For Christian educators, we desire to have our students be a force of impact in our community outside the school. Many teachers face the difficulty of adding a community aspect to existing, established units. How does a teacher add an authentic community aspect to an established unit?
This question has grown in intensity in my classroom this year with my Spanish unit, entitled “What God is Doing in Prisons in Latin America.” This was challenging since I have almost 100 students in my Spanish sections; trips off campus would be a challenge. Let’s see a little background on the unit to understand how this unit has been slowly moving forward to adding a community aspect to it. My deep hope for this unit is that students will allow themselves to be used “by God as instruments of change to encourage and bless others.” Here is how this unit became one of my most transformational units.
At the beginning of the unit, I ask students to list famous prisoners or books that were penned by a prisoner. Many come to mind, Martin Luther King Jr. and Joan of Arc are some common answers. Also, students see many examples in the Bible and discover God has a long history of working in prisons, from Joseph to Paul. Students read in Spanish how God was with Joseph in prison, which eventually led to the redemption of his family, Egypt, and the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Paul and Silas were in prison only to be miraculously released. Later, the guard and his entire family were converted. These stories are full of redemption and renewal.
Following this introduction, I give students the Learning Targets; this one has the most impact on them: I can allow my Christian posture to change the way I see prisons and prisoners. Students are then asked to read and think about Matthew 25.
"I was in prison, and you came to visit me . . . Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Some students conclude that God commands (not suggest) us to help the “least of these.” If we are commanded, what can we do to make sure we are following these commands? This is where we partner with the Prison Fellowship of the Colson Center. First, a guest speaker that works with the Prison Fellowship describes what God is doing in the local prisons (the talk is mostly in Spanish, with some occasional English translations). Then students form small groups and go find prayer requests on the Prison Fellowship forum. These prayer requests are from the families of incarcerated individuals. This is such a powerful moment to witness in the classroom! As students sit in groups, they pray for redemption and renewal. They also write a note of prayer to the families, encouraging and blessing them on the forum by replying to posts. Since they used my Prison Fellowship account, I saw that some students have since gone back on their own time to continue to pray and write notes of encouragement.
Finally, some feedback at the end of the unit from the students was a powerful witness of adding community involvement into our units. One student commented:
“Praying for the prisoners and families allowed me to see God loves everyone, even the prisoner.”
And another student:
“God is still writing the story of prisoners, and I can be a part of it.”
As educators, there is a deep desire for all of our units to have a connection with the community at large. Taking our existing units and changing them by adding a community aspect is not done overnight, rather it is a slow, deliberate process that takes months or even years. This will change our students' hearts and minds, which will eventually lead to a transformed world.