An Amazing 6th Grade Student
It was late spring of 1993 and all of my 6th graders were pretty anxious and excited about the coming history fair slated at our school the next day. All of the kids in our elementary grades had projects due and there was seemingly no one that was not keyed up. I was one of five teachers in the sixth grade, who were working single-mindedly on our History Fair projects. These assignments had been worked on by our kids for weeks, and were to be graded the next morning. But more importantly these projects were to be the centerpiece at the Open House the next evening. Open House was a big event at our school; several hundred parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and students from every grade level in the school would be walking through each room to see the displays. It was quite an event because other grades were having fairs of their own. The fourth grade usually wowed everybody with incredible Science Fair projects, swallowing up the mostly bland history displays.
I must admit, I finally got caught up in the competition this year. I was tired of being overshadowed by my fellow lady teachers who seemed to be born with the ability to create outstanding classrooms at Open House. “Well, he’s just a man, doing the best job he can do. What do you expect? Did you see Mrs. Wiley’s room?” These words wrung in my ears year after year. So I decided to do something about it. Instead of artistically doing my best effort as a teacher in displaying their work on classroom walls, and strategically exhibiting their history projects throughout the room, I got a brain storm during our preparation and went another direction. I had a great class, so they were game for anything. And to tell you the truth, doing history projects was not always exciting. At the time we were studying ancient history, which included the study of Egypt’s religious belief and that of Christianity. We decided to compare the afterlife of each one, along with their eternal promises and rewards. It was evident the tombs of the Pharaohs were pretty impressive, but inside laid lifeless, decaying mummies. There was no resurrection, no real hope, only a dead king with the wish for a happy eternity. The Christian tomb on the other hand was very austere, and quite empty. It was empty because Christ conquered death, and rose to prove that His eternity was the only eternity. We decided to split our class up into 4 teams to build 4 sets of these tombs. Above Pharaoh’s tomb read, “PHARAOH IS DEAD; THERE IS NO AFTERLIFE IN HIM,” and above Christ’s tomb it read, “HE IS RISEN, WAITING IN HEAVEN FOR ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE.”
The project ended up to be quite something. Parents started helping on weekends (We had many professional carpenters), and money was raised to buy all the materials. We covered up our windows as best we could so the rest of the school could not see what we were doing. The hammering, nailing and constant construction though, made some very irritated. But it was pretty exciting, and to get students excited with only a couple of months until summer is a teaching miracle of sorts. Even the Principal grew curious and made his way down to our room to see what was going on. When he saw it and heard my explanation, he said
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. “Great! I will keep your project a secret also.”
Needless to say that over the weeks, groups working on their set of tombs learned a lot about Egypt, but more importantly about their eternal life with Jesus Christ. Now we did work on other subjects during this time; math, science, and reading were not forgotten. But every afternoon, each group worked hard and did pretty well. Along with learning history and spiritual lessons, they also gained new skills in how to work with each other. But there was one group of girls who struggled more than the others, and it is this story that I want to share with you because I believe it reflects how important parents are in modeling God’s truth to their kids, which is the greatest Teachable Moment of all.
The girls were all hard workers and had divided up all the project tasks equally. But Dominique, one of the girls in this group really had a tough time working through the project. She was one of my best girls in class, an eleven year old who had great character and was very conscientious in her studies.
But her family was in turmoil, and had been for months. She came from a large family, there were many brothers and sisters, and all really loved the Lord. The parents had obviously set a great example for their kids; they were all very sincere about their relationship with Christ. It was not a put-on that sometimes characterizes many students attending a Christian school. Times got tough though when the father had a sudden heart attack in the fall. He was a small business owner and the sole wage earner, so without him there was very little income for the family. They had little health insurance and definitely not enough to handle the bills that rolled in. So the entire family had to band together and cut back, and help any way they could. As the months lingered, the dad seemed to make very little progress. Whatever procedures were done did not seem to help. At first, Dominique’s faith seemed to be strengthened by the trial. But as the months went by, I could see the strain on Dominique’s face each day when she came to class. Even though she struggled, she never missed an assignment, nor did she turn one in late. I believe it was her way of helping her dad. In Dominique’s mind being a good student and a faithful daughter might bring him some relief, and even quicken his recovery. That is the kind of character these parents taught their children. They did it by teaching them the Word and by modeling faith, even in the roughest of times.
As the project began, money was collected from each student for the school did not have any budget for History Fair projects. Some of the materials got a little expensive; each student was supposed to chip in.
