Originally, I didn’t plan on visiting any school in Minnesota for my independent research work on alternative education. However, because Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer and in turn, Kirsten introduced me to Katie and Owana, I was able to see three amazing places of learning in the non-traditional mold.
Classical Conversations (CC) supplies audio, book and other materials for homeschoolers and builds communities among its users such as the one thriving in St. Cloud. Every Tuesday, the children gather for lessons in the morning for those in the lower grades and for the higher grades, they have additional afternoon classes. The teachers are trained in the CC method and the parents are welcome to sit in so they know how to apply the techniques at home.
In the lower years, CC entails a lot of memorization but it’s done in a fun way with songs, actions and games that it simply bowled me over how much kids pick up. Joshua, Jimmy and I joined the class of kids age 6 to 8 and they were singing about the Laws of Thermodynamics, conjugating Latin verbs, identifying countries in Africa and spouting world historical facts naturally. The mini-class ended with a show and tell presentation by each student and with a final review game. Just sitting in for an hour and a half made me dizzy as if I had attended the whole spectrum of grade school and high school crammed with knowledge.
The kids don’t have to understand everything they memorize but the course immerses them in the vocabulary that they would be studying more in-depth in the future. In the afternoon, we attended a mom and son duo dissecting a cow’s eyeball and the thirteen- year old boy eagerly fished out his folder and showed us his drawings of the eye, heart, respiratory and skeletal system.
The morning started with a big group discussion about the bible and two young people talked about the instruments they played. After that, the kids broke up into smaller classes of around ten. Before lunch, they went back to the big group and tested the strength of bridges each group made of straw and tape the previous week. They placed one stone at a time as everyone counted loudly in excitement as some bridges fell right away while others held up well. After all the bridges were tried, they discussed what made the winning bridge better than the others.
My friend Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer. Kirsten has three sons attending the Chinese Immersion Program at the Madison Elementary School and they spoke Chinese fluently since they had been studying it from Kindergarten to Second Grade without any English classes to dilute the experience. They only started learning English formally in Third Grade to bolster their Chinese but their English doesn’t fall behind because it’s what they speak at home and outside school.
Summer teaches First Grade at the Chinese Immersion Program and it was amazing how her classroom transports you immediately to China. The seven-year old kids can speak, read and write Chinese almost as if they were native speakers. Some of them could write not only Chinese characters but entire sentences. Summer took full command of the class and maximized the use of the electronic board. It was so awe-inspiring that I wish Joshua and Jimmy could attend her class.
It’s strange and ironic that I’m both inspired by the CC homeschooling and a public school’s language immersion program. Is there a way to combine the best of not only both worlds but all worlds? Imagine I still have a number of schools to visit in the remaining thirty seven days of this journey.
Kirsten invited us to Awana which takes place every Wednesday night. We entered Discovery Church in St. Cloud and were swept away by everybody’s hospitality and warmth. Joshua joined Soren and Bjorn at the Sparks group while Jimmy joined the pre-school age Cubbies. After listening to the pastor speak, the Spark kids went up on stage singing praise songs following gestures on the video. Joshua was right in the middle and even if he didn’t know the songs, he sang along as if he did. The best part of the night was the Store where the kids could purchase toys using the “money” they earned throughout the weeks of attending Awana. They could earn this through memorizing bible verses and other tasks.
Awana is a global, nonprofit ministry with fully integrated evangelism and long-term discipleship programs for ages 2 to 18 that actively involves parents and church leaders. Each week, more than 3.7 million children and youth, 470,000 volunteers and 260 field staff take part in Awana in over 47,000 churches around the world. Offered through local churches, Awana reaches kids where they’re at and walks alongside them in their faith journey.
Julia took us to celebrate Easter at her Church where Jimmy joined other kids while the adults attended service. After the celebration, we went to pick up Jimmy and he repeatedly kept saying “Jesus is alive!” showing us the cup he made from where Jesus on a popsicle stick symbolically pops out from the dead. The facilitator in that class must have been an excellent one to have produced such an avid reaction.