School Days, Covid-Style

My father passed on a couple of lessons that “stuck”. A person has to keep her/his promises, he insisted. So, I said at some point in these postings that I would update you about the progress of my Dominican colleagues in offering an education for young people. Today I keep a part of that promise.

With Miguelina Jorge’s leadership, the Diocesan education department is offering a series of virtual workshops readying teachers to plan and present a hybrid curriculum of online and face-to-face learning. I’ve been attending as a participant observer and the experience has been wonderful.

A professional presenter, courtesy of Susaeta (an educational materials company HQed in Santo Domingo), offered a set of principles, research findings about best teaching practices and plenty of resources in an atmosphere that models the interactive, constructive environment that the teachers will hopefully use to engage their students. Zoom is good, I’m thinking.

Yes, I was observing and participating all right. I’m in this screen shot in the second row from the top

Teachers participated in small groups, as shown in this photo series. The small groups met at 5 schools across the Diocese. They socially distanced with gusto, as the visuals document.

More workshops in the coming two weeks means more postings. The pandemic prevents my attending start-of-the-school-year activities. But, nothing prevents me from virtually participating and passing my observations on to you the readers.

Bendiciones in this difficult time. Take care. Be safe. Till next time.

Actualizacion Virtual

Time for another virtual update on education life in the Dominican Republic. A quick one but a newsy and important one, nevertheless.

The Diocesan Department of Episcopal Education continues to wrestle with challenges posed by MINERD (that’s the government education agency) closing school buildings 6+ weeks ago. Instruction is now virtual. Parent Day was held via Zoom. Graduation competency exams have been held on-line (no pass the exam, no get a diploma). Many, many adjustments by our creative colleagues in the DR.

And our Equipo de Mision Educativo (Education Mission Team) has been closely involved in this work even from afar.

Almost-Doctor Cindy Linzell is involved in a University of Nebraska-Lincoln project to create online materials for teaching English as a second language. She has provided URL links for 3 sets of instructional activities to her Dominican classroom colleagues that are in widespread use. Hooray for Cindy!

Following our December visit, Dr. Joe Gaston established links to EdModo, a software infrastructure that Dominican educators are using to communicate and share teaching ideas. With Joe’s support, Dominican education leaders have established the “Club Tecnologico” — a network enabling school-to-school communication on an ongoing basis. Way to go, Joe!

My particular efforts have involved membership on Bishop Quezada’s Task Force that will guide the Diocese as schools reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year. I join Melvina and Miguelina on the Curriculum/Instruction subgroup. We will likely meet via Zoom throughout the summer. That’s the Bomb, Tom!

No idea when restrictions will lift sufficiently for us to visit the DR up-close, in-person. In the meantime, we remain involved at a social distance. We very much value your support!

Mientras Tanto . . .

Time to post a second update on how the pandemic has affected our educational mission to the Dominican Republic. It seemed only fair to title this one “meanwhile”, in Spanish. I thought about a different title, “Life in the Time of Coronavirus”, paraphrasing a work by that great Latin American writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I decided it wasn’t wise to risk angering “Gabito’s” many fans.

Developments in our Episcopal Education System in the DR have mirrored changes in curriculum/instruction here in the United States. The government education agency, MINERD, issued just yesterday a lengthy directive explaining how schools should meet learning standards electronically — typically not a suggestion that schools would be opening any time soon.

Given our situations here and conditions in La Republica Dominicana, our team reluctantly postponed our scheduled May visit. Plans now include a distance “meeting” with Dominican Episcopal educators in September and a full, in-person, face-to-face workshop series in December. This decision saddens us, although as my Millennial son would say: It is what it is. And as our Dominican friends say often: Vamos a ver (we shall see).

While saddened by the postponement of travel, we are delighted to report that our colleagues have been able to establish communication within schools and across the educational system. They are using a version of the app, EdModo, with instructions for use (in Spanish) developed by our Technology Wizard, Dr. Joe Gaston, and our expert in English language learning, Cindy Linzell. We are contributing to making educational change happen, even from several thousand miles away. Here is a little taste of the instructions that Joe and Cindy developed to guide Dominican educators through the log-on process.