But Dominique had no money, and did not know what to do when the other girls put pressure on her to pay her part. Through the anonymous donation of one of the school’s parents her school tuition had been taken care of. Another example of a parent at our school who modeled the Christian life. When I saw what the girls were doing, I stepped in to mediate. I waited until Dominique left the room for recess, and then I told the girls of Dominique’s struggle. I then took out the money and paid for her end of the project. I asked the girls to be more compassionate, and to remember the Christian life is not what you say, but what you do. The girls responded very well and after that showed the Christ like compassion of which they were capable. The girls’ project progressed well. The tombs were made of chicken wire, paper, glue, wood, and painted to spec. Their tomb display took one entire corner of the room and was very impressive.
Open house finally arrived and my students came in early before school to make their finishing touches on the projects. When school began, we took our self-made coverings off the windows, so that all could see what we had done.
Of course it was Dominique’s’ hope to have her dad there that evening, but that did not seem possible. He still was very weak and had not worked for months.
I remember that Dominique s tried to look positive that morning; perhaps by some miracle her dad would be able to come. As the day went along, she was told by her sister in another class that her dad would not be able to make it. She tried to veil her disappointment when the 3:00 p.m. bell rang, but her face showed her defeat.
The open house that evening was a complete success. Students, parents, grandparents and fellow teachers visited our room with great compliments in hand. The tombs were the talk of the school, and my kids were really proud of what they had done. But Dominique’s family never came for they had a real bond with each other. Their feelings were, “If dad can’t make it then we will stay home with him.”
I came in early the next morning before school to start the clean up. There was a lot to do, and the school had a policy of getting classrooms back together as soon as possible.
As I made my way up the stairs to my classroom, I saw Dominique and her dad about half way up. He was leaning on her for support. I quickly helped him the rest of the way, lauding his daughter as we made our way to the room. In a cheerful, yet guarded voice Dominique asked if she and her dad could have some time together in the room. “Of course,” I said, “Take your time; we’ve got all day to clean things up.” I came back a little later, just in time to catch him leaving. “I am very proud of my daughter; she has made my recovery so much easier.”
It was not too many days later I heard through our student prayer time in class that her dad had made a full recovery. He was back to work, and the family had survived a difficult trial. Dominique’s parents taught her through the Word and by their example a great lesson about faith. The same lesson that James teaches us in his book. “Count it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials and temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result.” Dominique learned this truth first hand.
Now this is not the end of this story; it even gets better. There was another lesson Dominique’s parents would teach her, and that one comes from Paul, who wrote in Romans 8:28 “Now all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
In our school, 6th grade graduation was a big deal. Every year aside from receiving diplomas and giving special awards, a grand musical was performed by all the sixth graders. My sister-in-law, Susanne was in charge of this event every year, and this year was as good as ever. Several of our sixth graders had instrument solos, some sang in pairs, and others had speaking parts. Over 1,000 parents and family members attended every year.
At the end of the evening, a special award would be given to the student who demonstrated the best academics and Christian character. I was a part of the selection of this student. I think you know by now who was selected, but it was to be a secret. The award was also very valuable; it gave the student free tuition for a year.
My sister-in-law who was well aware of the travail Dominique went through gave her a special part in the performance. Susanne wanted to reward her for being such a Godly young girl throughout the year.
The kids practiced the whole last week of school for graduation. We had one last rehearsal the day of graduation, but then in the middle of it Dominique got very , and could not continue. She had to be replaced by another girl. As everyone during the rehearsal took their place, there was Dominique sitting out in the middle of the auditorium all alone. But I knew something she did not, regardless of her having to give up her part; I knew that the whole evening would be hers in the end, as Paul stated, “All things work together for those who love God.” As I approached her, wanting to tell her of the reward ahead, I knew I could not. So I just put my hand on her head and said, “It’s all going to work out Dominique, it’s all going to work out.” For the first time, I saw tears roll down her cheek. But I said nothing more.
Dominique recovered later that day and arrived at graduation with her whole family. They were sorry she missed out on her part of graduation, but they were great parents who knew how to comfort their daughter through God’s Word. Dominique really did not seem fazed by the set back, as she marched up to receive her diploma. In a way she seemed to be saying, “It’s okay, I have what I really want, a dad who is well and a family who loves me.” So many received awards that evening and maybe in the back of her mind, Dominique thought that she would get an award, too. But all the awards went to other deserving students, yet Dominique never flinched because of it. Finally, the evening came to an end, and I was to give the final award. As I read it, I could hardly hold back my own joy for her. Then I called her up. It was a wonderful rewarding conclusion for Dominique who had gone through an extremely tough year. As God proved to her, and as He will prove to you, all things do and will work out if you just hang in there with Him.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18