(This is the second of two posts from 3rd grade teacher Sabrina Moody. Read part one.)
The Opportunity to Grow
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8
As we re-experience 3rd, 5th, 8th or whatever the grade may be, we have the unique opportunity to grow alongside our children. Chances are most of us did not have a classical Christian education. We may remember a grade level, but not always positively. By getting involved with projects, classroom and school activities, and homework, we positively reshape our loves and experience. The challenges and joys we experience will grow us, and as adults modeling a love for growth and learning, we couldn’t show our children a better example.
Questions like: “How can the Lord help you grow through this challenge in math?” or “How can I help you as we move past this frustration with homework?” are invaluable assets to your parenting experience. You will “grow much fruit” in your relationship with Christ and your child as you come alongside.
The Opportunity to Love and Understand More Deeply
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “ Romans 15:5-6
As a learning community that places Christ at its center, Petra offers families and students the chance to build a network of support in the Body of Christ and supplement the local church. This does not mean we seek to do the work that local churches do, but rather that we support each other in the body of Christ in an educational way. What does this mean?
We integrate our subjects with biblical, Christian teachings. We teach Bible as a class at the elementary and secondary levels, but we don’t limit understandings of other subjects (particularly math and science) as exclusive of our Christian ethos.
We give you the opportunity to pray with us (Moms in Prayer, Dads who Dare prayer groups) and the opportunity to receive prayer support (faculty prayer).
Finally, our Humanities (secondary) and Literature studies (elementary) are connected to our faith by teaching students to interpret God at work in the creation of characters, themes, and philosophies shown in classical and secular literature.
Your child’s studies may be the most challenging he/she has yet experienced, but the opportunity this gives you to encourage and persevere is rich with potential. Embrace the opportunities at Petra! And may it be a wonderful year of joy, exploration, and support for you and your children!
Maybe you’re at Petra Academy because you want a community in which your children can learn and grow. Maybe you’re here because you’ve grown to love classical Christian education, or have become excited about its promise for your children and family.
Maybe you’re here because you sense, on some level, opportunities at Petra that you and your kids have never had before. What are some of these opportunities?
The Opportunity to Share
And we pray this that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10
At Petra, parents and families share in the classroom and school endeavors in unique and indispensable ways. Rather than turning you away at the door as you “drop off” in anonymity, we delight at seeing you in our hallways, hugging your child, delivering some extra words of encouragement, letting us know of requests or upcoming needs, supporting sports games and plays, or asking how you can volunteer in our classrooms or school.
At Petra, the premise of “in loco parentis” meaning “in the place of parents” (paraphrased as “being responsible for the child’s parents while the parents are absent”), guides our role as adults in your child’s life. We don’t replace you or supersede your role; instead, we partner with you to ensure that your authority and vision for your child is held throughout the time he or she is stewarded by us during the school day. This philosophy supports you as parents in a time when cultural norms can undermine and confuse your beliefs and vision where your children are concerned.
The Opportunity to Build Up in Christ
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude:20
Our community encourages and embraces the expression of love and fellowship through our Lord Jesus Christ. As our mission states, “recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.”
The school year here at Petra gives you the chance to build up your child, your family, your child’s teachers, administration, and families within your child’s class and school. You can build up by your words, your time, and yes, your smile. Reaching out for help when you need it (i.e., “recognizing the need for God’s grace”) gives you the opportunity to be joyous on this journey. Reach out to teachers whenever you have a concern about your child – that is why we are here! – to support and help you and your children.
Words like “I really would like to hear more about ________( your studies in a subject, class, enrichment),” or “This learning must be such a delight. I wonder how we could live into this teaching at home?” or “What you did today sounds like fun. Can I do an activity with you to experience or learn more about this?” can go a long way with your student.
(Petra’s Spell-a-thon is our annual elementary fundraiser in which families and friends of Petra sponsor student spelling words. Click here for sponsorship information for Spell-a-thon.)
There is a common misconception in this day and age of autofill, autocorrect, and spell check that spelling is not as important as it used to be. But that’s not the case at Petra Academy.
Spelling is an integral part of our elementary curriculum from Kindergarten to 6th grade, and we want to keep it that way. We know that spelling is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating big ideas and timeless truths. So how do we prepare students to learn the big ideas of classical literature? By teaching them the big ideas behind spelling. Here are a couple of examples of how spelling instruction takes place in our classrooms.
