warning in a dangerous situation. They can be indicators to us of areas we need to address in our lives and of relationships that need attention. They are NOT, however, always reliable, justifiable, or, to put it bluntly, trustworthy. It’s worth repeating (especially to our kids): OUR EMOTIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS TRUSTWORTHY. How many times have we seen this played out? I for one experience this almost daily. And even when they are not necessarily untrue or even un-justified, they can be unhelpful in the moment we experience them. We have to hold our emotions with care. We have to learn to discern when to listen to them, and when to lay them at the foot of the cross.

So, how on earth do we apply this knowledge? What do you tell your teenage daughter caught in the throes of envy or fear or shame? You tell her to become a responder and not a reactor. We have the choice, all day every day, to either react to the emotions as we experience them or respond to them. These are two very different approaches with vastly different outcomes depending on the scenario. A reactor is one who applies no filter, gives no pause, and rushes headfirst into however they are feeling in the moment. In anger this looks like lashing out verbally at the person who ignited you. In sadness this can look like sitting in your misery, eating a whole tub of ice cream. You catch my drift? Being a slave to our feelings is a miserable way to live. Even euphoric feelings of happiness, when reacted to, can lead to hasty decisions and inevitable regret later on. A responder, on the other hand, is one who patiently evaluates what they are feeling. They take the extra beat to run their emotions through a bit of a filter to see how reliable they are or are not in that moment. Is my anger justified? Is my fear truly warning me of harm? Is my anxiety just my imagination running amuck? Responding takes practice but I have found it to be a truly beautiful and sanctifying exercise in weeding out what is enslaving me from what is serving me.

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Be Your Best, Plus One

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By Jacky Howard, KPA dad

We all want our kids to be their best.  Do their best, act their best, talk their best, look their best, and so the story goes. You get the picture.

I am never disappointed when my kids do their best. That’s what we all expect, right? ‘Just do your best and I will love you no matter what!’ Our society is crawling with overly assertive parents, and I certainly don’t want to be in that assembly. But there is a payoff and excitement when the “best” effort is taken up a notch. I want my kids to be their best, plus one. Let me explain.

It’s the same concept as giving 110%. As a younger lad in college, I had a lively debate with a friend who emphatically argued there is no way one can give a 110%. True. However, I think you can turn it up one more click and push your limits.

At 211°, water is hot–very hot!  Water can sit there and be the best water it can be.  It can cook vegetables, brew a beverage and even burn your skin.  Water can perform at 211°.  But, add just 1°.  Suddenly, you have a change in the property the water yields.  At 212°, water boils and creates energy called steam.  The use of steam has powered ships and locomotives. This is the power of Plus One.

What does that mean to you and me? How do we show our kids to engage in that extra step? By the way, see what I did there? I didn’t say tell your kids, I said show them. Show them that extra degree by being one better at everything you do. They watch what we do, because we all know their “pay attention to what I’m telling you” skills lack. After all, Colossians 3:23 says, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord not for man. Be the example of a Plus One Mom or Dad.

Ask any Olympic medal winner about the margin of victory between Gold, Silver and Bronze. That one degree is an extra lap around the pool or staying late to make sure you get the landing right. Whether it’s sports, business, school or life, that extra degree is the difference.

I wish I could mind-meld all my 50 plus years of wisdom to my kids. Alleviate their heartbreak, mistakes, and take away life’s boo-boos. But I can’t. We can’t mom and dad. All we can do is encourage and show our little humans to be productive men and women of God and to do their best, plus one. It is in each of us to do a little more, be a little better and take it up a degree.

Word of caution – be an encourager, not a pushy parent.

We want the best out of our kids, not dread of a task or the fear of failure.

It starts with you, Mom and Dad. Show your family you can be a “one-degree-better” you. You are your own competition, and it is in each of us to make a move. Turn on the burner, and let’s boil!

Be Your Best, Plus One!

Discipleship in the Digital Age: Helping our Family and Kids Navigate Screen Time

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By Nick Clifton, KPA Director of Student Development

It was during the early morning hours of March 20, 2014 that I realized my life had changed forever. On that morning, my first child, my daughter, entered into this world and stole my heart. On that morning, I realized that I was now undertaking the most difficult, terrifying, and rewarding journey I would ever take – the journey of receiving a child as a precious gift from God with Him expecting that we love and disciple this beautiful soul in a way that would allow heaven to come that much closer to earth through her. What a blessing!