Las siguientes instrucciones te permitirán crear una cuenta y tener acceso al Club de Tecnología de los Colegios de la Diosesis de la República Dominicana.

Club de Tecnología para los Colegios de la Diosesis de la República Dominicana.

La página web para acceder al Club de Tecnología es:

Comienza como un Maestro. Haz click en ‘Teacher’.

There are lots of swell visuals imbedded in Joe and Cindy’s “how to use” manual that I can’t seem to insert in this post. But, the ease-of-use that their work offered our Dominican colleagues should be apparent from this reproduction of their opening paragraph.

One last thing before exiting the blog. I’ve mentioned from time to time what the weather is like in Nebraska. Here’s what it’s been like the past week or so.

Anyone like hail? Know what it looks like when it gets to golf ball size? Take a look at this photo, complete with a putter for reference sake.
How about snow? Like snow? How about snow on Easter Day? Here’s what that looks like.

Some time ago, our Governor commissioned an advertising campaign to boost tourism in Nebraska. The motto they came up with: Nebraska, Not for Everyone. At the time, I thought that was pretty ridiculous. Looking at these photos, I’m not so sure it doesn’t fit.

More posts to come.

Bendiciones y gracias por su interes.

Meanwhile . . .

I am hunkered-down in Lincoln, Nebraska, observing the many new ways of doing things that the Coronavirus pandemic has forced upon our many school systems. Face-to-face instruction indefinitely postponed; athletics suspended; even standardized testing has been canceled.

As we observe the almost-overnight transformation of American schools, we might wonder what’s happening in other places around the world. Particularly, what’s happening in the colegios of our Companion Diocese, La Diocesana Episcopal de la Republica Dominicana?

Turns out, that the Dominican Episcopal schools are in much the same situation that we find ourselves here in the USofA. Immigration and emigration are frozen; public buildings, including private and public schools, are closed; business activity, particularly tourism, is severely curtailed. Thanks to the transformation of Episcopal education from a “bunch of schools” to a real school system, the schools are managing quite well despite the new instructional reality that they have been forced to embrace.

First and foremost, students receive regular instruction via distance education. Everyone might not have a full-sized computer, but most have cellphones and can tackle lessons in work- and textbooks that they can bring home. As you can see, there is lots of schooling happening in dining and living rooms across the Diocese.

The schools have created assignments on line and lesson frameworks that students can access. Activities are theoretically sound and very engaging. Plus, they target learners at all levels, from primary to the high school years.

Plus plus, these initiatives are happening across the school system, from Jimani (Colegio Prof Laura Morrow) to Consuelo (Colegio San Gabriel) to Santo Domingo (Colegio San Andres).

Credit is due the educational leadership of the Dominican Diocese. Clearly, they are inventive and proactive at a time of crisis. At the risk of patting ourselves on the back, the Education Mission Team has been in contact with our Dominican counterparts recently and, over the years, has helped lay the foundation for distance teaching/learning to happen.

I must also thank the churches at home and the many readers of this blog, whose thoughts and prayers have enabled so many positive developments in Dominican Episcopal education to happen. Stay tuned for additional updates about what’s happening in the DR.

Shock Value

I’ve delayed a bit in creating my final blog post but am now sitting down to write you all an electronic letter. I am back in Nebraska, but have my 2 last days in the Dominican Republic to report.

This post’s title seems a bit emotional, but it’s tied to the weather on my trip home. Simply put, I boarded my Delta flight in Santo Domingo on the afternoon of February 12th; it was 84 degrees. I got off the plane about 9:30pm in Omaha; there weren’t no degrees; yup, it was zero. That qualifies as “shock value” in my book.