Within the first two weeks of our integrated 6th grade Latin vocabulary and spelling curriculum, students were already discovering the relationship between Latin root words and English derivatives. As elementary Latin teacher Elizabeth Wickland explains, “The English word “sylvan” came from the Latin word “silva,” meaning forest or woods. One student made the observation that “sylvan” was in “Pennsylvania” and I was able to explain that the state’s name means “Penn’s woods.”
This story seems the type you would hear about at the end of the year, but students are already grasping the concepts presented. Spearheaded by Mrs. Wickland and 6th grade teacher Sarah McClaflin, our curriculum makes students’ understanding of spelling and knowledge of Latin even more accessible and applicable. Students learn Latin vocabulary alongside English derivatives and practice and learn how to spell the English words for spelling tests.
For example, terra is one of their Latin vocab words meaning earth; an English derivative of terra is the spelling word terrestrial, an adjective describing something earthly. “The English language is not our own,” Mrs. McClaflin says. “We’ve borrowed a lot from Latin.” She mentions the fact that students have an easier time with spelling when they can see the connections between words rather than simply memorizing “the way it is.”
On the other end of the hallway, Mrs. Miller has been teaching Kindergarten students letters and phonograms for 9 years at Petra. “Reading is like a magic code they get to break,” she says with a smile. “Students start in our Pre-K and Kindergarten classes learning all the different sounds that the letters can make and by the end of the year they’re sounding out words on the signs all over the school.”
As for the method, students begin by learning phonograms and spelling rules. At the outset it seems a lot to learn for a little kindergartener, but by the end of the year they know all 70 basic phonograms and take that foundation all the way through elementary. This specific and focused introduction of phonograms and spelling rules is built upon in each grade, with the end goal being that students know how to learn to spell all words, not just specific words.
The spelling skills that students are learning in grammar school are vital for becoming more confident readers both in class and on their own. It also makes them more capable of tackling the big ideas in the classical texts that they read in their secondary years.
Mrs. McClaflin and Mrs. Wickland both point out that any modern student’s vocabulary would be stretched by classical literature, but here at Petra, they are gaining the tools they need to be able to learn, understand, and use any new word they come across. We’re not just teaching students what to learn; we’re teaching them how to learn (and how to rightly spell what they learn).
The benefits of this spelling instruction are evident: during last year’s Spell-a-thon, the average score across all grades was 93 out of 100 words spelled correctly; the year before, it was 92. Not only are the scores good, but our students learn to love spelling and reading and want to do both well.
Spell-a-thon is one of the many ways that we get our students excited about learning, and it’s also one of the many ways families can be involved in our school. Thanks for being a vital part of awakening the love and wonder of spelling and reading in your students…and helping us cover the costs to do so!
At Petra Academy, we partner with Christian parents to reassure them in their school pursuit to see their children faithfully stand out in the world.
Good parents want their children to grow up to be good people. And most want a community of like-hearted people to help along the way.
Parents want their children to have the best chance at success. They worry that a wrong decision could lead to failure. Opinions from friends and family complicate matters, often causing parents to feel insecure about their choice.
Here’s an excerpt from an email from a new 2nd grade mom stating just that:
Thank you for a great first week of school for my daughter! She is really happy about her new school, which I am so happy about because sometimes as a parent we question our decisions.”
How do parents enjoy their children’s learning years if their children don’t? This is where Petra Academy can help. We recognize so much is at stake in the decision parents make for their children. And we know evaluating educational options can be difficult and confusing.
But we also know how to come alongside and help, because that’s what we’ve been doing since 1995.
Through our partnership with parents, we provide regular feedback about student progress that so many schools are unable to offer. Smaller classes and teachers who really want to get to know your student are standard, while our classical curriculum and Christian culture are anything but.
We have a good school – the best in Montana. And we have a good tale to tell – of God at work in the lives of family and faculty, of students and staff learning together. It’s a story worth sharing, so let me encourage you to jump in and share it with us!
I spend my days with young people who are thoughtful, engaged, and funny. And, because I teach 12th grade students at a classical Christian school, my students also possess extraordinarily well-trained minds. They are the product of a different educational system than I was, and I never cease to be impressed with them, as individuals and as a group.
Many of our seniors have been at our school for 6, 8, or 10+ years. Many have spent most, if not all, of their time in school learning classically by reading great books and discussing big ideas for the purpose of searching out the transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness. They have studied Latin, maths and sciences, as well as logic and rhetoric.