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that our culture and society has placed an incredible obstacle in front of us as families that quite often places itself right in the middle of the that road of discipleship that we are traveling on. This obstacle, as you might have guessed from the title, is the screen. Where a fireplace and hearth was once the gathering place of fellowship, family, and discussion for the family unit has now been replaced by the TV, laptop, iPad, smartphone, or really any other item that can place media and entertainment at our fingertips.

To add a little perspective, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that:

  • Kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.
  • Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen almost 3 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games.
  • Counting all media outlets, 8 – 18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day.

Many parents will tell you there is something about a screen that acts almost as a digital pacifier for children – turn on a screen and they turn into zombies. I will never forget the day I witnessed this very event in my own house. I came home from work to my wife playing with blocks with our oldest daughter in the living room, and turned on the TV to watch the news. The second the screen came on, my daughter was completely torn away from her mother’s play and turned to the bright colors and interesting sounds coming out of our TV. I watched as her eyes glazed over and the mesmerizing hold of the screen took control. It was then I understood the temptation that faces so many of us as parents to place our children in front of a screen – it can give us some much needed quiet time! Unfortunately, the payment for this digital babysitter is far too steep and, frankly, just not worth it in the end.

Now I’m not saying that we should throw out all digital devices and only read books 24/7. I am also one who believes that the use of media in intentional and purposeful ways can be beneficial. My wife and I have certainly resorted to the Disney movies on the iPad for many a 9 hour road trip to Houston (you know the moment – the last two hours of the trip where everyone is just bored and tired of being in the car). However, the purpose of this blog is to caution us as parents to remain intentional and to never sacrifice shared experiences and the joys of parenting to a screen.

I think most people would agree that our culture has given too much power to screen time, but I find that many people are just unaware or unsure of where to start to change what might be a long-running habit of media usage in their household. So here are some tips and ideas that we use in our house with our family to be as intentional and minimalistic as possible concerning screen time with our children.

1. Set the example.

I have to start with the toughest one (especially for me), because there is no other place to begin this conversation. Children will naturally gravitate toward the behaviors of their parents. They are always watching and learning, even when we do not think so. If they see us reading a book, they are more likely to read. If they see us desiring to be active outside, they are more likely to do the same. And if they see us in front of a screen, they will want to do the same.

2. Be the parent.

It is our job to encourage healthy, responsible living habits and behaviors while also limiting unhealthy ones. Sometimes, this means making the unpopular decision. Be willing to make the tough decisions for your children, but always make sure you explain why you are making that decision. The follow up conversation (combined with watching your example) will help them understand why they should follow through and hopefully internalize the need to make that decision for themselves.

3. Set limited viewing times.

Again, I am not saying that we live like the Amish, but as with anything in life, we must consume in moderation. Sit down as a family and decide what time frames for media usage work best for your family.

4. Play with your kids.

This may sound like an obvious one, but sometimes this is the easiest one to neglect. We are a busied and hurried people these days, and this step will certainly take intentionality and pulling from the bottom of your energy barrel some days, but I promise you will be glad you did. So get down on the ground with your little ones, play board games, ride bikes together, wrestle, whatever your kids are doing for play at their stage of life, join them in that play.

5. Observe your child’s behavioral changes.

Too much screen time has an immediate impact on a child’s behavior. After too much television/video games, a child can become irritable, impatient, or lethargic. Be on the lookout for these behavior changes. When you start to notice them, cut off the screen time and redirect to a different activity.

6. Protect family meals and table time.

About two-thirds of young people say the TV is usually on during meals. This is unfortunate, because some of your family’s richest conversations will take place around that dinner table. Value and protect that time with your children! Don’t let the TV (or any screen) steal that from you.