Tuesday involved a Villar Hermanos breakfast with my fellow DDG Board members, some work time and a major planning session with M(elvina) & M(iguelina). We locked-down some details for the May visit of the Education Mission Team. As you can see, we sure worked hard, smiling all the way. Such a good team to work with.

Wednesday, on my way to the airport, Miquea Saintivil and I stopped at Colegio San Jose, Boca Chica, to help plan the June mission trip of young people from St. Matthew’s Church, Lincoln, Nebraska. Plenty of ideas, written down as extensive notes, with time for a group photo. A very productive morning.

My DR work continues even as I spend a quiet evening at home. Lots to do with Colegio Kids and follow-up from my mission trip. The blog will go to “quiet mode” until I’m further notice, but I will keep you posted on significant developments in the progress of our Dominican education system.

Gracias y Bendiciones+

The DDG Rides Again . . .

Many Dominican Development Group (DDG) members arrived in Santo Domingo late Sunday night . . . or was it Monday morning early? Anyway, the decision was made to delay our meeting a bit Monday morning to allow all Board Members to begin the meeting fully awake. Someone was making good choices.

We welcomed a number of new Board members and whether it was their “newbie excitement” or a sense among the veterans that this meeting offered possibilities for revitalizing the organization, a lot got done; projects were launched, fund-raising options were discussed, Jason Roberson was inaugurated as our new President (though no one sang “Hail to the Chief”) and thanks were heaped upon departing Board members and our retiring President, Ed Miller.

These photos capture much of the meeting. Bishop Moises outlined Diocesan goals for 2020; Executive Director Bill Kunkle reported his report; new Secretary Rick Lopez typed notes like a banshee; participants listened, posed for the official group picture, commented frequently and asked questions regularly (with an occasional sidebar). We even took time to celebrate Board Member/now Treasurer Sally Thompson’s birthday. It’s all in these photos, folks; every single thing you might like to know; all right here.

One last item to report from yesterday. Ever curious, I wondered what had happened with the reconstruction of the pipe organ at the Cathedral, happening during my last visit here. Well, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Here’s the proof.

Today holds more meetings in store and some serious “packiando” for tomorrow’s flight home. Bendiciones y gracias.

Any Given Sunday

The titles of not-so-wonderful sports movies have once again been drawn upon for “innovative” titles for blog posts. The “Given Sunday” in question was yesterday. There are several events to present:

  • A mass celebrating the life of a long-time parishioner at Iglesia San Andres, who was the mother of a singer in the Christian rock group, Adonai; as the service began, Madre Juana Maria led the opening prayer (note the banner above La Madre, translated as “A Church Moved by the Holy Spirit”, which is the Dominican Diocese’s motto for 2020); Adonai provided inspirational music throughout the service; a moving experience whenever the group rocks on.
  • The welcome dinner for the DDG Board Members arriving for tomorrow’s meeting; Bishop Quezada hosted our group at Angelo’s, a great Italian restaurant in Santo Domingo’s Old Town. Notice the smiles all around a very long table.

Back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep. The DDG meeting awaits us in the morning. !Hasta Manana!

Convention Adjourned

We stayed in Santiago for a half-day Saturday as the convention concluded with a prayer session and a “lunch of many colors” (pork, mangu, potato salad and tossed salad). The convention has been described with words like: “productive”, “wonderful”, “spiritual” and “moving”. My small part in the proceedings (sitting, listening and schmoozing) went very well.

Here are some photographs that capture a convention high point — Morning Prayer.Iglesia La Anunciacion was as full for morning prayer as it had been Friday.

I made a video of Padre Alvaro preaching his heart out; this is not, repeat not, a scene from the film, Elmer Gantry.

Next came a financial report. Followed by committee reports. Followed by the award for “Priest of the Year”. Ballots for electing delegates to provincial and national conventions were counted carefully by a team of counters (notice my complete command of parliamentary terminology).

The convention concluded with a prayer service in which the Bishop blessed the attendees and received a “confirmation of faith” from a number of attendees. Followed by quite the lunch.