By the time these students get to their final year of high school, they have learned a great deal about the world and their place in it. They are inquisitive, analytical, and have a solid foundation on which to build, as they have been shaped by a Christian worldview and classical methodology. As a result, even as I introduce them to a new subject, they already have many of the tools they need to master it.
This became very apparent earlier this spring when seven seniors and I traveled to Helena to participate in the Montana Economics Challenge, a competition open to all high school students in Montana (this year approximately 100 students participated). Montana high school teachers are invited to incorporate economic learning in their classrooms and assemble teams to compete in a challenging array of tests covering concepts, issues, and reasoning.
Teams were comprised of three or four students who competed individually and as a team. Participants took a 15-question, multiple choice test in each of the following three areas: microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international trade and economics. The top two teams from each division after the first three rounds compete against each other in a buzzer round on general economics and current events to determine overall division winners.
Out of 26 teams from public and independent schools across Montana, Petra’s two squads made it to the final and faced off in the championship match, taking first and second place. In addition to their team wins, Petra had the top three individual performances out of 65 students in their division, with Hannah Palmer coming in first, Mackenzie Miller second, and Abby Laird third.
In April, the Petra team of Brianna Anderson, Hannah Palmer, Mac Miller and Elsa Bentz tested well enough to advance to the national semi-finals, where they finished 16th out of 35 teams from across the country – the highest finish ever for a Montana team.
Of course, economics is made up of a lot more than just numbers; it involves consideration of resources, distribution, trade, employment, supply and demand, and the populations involved in all of them. In short, economics is about people and behavior, which is why our students did so well in the competition. Our students had had just over a semester of formal economics education before the competition, yet because of the quality of their mathematics courses (combined with all they had previously read and written about in their literature and history studies in humanities), they were able to easily master economic concepts.
I’m eager for graduation and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of these graduates. I am confident that no matter what trajectory their lives take, or what fields they choose to study, they have been wonderfully prepared to pursue whatever vocation to which the Lord calls them.
A poem a day keeps the doctor away! All triteness aside, it may well be true that this variation on the old adage instructs well concerning our need for daily literary consumption of poetic language.
Our 3rd grade class currently engages in this practice, immersed in a unit featuring Knock at a Star, an anthology of poems for children. The eager squeak of opening desks gives proof of their delight for the daily readings!
As our Petra mission states,
“Recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.
We realize that this articulation includes not just the more-often valued prose writings, but poetic expression as well.
How does this happen? Since children learn so well through imitation, from the earliest years at Petra, we read poetry. Beginning with nursery rhymes, fingerplays, chants, and songs in the pres-school and kindergarten years, progressing to classic poems for reading or memorizing in the 1st through 6th grades, then delving into the epic classics in the upper grades, we seek to provide children with a rich diet of poetic language that they may delight their ears and strengthen their hearts for meanings given symbolically, metaphorically, and rhythmically through words.
Ultimately, by training children to enjoy and write poetry – thus developing the capacity for poetic language – we go far to awaken love and wonder for God’s creation, our fellow man, and yes, for God’s word, the Bible. One of my favorites, Psalm 19, states:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech/ night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
This psalm proclaims God’s creation, the “work of his hands” as being rooted in speech and words, and it is written, not surprisingly, as a poem.
So, there is a place for adding to this great symphony of poetic expression. Why not share a poem a day? You can start and return often to Psalms, and go on to many lovely anthologies and classics available at our public library or school library. Read with expression, read with delight, and read for the sake of truth and beauty. It just may be the start of a wonderful new state of spirit and health for you and your family.
Here are some poems to delight the poetic palate written by members of our third grade class. Bon appetit!
“Seasons” by Maggie Koenen
When it is winter foxes dive for food in the snow,
When it is winter bears go into caves and sleep,
When it is winter snowmen appear and snow blows.
When it is spring apple blossoms glow in the morning light,
When it is spring green grass grows,
When it is spring baby animals are born.
When it is summer animals like to take a dive,
When it is summer you don’t need to wear shoes on soft green grass,
When it is summer birds gather at the feeder.
When it is summer it is the perfect season for climbing trees.
When it is fall leaves drift to the ground,
When it is fall everything turns red, brown, orange, pink, and yellow,
When it is fall the earth is beautiful.
“A Playdate” by Isabella Evans
I’m excited when it’s the day
And nervous at the same time,
But when he or she comes we
Do what we do.
“Poem to Make you Smile” by Elijah Glover
I like teddy bears
Ones from the gift shop
There are fuzzy black or brown
Big or small
Simple ones and complex ones
Happy dappy teddy bears.