7. No screens in the bedrooms.

This is one that our family is still working on, but we are looking to the example of some parenting mentors of ours that have implemented this with their family for many years now. When it is time for bed, all family members charge their phones in the kitchen. As unpopular as this decision is with their teen at times, they hold true to their belief that they are protecting their child and themselves from unnecessary distractions and temptations. While we are currently not parenting teens, we know that we want to form the habit for ourselves now in order to set the example for our children when they do enter those teenage years.

Limiting our screen time can seem like a daunting and unpopular task in today’s culture, and with a teen it can often feel like more of a battle than a blessing. But it is worth fighting. I can say from personal experience that this is an endeavor that becomes easier with each step. The more we watch, the more we want to continue. But the inverse is also true. The more we turn off the screen, the easier it becomes to keep it off. I pray these tips can be a blessing for you and your family, and I challenge us all to go against the grain of an increasingly screen-addicted culture.

Establishing Your Family’s Best Routine

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Figuring out a routine that works best for your family starts with establishing anchors in your day. Anchors are your priorities. The stuff you need to function daily. Things like, food, sleep, clothes, time together, and for our family, we need time with Jesus. When the speed of life increases, these anchors are the handle bars that keep us balanced.

What do your daily anchors look like?

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

It’s proof Benjamin Franklin had kids when he coined the phrase, ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place’. There is nothing more frustrating than your child releasing the flood gates of tears, theatrically throwing themselves to the floor in the rush out the door, and declaring despondently, “Someone stole my shoes!!”

No one stole her shoes.

The child just didn’t put them away. Where is ‘away’ for your kids?

We need to ‘grab and go’ so often, that easy access to the front or back door became our logical spot for a basket for shoes, coat hangers, backpacks, purse, and keys. Establishing a ‘grab and go’ spot recaptures moments of your day, prevents stress, and reserves energy that helps you make it to the end of your day without the two finger salute and premature mic drop to your husband and kids, saying “mom out.”

A successful day starts the night before.

There are many a night I’m giving Hugh Jackman a run for his money with my ‘Greatest Show’. Seriously. We’re one tent away from being a full blown circus. While my three teenagers are gearing up for their golden hours, my seven and five year old are crossing the threshold of their daily emotional capacity and I find myself asking, “what is happening?!”  My husband and I have come to terms with the fact that age plays a critical part in ‘killing it like the cool parents’. Our golden hours are earlier in the day than they used to be, and our threshold for emotional capacity reflects similarly to the 7 and 5 year olds’ when bedtime rolls around. But, with age comes wisdom because, well, experience is the best teacher, right?! Why succumb to the chaos? Where sheer energy and youthful vigor is lacking, thoughtful strategy comes into play.

So let’s talk strategy.

Meal Plan. 

My best evening routines begin with a meal plan. When I go to the grocery store, I determine five dinners, lunch options, and easy breakfasts that we could prepare over the course of seven days. It’s simple meals including dump it all in crockpot kind of meals, salad prepared one night and eaten throughout the week, cereal, yogurt, and eggs for breakfast. It’s meals that minimize my time in the kitchen. The key is keeping it simple, thinking about it ahead of time, and knowing what’s for dinner at the beginning of the day. That way, you can head off some of the crazy before it begins and avoid your 5 year sobbing and saying, “PIZZA, again?!” At the end of the school year.

Protect your table.

Having a meal plan also helps you protect your table. Table time means together time, sitting face to face, and connecting with your people. Connection time recharges relationships and gives opportunities for parents to check spiritual, mental, emotional, and social vital signs. Sometimes it’s a 25 minute breakfast with someone sharing take-aways from their morning devotional, a short Bible reading, or a scripture with conversation and questions led by dad.  It’s hard, I know, with large families, teenagers with thriving social lives, sports…but we have to be intentional, or those face to face moments just don’t happen. With a 17, 15, 13, 7, and 5 year old, we’re fortunate to have one meal a day where we see the whites of every offspring’s eyes. It’s our aim, though, and those anchors we talked about? Well, it kills two birds with one stone.

Prepare for tomorrow today.

Immediately after dinner commences preparations for our tomorrow. It’s all hands on deck cleaning up the kitchen, clearing the table, making lunches for the next day, prepping backpacks, and for the littles, initiating bedtime routines such as laying out uniforms, baths, hygiene, etc. This is the time we’ve allotted for 30-60 minutes of chore time a day: changing sheets, sweeping, cleaning up from supper, helping siblings, taking out trash. This is where everyone works together for each other to contribute to something greater than themselves. This is the cornerstone of team work while keeping a unit moving forward and consistently successful.

