This past Friday, with a huge sigh of relief, my wife and I enrolled our son in the San Francisco public school of our choice, New Traditions Elementary. The published statistics showed that only 60% of families had an opportunity to enroll in their 1st school of choice this year. It is a crazy public school system here in San Francisco, but we made it through all the meetings, the school visits, making decisions on what our 7 top choices would be and the four months of waiting after submitting all of our papers to the school district. As we sought the best school for our son, we really just had one criteria in mind. Is this a place where my son, with his particular personality, strengths, affinities and needs will be able to thrive?
Out of the plethora of schools that we visited last fall, New Traditions Elementary was our last visit. It wasn’t the newest building or the nicest. It didn’t have the latest technological equipment, spotlessly clean and sterile hallways or the highest API scores in San Francisco. The playground was not much to look at and really, neither was their website. But as I set foot into the school, there was a warmth to the place that was very palpable. It felt very homey. There was a familial feel within the staff and between the families of the students. We walked in to the sound of children singing in the auditorium and entered the Kindergarten class where the children were working cooperatively by reading together, building structures with toothpicks and marshmallows, helping each other with computer programs, painting and drawing, solving several puzzles, and putting on a puppet show. These methods were all used to study the single theme/subject for the day and it was all happening at the same time! Does it sound chaotic? It definitely looked like organized chaos and I loved it. The school’s website states:
We value the diversity of our community and recognize the importance of the creative arts in education. A holistic education recognizes that children learn academically and socially through all their senses. Students have the opportunity to learn through several modalities. For example, the required California Academic Standards are not only taught in the traditional way, but with projects integrating visual arts, music, poetry, and drama, taught by professional artists of our community.
Doesn’t that sound like a great way to teach and to learn. To engage the whole being, mind, body and soul and to experience fully what one is learning. I felt as if I had fully experienced their mission and vision and, again, I thoroughly loved it.
As I walked away from the school, I began to think about all of the churches that I had visited in the past and how many I can equate with this experience. I can honestly say not many, and sometimes, sad to say, not even at churches where I had served. The church is the place where God’s mission and vision comes alive. A church is the embodiment of Jesus on earth. The church makes visible the Holy Spirit who sustains, moves and empowers us to speak and show love and justice in our world. As Jesus eats with and invites all, the church is the place that welcomes everyone to the table. In how many houses of worship have I/we experienced this?
This school is the embodiment of its mission. We too as the church should be the same. It is something that I constantly strive for not only as a pastor, but especially as one who is part of a faith community that tries to follow in the ways of Jesus.