“First Day” by Kendall Cote
Sometimes on the first day of school
I am really shy
Maybe too much–
I don’t even want to say “Hi”
I feel so lost
I don’t know what to say
But then I say at least “Hey”.
“My Mom” by Ezra Penland
My mom is one who work and helps
At night she cleans dishes and gets laundry
At morning she get the clothes for school
She drives, she cooks,
She’s how our family hooks.
“Keeva and Deer” by Aiden O’Dwyer
Deer come to our yard every night.
They eat grass, until Keeva comes.
“Bark!” she says,
And the deer run away, saying,
“Panic and run! Panic and run!”
I want to believe it’s happening – for real, this time.
None of this “get your hopes up, only to be crushed by another 6-8 inches of snow” stuff.
Spring. I want spring. And I want spring to stick around.
“April is the cruelest month,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
It has certainly at times felt that way – dead, dull – but I saw green grass today, and the memory and desire of past spring and summers came to mind and heart. It’s coming; it just takes a while.
My impatience is not unique to me, nor to the situation of waiting for the seasons to change. As parents, we all can be impatient with our kids – waiting for them to “get it,” wanting them to grow. But think of from where they’ve come, even just this year. Today, I marvel at our 1st graders, now reading; at our 4th graders, now working new maths; at our 9th graders, now well-versed in the various types of energy; at our 12th graders, just weeks away from presenting the fruits of their year-long thesis research and writing.
Today, I remember Pre-Kers once having to learn the basics of being in school, now walking in lines and holding doors for each other with the best of them; I recall seeing 6th graders start the year as our oldest grammar students, now almost ready to become our youngest upper students; and I notice how our 11th graders have studied the greatest of works by Dante and others, and are beginning to think not just about next year as seniors, but beyond next year as graduates.
Spring’s rain stirs dull roots – cleansing them, giving them something to channel, providing what’s needed to grow. The rain can be cold, is always wet, and often interrupts what we think God’s sovereign weather patterns should be. But there is always purpose in it – even when it’s late (or what we consider late) – at least that’s what the Scriptures tell us (Leviticus 26:4, Deuteronomy 14:11, Deuteronomy 28:13, Job 5:10). And growth (eventually) comes with it.
Spring. I want spring, even if it takes more rain and snow to get there.
May April not be so cruel after all.
“O Father, you are sovereign in all the worlds you made
Your mighty word was spoken and light and life obeyed
Your voice commands the seasons and bounds the ocean’s shore
Sets stars within their courses and stills the tempests’ roar”
When I was a young Captain stationed at RAF Lakenheath in England in 2003, I remember having a conversation with my squadron commander about our lack of work-life balance. “Why do we have to go out and waste so much time and fuel practicing Basic Fighter Maneuvers (close-in dogfighting) when everyone is already working 60-80 hour weeks? If I ever end up in a close-in dogfight with the enemy, something has gone horribly wrong for the Air Force!”
What should have been obvious that I didn’t understand at the time was that BFM is a fundamental building block of all combat aviation. It was there not just so we would win a dogfight; it was an exercise that developed certain cognitive pathways in our brains. We were being taught how to observe rapidly changing sensory inputs, categorize them appropriately, and respond correctly at both a conscious and subconscious level – all while experiencing the most physiological stress the airplane could dish out.
As I think about the futures of my kids, they’re getting old enough that I’m starting to worry about their work-life balance. Do I have enough time with them at home? Are we giving them all the athletic opportunities we should? Are they doing too much homework? Will they get into the colleges we want them to?
To help answer these questions, I decided to observe Mr. Koenen’s 11th grade Humanities class last week. I was quite frankly dumbfounded by the transcendent level of all-around excellence I witnessed from start to finish. First, it was the light-hearted teenage banter, not about who did what to who or what so-and-so was wearing but about…Dante…and Beatrice…and bacon and the meaning of Mr. Koenen’s bumper sticker (and all this before Mr. Koenen even entered the room).
Next, I was personally edified by the diagram Mr. Koenen put up on the white board illustrating why I do the things I do and how it relates to the reading the students had been assigned in Dante’s Purgatorio:
Our senses perceive an object, our imagination projects what it might be like to relate to that object, desire is born and grows into love. But love in this world is broken and so I must use reason and will to shepherd my desires and loves and…”
“Mr. Koenen, stop,” I thought. “My mind can’t keep up with all of the different areas of my life this touches and informs. I’ve got to sit a minute and reflect and let my brain catch up!”
