Miscellaneous » J-Term 2016 » J-Term Learning and Serving

J-Term Learning and Serving

During J-Term (the first several weeks of January), Bethany students take intensive courses that expand their learning through experiential activities. This year several courses focused on ways that Mennonite values of peacemaking and promoting justice intersect with everyday life.

Koinonia Farm

 For Bethany junior Abby Hochstetler visiting Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga., was a bit like walking on hallowed ground. She says, “seeing the shack where founder Clarence Jordan worked and died was so cool and will stick with me. I’d like to find a way to go back for a longer time.”

She and her classmates studied and visited Koinonia Farm, a small but influential religious intentional community in Georgia that was begun in 1942 as a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.” The community’s faith commitment to racial equality, pacifism, and economic sharing played a significant early role in the Civil Rights movement and birthed partner ministries such as Habitat for Humanity and Jubilee Partners.

During their stay at Koinonia Farm, students lived, worshipped, and worked alongside community members—working in the pecan fields and butchering chickens. Bethany teachers Krysten Parson and John Mast noted that the students were “blown away” by the spirit of the people and grasped that it’s about relationships and their call to follow Jesus by accepting anyone.

Sophomore Skylar Lazarre reflects, “I was touched with how welcoming they were of 24 loud teenagers into their quiet community. I enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere and spending time with my fellow classmates in a deeper way than I do at school.”

Civil Rights and Mennonite Disaster Service

 Another J-Term class focused on justice issues by studying civil rights in the U.S.—primarily the African-American experience from slavery to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but also current issues. In her research paper on Jim Crow laws, junior Pamela Ortiz noted that while blacks have been targets of discrimination throughout American history, other groups such as undocumented immigrants and Muslims have become targets today. Eric Kaufmann’s class also spent one week serving with Mennonite Disaster Service in Texas rebuilding homes destroyed in a wildfire.

Children Who Experience Discrimination

Fourth and fifth graders spent part of their J-Term learning about discrimination, specifically how other children experience and handle it. During each of the first four days, they focused on a different type of discrimination and a child who made a difference despite that discrimination: gender (Malala Yousafazi, Pakistani girl shot for pursuing an education), religious (Anne Frank, Jewish girl who died in a concentration camp), racial (Ruby Bridges, first African-American to integrate public schools), and disability (Ryan White, prohibited from attending school due to his diagnosis of AIDS).

 Each day teacher Linda Hochstetler chose students at random to either be discriminated against or be part of the group who was doing the discrimination and then reflected on how it felt to be in either group. When studying discrimination due to disability, students assigned diseases, such as Prickly Purple Pox, were not allowed to interact with “healthy” classmates—sitting in the back of the room—and ate less snack than others because it was difficult to eat with paper bags on their hands (part of their disability).

A highlight for fourth-graders Victor Ralios and Ian McHugh was a class field trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to see The Power of Children display that featured some of the children they were studying. For Victor seeing Ruby Bridges notebook and for Ian seeing Ryan White’s lunch box “made it seem more real,” they say.

In addition to studying discrimination, they also looked at ways to be more inclusive. In one instance, they played a variation of musical chairs. However, instead of someone being left out of the game each time a chair was removed, they had to make sure that everyone had a seat—even when they got down to one chair!