One more task remained. The Anunciacion Rector, Padre Tony, supervised clean-up activities and awaited the arrival of a youth baseball team to transfer sports equipment donated to area youth. Many thanks to the Padre for his hospitality.

The day concluded with a drive through the mountains — gorgeous country on a lovely, sunny afternoon. Then, a “napocito” in the recliner to end quite a Saturday.

Today Is Convention Day

The day dawned earlier than I’d hoped. The first day of a Dominican Diocesan Convention starts early (breakfast at 7:00am) and runs late (back to the hotel after 9:00pm). As the delegates kept telling me: “Es un dia largo . . .” Yup, these conventions have looooooong days.

First off, people began to arrive in serious numbers and line-up just outside the pavilion. I have an easier time getting through Migracion and Customs in Santo Domingo than the delegates had receiving their credentials.

The day officially started with Oracion Matutina (Morning Prayer); the Bishop blessed the convention and its participants; our hosts, Padre Tony and his wife, Iris, welcomed us and explained what we could expect in terms of meals, bathrooms and moral support. Their staff (including several teachers that I’ve met during workshops at Anunciacion) posed for a group foto. Let the business of the Convention begin.

We shifted right away from standing in lines and greeting each other to conventioneering; for those of you who’ve attended Diocesan Conventions, this will come as a “big surprise” — we listened to reports, read Constitutional amendments, sat and listened, sat some more listening, took lots of snack breaks, had a terrific lunch and sat for a while. We concluded by sitting.

The day concluded with a very Dominican supper (yucca with pickled onions, platenos, fried salami) which I believe might have pushed me over the Weight Watchers point limit on my diet. In what might become a tradition starting with this convention (the 62nd, by the way), two new deacons were ordained in a spectacular service. The sacred nature of an ordination demanded incense (which appears in at least one foto as a light gray cloud).

A quick story to explain why this service was so special for me. Likely you’ll be surprised to learn that I even got “all misty” as the ordination was confirmed (ha, ha, ha; remember that my daughter once said: “My Dad even cries at baseball movies”).

My first extended stay here was for orientation and language study. I did that by auditing seminary classes and taking meals with the seminarians. I was in a state of confusion most of those 5 weeks. A seminarian, Domingo German, took me under his wing and made sure that I was OK. Tonight, Domingo was ordained as a transitional Deacon; he is now Reverendo Domingo, fulfilling his life’s dream; his mother (I believe in her 90s) watched the ordination from the front pew. I’m not surprised to learn that Domingo’s ministry will focus on the poor and homeless in San Francisco de Macoris; his special gift is teaching reading/writing to his flock. What a night!

I’ll close with my contribution to furthering the understanding of North American Episcopalians about how Dominicans pass the peace. Check out this video.

A Little More Wandering . . .

Wandering while I wait for the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic (IGLEPIDOM) to begin. I had some work to do, algunos espanoles para estudiar and a few errands to run. And, some photos crying out to be taken along the way.

First of all, the weather was “mahbellus” — lower temps than usual, as lot drier than it could have been and a very, very nice breeze (as seen by the flag in the photo, with the moon looking over its shoulder).

Second of all, we did us some driving (using some Delaware/Indiana grammar here). We crossed several ridge lines and a number of agricultural valleys, with mountains in the background. Then, we checked into a very nice hotel in Santiago de los Caballeros, about 2 hours north of the Capital. The name is Hotel los Jardines (The Gardens Hotel), locally owned, professional run and an economical place to stay.

Third of all, we headed to Iglesia La Anunciacion to see how the preparations for the annual convention were coming along. Of course, they were about finished, except for that final walk through inspection. Notice that this year’s gathering is being held outdoors, under the new pabellon which serves as a multi-purpose room for the school. Quite an accomplishment for Colegio La Anunciacion.

Tomorrow, the Convention begins with breakfast, followed by Morning Prayer, followed by reflections on the theme/mission for the coming year. Let the fun begin!