Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines transformation as “an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed (to change in composition or structure; to change in character or condition).”

When I googled transformation I found a definition that seems even more appropriate in today’s world: “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.”

2020 has certainly been a year of transformation. When I began thinking about this editorial, the focus was going to be on how our schools provide an environment and opportunities for the love of Christ to transform an individual’s character. That “when Christ abides in the heart, the whole nature is transformed. Christ’s Spirit, His love, softens the heart, subdues the soul, and raises the thoughts and desires toward God and heaven” (Steps to Christ p. 73).

Our schools exist to lead our young people to Christ. We have seen not only students, but parents and teachers be transformed through Adventist education.

However, in March, my thoughts started to change focus. We saw a transformation unlike anything we have ever seen, and yet our education system did not lose focus on our main principles during this time.

About the time of Spring Break, when the students, teachers, and parents were looking forward to a time of relaxation and rejuvenation in preparation for the busyness of the final weeks of school, COVID-19 became a stark reality in the Midwest. Governors closed schools in their states. So instead of resting, our school boards, teachers and conferences set about to transform school.

Decisions had to be made quickly: Do we just close? Do we move to online learning? What do we do for the students who do not have internet access? How do we teach online? All these questions and more had to be answered and plans had to be made.

Adapting to the needs

The North American Division Office of Education stepped up and helped with onboarding schools, teachers and churches to use Zoom under their negotiated pricing structure. They created a website of resources that teachers could access for teaching during this pandemic. The website was updated regularly. Webinars were presented on general tips for teaching online, how to teach the Encounter Bible curriculum remotely, and mental health. We are grateful for their efforts.

Conferences also had to assist teachers in preparing to teach online. Many held online trainings where they talked the teachers through how to conduct school virtually. Decisions on grading had to be made. The news was filled with stories about how many schools, colleges and universities were giving students the option to choose a pass-fail method, or use the third quarter grade as the final grade.

As a union, we decided to keep the status quo instead of making major grading adjustments. We did encourage our teachers to use professional judgment in making adjustments for individual students.

After a one-week Spring Break extension, our schools opened via virtual education. Those who could join online did. Home packets were created for students who did not have internet access. As we listened, we heard incredible stories of learning taking place. Students were excited to see their friends and teachers. We are so glad to see all the ways God blessed during these uncertain times.

What have we learned?

  1. We have amazing teachers in the Mid-America Union. Many of them faced steep learning curves and spent innumerable hours to meet the challenge of online learning. Their commitment to Adventist education was seen as they readied for online learning, interacted with their students and stayed true to the principles of Adventist education.
  2. Our parents are supportive. Here are just a couple of comments parents have shared:“I want to say that you and the school are doing such an AMAZING job with the remote learning. Your desire to reach out to families for feedback and then actually implement that feedback is truly wonderful … And with my oldest child attending a different school, I can tell you that your actions are above and beyond as compared to what other schools are doing.”

    “Our family has been blessed by the teachers who have gone above and beyond to help our children successfully finish the year.”

  3. Our students are the reason for Adventist education. Our teachers remained focused on their students. One teacher told me of the challenges with a young student who would just wander away from the computer when they were doing one-on-one work together and of the efforts to re-engage that student and help him succeed. Throughout this experience, the goal was to continue to provide “something better” for our learners.
  4. Teaching during a pandemic is stressful! Our teachers transformed learning—they went the second and third mile. They are tired, and yet they began preparing for next year the week after school ended.

Some have pondered whether Adventist education is worth the cost if that education is happening at home. As I’ve watched, it is clear to me that our schools provided something better (not perfect, certainly not ideal, but better) for our learners. Our schools have continued to provide opportunities, learning experiences and an environment where learners are encouraged to keep “the eye not on mere outward, superficial attainments, but on Jesus the model. A transformation takes place in mind, in spirit, in character” (Counsels on Education p. 149).

In addition, a number of high school graduates in the Mid-America Union have received partial or full scholarships to attend college or university in the fall.

Preparing for the future

Even with the unforeseen transformation that took place this year, I believe that this quote from the book Education (p. 297) remains true today:

“Something better” is the watchword of education, the law of all true living. Whatever Christ asks of us to renounce, He offers in its stead something better… Lead them (our youth) to behold the One “altogether lovely.” When once the gaze is fixed upon Him, the life finds its center. The enthusiasm, the generous devotion, the passionate ardor of the youth find here their true object. Duty becomes a delight and sacrifice a pleasure. To honor Christ, to become like Him, to work for Him is the life’s highest ambition and its greatest joy.

We are all looking forward to next year. Our hopes and plans are for those in-person interactions with our students. However, we know that whatever form school takes next year, we are ready with “something better.