But it didn’t stop. At this point, a student in the class put his hand up and said, “Mr. Koenen, how is it possible to be a celibate gay Christian?” Without missing a beat, he somehow tied the writings of someone 700 years removed from our culture of shameless TV and Disney boycotts to his diagram of our loves on the board. He then proceeded to walk methodically, humbly, and charitably through the traditional Christian view of same-sex attraction.
For the entire hour that I sat in the corner listening (on a chair that was carried in from another room by a student who noticed I needed a place to sit), the students were engaged and articulate. They were thoughtful and amazed at the symbolism of Dante’s story. They asked difficult questions about relationships, human nature, and community. It was absolutely breath-taking.
As my mind drifted back to my tuition bill and all of my questions about my fears for my own kids, two things struck me: first, is a Petra education difficult? Undoubtedly, but if someone is to be a culture-making Christian leader in postmodern America – whether it be as an inventor, an artist, a homemaker, a programmer, a CEO, an entrepreneur or an electrician – they will have to wrestle with difficult ideologies and resource constraints every year of their lives.
Second, are the repetitive, mundane building blocks of classical education executed perfectly all the time? Probably not, but the Petra community is one in which we can ask each other the questions like the ones I’m asking above. We can share these fears with each other and constructively help each other find answers to those fears so both we and our kids can all grow in grace and cultural impact.
Like BFM produces quick-thinking combat aviators, Petra Academy’s cultivation alongside loving families is producing bold thinkers in an era and in a culture that needs them like never before. Observing the class of 2019, I witnessed spiritual warriors who will walk into the world, see what needs to be done, and do it with a spirit of humility and winsomeness unlike few others. Petra might not be doing everything right all of the time, but if whatever they’re doing produces what I saw in the classroom last week, I want my kids here.
Jim Stumbo is a 1995 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and a financial planner with Edward Jones. He and his wife, Jen, have three students (8th, 6th, and 1st grades) at Petra, with a fourth beginning in Kindergarten next year. This is the family’s third year at Petra Academy.
Interested in observing a class at Petra? Contact our office at 582-8165 for options.
“He who aims at nothing will hit it every time.”
Let’s talk end results. Many discussions in much of modern education begin and end with test scores and college/job readiness as markers of success; on the the other hand, classical education invokes virtue and an arrival at a particular moral end as its measures of accomplishment.
The difference between these two visions of education is stark and, while there are exceptions, can generally be illustrated by the following two videos (each just three minutes long):
Consider the metaphors in the videos: in the first, the staircase is sterile and decontextualized, whereas in the second, the tree is alive and part of a forest; in the first, the mechanical arm moves students disconnectedly through their development, whereas in the second, parents carefully plant and water the seeds of their child’s education; in the first, education is portrayed as something gained to conquer the world, whereas in the second, the tree thrives and generously gives life to those around it.
There are plenty more elements we could unpack – the factory versus garden setting; the individualistic approach versus a more communal one; the end goal (or “telos”) of job security versus discipleship – but the point is clear: these are two very different approaches to educating children.
At Petra, our vision is to prepare students to live purposeful, godly lives. To these ends, we have recently created a draft of our “Petra portrait,” an aspirational list of characteristics that we desire a Petra student to possess upon graduating. They are:
Virtue and mature character – Through the grace of Christ, the prayerful study of Scripture and of the great books of western civilization teaches our students to love the right things in the right way – the classical, Christian definition of virtue. Rightly ordered loves enable our graduates to live always in the presence of God, to honor Him, to serve their neighbor, and to labor for the growth and glory of His Kingdom.
Solid faith and sound reason – Our graduates have a unified Christian worldview, with Scripture as the measure of Truth. Their faith in the revealed Word of God corrects and guides their thinking and reasoning, enabling them to wisely sort through complex issues and to discern the consequences of ideas.
Masterful eloquence – Language is foundational to all knowledge. Without a strong command of language, we cannot think, know, act, or even love rightly. As the people of the Incarnate Word, Christians must be masters of language. Our graduates learn to eloquently employ vocabulary, grammar, usage, style, and persuasion through the study of English, Latin, Spanish, and rhetoric.
Vision and skills of a competent and passionate culture-maker – The goal of Christian education is not to make myopic, narrow-field specialists, but to create well-rounded culture-makers with a broad field of competence. Our graduates develop this competence through their study of humanities, math, logic, science, drama, music, fine arts, physical education, and athletics. Our graduates are therefore equipped to image God and Christ in whatever vocation God gives them.