Instead of putting leftovers in one big container, we bag them up for possible lunches throughout the week. I’ve found making lunches is easiest while the kitchen is still active, but I know what you’re thinking: “Leftovers? I wish. My kids will not eat leftovers in their lunches.” Yeah, I get it. Mine, too, but…use the leftovers. Bag them up. One meal is not going to kill them, and you’re simplifying for the greater good, and Hey! Just think. Here’s an opportunity to teach gratitude or better yet, the value of a dollar. If they don’t like it, send them outside with their lemonade stand and sign saying, “Proceeds benefitting my Chick-fi-la hot lunch.”

Preparing uniforms for tomorrow today means dedicating ample time for your teens to throw their uniforms and athletic gear in the wash so that what they need is ready for their bags the night before…because you know how vital clean air supply is to you and every precious life that rides with that athletic bag in your car.

Take it from the mother of the kid who shows up to church with a left and right shoe from two different pairs… Lay out the uniform, with socks and shoes the night before. Make sure they’re clean, lest you find yourself too tired and time crunched to wash it the morning of. Don’t be that mom who sprays their uniform with wrinkles release hoping people assume the obvious stains gracing the front of their uniform are remnants from that morning’s breakfast… (I’ve totally heard some moms do that).  Avoid the pre-sunrise nuclear melt down.

Once all the preparations for tomorrow subside,

budget wind down time and SLEEP.  

Littles need cuddles, teens need to talk, and momma needs her alone time. Every night is different with more pressing needs than others, but mom is wise to budget time for bringing the day to a close. Studies have shown children sleep better with a few minutes of comfort and security accompanying bedtime. This may look like chatting, snuggles, prayers, songs, Bible stories. To each his own, but nonetheless, time allotted is important enough to prioritize establishing those anchors in your day.

Budget wind up time.

When setting the alarm clocks, budget enough time for winding up. Know thyself. How much time do you need to get going? Do you have teenagers that remind you of a zombie apocalypse in the wee hours of the day? Give them grace. Help them go to bed. Get them up earlier. Give them coffee. Give a cushion of time for the unpredictable, so budget extra time before school.

Have a weekly pow-wow. 

After a full week of strenuous schedules, designate time during your weekend for a family pow-wow. This very well might be the time where you need to pass a peace pipe or a talking stick. Working out conflict in the home is important, but make this time lighthearted. We call it Family Night in our house: the one night a week where we lock the front door and focus on each other. It’s the night we play games, watch a movie, embarrass our kids by showing them how we’ve learned the trendy new dance move, or introduce them to the most ridiculous aspects of our childhood pop culture on YouTube.

We also take a few minutes to sync calendars and talk through the week. For those of you with teens, this is a wonderful venue for teaching them structure, time management, important skills like how to set priorities, meet deadlines, become more independent, and develop habits of self-care. Take a few minutes during a time of non-conflict to help your kids think through realistic routines for themselves that would help them become most productive with their time. They’ll thank you, and you’ll thank yourself.

This is the NO Judgment Zone.

I had a friend once who said she practiced her back to school routine by throwing one kid’s shoe on top of the refrigerator, dropping a phone in the toilet, emptying bowls of cereal all over the breakfast table, and placing her keys in the freezer. ‘Back to school’ can issue quite the shock factor, for even if you start out strong at the beginning of the year, the thought of the avalanche of end of school year events seem daunting.

Identify the anchors where you need routine. Keep it simple. Maybe it means starting with one. Whatever you decide to do, know you’re in good company! This is the NO JUDGMENT ZONE.

Some of this is trial and error where your most successful routines will be conceived out of your biggest failures. 

It’s a new year with new blessings.

So…git it, y’all.

It’s a race to the finish line. Make the most of the time you’ve been given.

By Becky Collier: Wife. KPA mother of 5. Domestic Engineer. Christ follower. Seeker of beauty and truth. Lover of coffee, laughter, and good conversation.