Literacy through broad and deep reading – Educated people are well-read and able to discuss competently and compellingly the central works of literature, history, theology, philosophy, science, and art. Our graduates are well-versed in the important literature and ideas of Christian theology and western civilization.
Aesthetic wisdom – Educated people have good taste. They are sensitive to beauty without being cultural snobs; they protect and preserve beauty without becoming antiquarian. They understand that Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are interrelated and interdependent. Our students develop aesthetic wisdom as they experience, analyze, and imitate great masterpieces of visual, verbal, and auditory art.”
Will these attributes prepare our students for college, the military, or their first real job? By and large, they have so far, but that’s not the point. Our students will know how to live well because:
– they’ve not only studied but been asked to emulate the character of great leaders
– they’ll know how to think because they have been taught how to do so logically, not just emotionally
– they’ll know how to speak because they have rehearsed the purpose and skills of rhetoric
– they’ll know how to contribute to culture rather than just be a consumer of it
– they’ll know the big ideas of the past and be able to recognize what they sound like in today’s world
– and they’ll have the wisdom to make choices – true choices, good choices, beautiful choices – because they’ve been called and equipped to do so in their interactions with others.
By pursuing virtue (rather than only college/job readiness), our students will be ready for whatever comes next, living (by God’s grace) virtuous lives to boot.
This coming weekend, our Secondary students will present a stage adaptation of another literary classic, Little Women. I was a young boy about ten years of age when I first heard of Louisa May Alcott’s book, and in my uncultured and youthful arrogance, I soundly dismissed this American classic as a “girl’s book,” preferring instead the adventure tales of far off places found in The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island. Why pay any heed to (let alone actually enjoy) a book about girls on the cusp of adulthood?
Isn’t it ironic then that, as an adult, I rediscovered this classic when my wife read it and fell in love with its simplicity of a story about growing up? Indeed, it’s “…not exactly the adventures of Odysseus, but…never anything less than exciting,” as the narrator puts it. And while I never actually experienced the adventure of being captured by pirates or marooned on a desert island and relying on my wits to survive, I have experienced the adventure and excitement of growing into an adult.
How can a story about growing up be exciting or adventurous? The answer lies in the fact that growing up is an adventure! Think about the first time you thought you fell in love – with the overwhelming emotions that accompanied telling him or her how you felt. I distinctly remember the fluttering feeling of my heart in my throat right before I confessed how I felt about a girl the first time. I imagine it was a feeling similar to walking the plank and knowing that once you stepped off, there was no going back.
Or what about the responsibility of your first job? Remember the elation of being told you were doing it right? (Or, in my case, the crushing feeling of finding that you could have done better and your employer was disappointed in your performance.) Perhaps your first time away from home was an exciting or terrifying experience. Whatever, these “firsts” are sprinkled throughout our childhood and become defining moments in our lives that shape our character.
Louisa May Alcott’s story is about these very things: love and heartbreak, loss, freedom, and chasing dreams. It is in this way very much an adventure worth reading, for adventurous stories show us characters with strengths and weaknesses who face tests and character-defining moments. Hers is a story of more relatable and realistic adventure than I ever read about at ten years old.
I still love overtly adventurous stories of heroes testing their mettle against overwhelming odds or the mercilessness of nature, but it’s unlikely that I will be in a situation like that. The adventure of growing up however, never truly goes away; the heart-pounding, character-defining firsts just become more and more spread out as we age, but their significance becomes deeper and more influential on others around us. For instance, I vividly remember the emotion of my wedding day, as well as the birth of my son as being “firsts” in the continuing adventure of life.
Being a part of Petra has been yet another first facet of my adventure, which for me was when I directed Great Expectations five years ago on our stage. It was my first true production, complete with all the trimmings of a real theatrical performance. What makes that experience stand out in my mind as special was I got to be a part of the first Petra production for many of this year’s seniors; in fact, it was because of our shared experience of adventure that I chose this particular story.
In a way, Little Women is my homage to the many firsts that I’ve shared with our seniors over the past five and half years, and the many more that lie ahead in their paths. So, in the words of our narrator, Josephine March, “Thank you my friends, for sharing your lives…,” and allow me to dedicate Little Women to my first students.
Purchase your tickets for one of four performances of Little Women: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings (March 1-3) at 7 p.m., or on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m.