Thursday, May 13, 2021

Travel Plans (and Challenges)

As many of you know, the last time we were in the States was in 2018 on the heels of civil unrest in Nicaragua.  We had planned to travel in 2020, but most flights in and out of Managua were cancelled in March of last year.  Many airlines still have not resumed flights to Managua.  However, our family really needs a break and a chance to reconnect with family, friends and churches.

After considering all of our options, the most convenient and cost-effective way is for us to drive to Costa Rica and fly from Liberia to Grand Rapids.  We plan to embark on our two-day journey on June 19 (the day after graduation) and arrive at midnight on June 20.  During our short time in the States this summer, we plan to spend time in New York and Michigan.  If you would like to connect with us, please reach out to us.

There are still a number of things that could go wrong in our travels.  Please pray that the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica will remain open, that we will receive negative Covid tests, and that there will not be any other complications. 

Art Class

When I stopped teaching 6th grade 15 years ago to stay at home with Caleb, I always hoped that I would be able to get back into the classroom someday. Although a full time teaching job would have been difficult for our family schedule, when the part-time Art position became available three years ago, I was excited for the opportunity. 

Teaching art is a way to help our students explore their creative gifts and abilities. Especially in the past few years, which have felt stressful to everyone in our community, art class is a place where students can relax and try something new. 

One of my philosophies of art teaching is to assure the students that even if they are unsure, make mistakes, or are afraid to try, every attempt builds confidence, skills, and is an important part of the process. I often have kids repeat to me as we start to draw, "It's ok if it doesn't look perfect. And it's ok if we make mistakes." My hope is that they can take that willingness to try something new and to make mistakes into other areas of their lives. 

One small example that has excited me over the past years has to do with weaving. My first year, most of the students had no experience with threading a needle, tying a knot, or weaving at all. This year I finally watched third and fourth graders confidently weave beautiful works of art. Many students tell me they enjoy art class and I'm happy to provide a place for them to grow and learn. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Roller Coaster

The last three months have been very hard on our family.  Nine weeks of online classes meant a lot of added stress for Liam (as Director and Bible teacher), Jessica (as K-12 Art Teacher), our kids (some of whom required a lot more parental help than others), and all of us (yes, there is such a thing as too much family time!).

We had plans to visit with many of you this summer, and were really looking forward to summer travels, especially this year!  Unfortunately, our flights were cancelled 8 times on 3 different airlines (not an exaggeration), and we finally gave up on trying to reschedule them after the latest news that all commercial flights to Nicaragua are cancelled through the end of July.

We are still grieving the loss of so many of our hopes and plans for this year.  We know that many of you have experienced great loss as well.  Times like this make us think of Paul's words in Romans 8:22, where he says, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."  It is a reminder to all of us to store up our treasures in heaven and place our hope in what is eternal, not what is temporary.

Impact in Nicaragua

The global pandemic has been especially complicated in Nicaragua.  Hospitals have been completely full for the past month and we know of several people who were turned away when seeking medical care because the hospital did not have capacity.

Over 30 members of the NCAI community reported symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing), and 5 of them died, but only 1 of them was officially recognized in the national statistics.  The impact at our two sister schools was similar.

Despite lack of regulation, most people we know are taking precautions to keep themselves safe.  Grocery stores and banks check the temperature of clients before entry, and some stores require hand washing and masks.  Many other businesses and restaurants have closed, either for safety or due to financial hardship.  About 90% of people we see walking around are wearing masks.

We Made It

Perhaps you noticed our 3-month quiet period from March to June 2020.  Or, it's entirely possible that you didn't notice, as the whole world simultaneously battled the spread of COVID-19.

In many ways our senior graduation, which was partly filmed in the NCAI parking lot and premiered on June 5, felt like just as much of an accomplishment for Liam as it did for our graduates.  Similar to many other schools, NCAI switched to online learning on March 24.  Our teachers and administrators worked hard to adapt to new challenges and honor our commitment to excellence.

This short NCAI Teacher Appreciation Day video sums up our sentiment toward our innovative and committed faculty during the fourth quarter.

What did this look like for Liam and other members of our school leadership team?  It was exhausting!  Every aspect, event, process and procedure of school needed to be reinvented, redesigned, and replanned.

Many of you may recall that just two years ago, we faced a period of civil unrest in Nicaragua that had a profound impact on the way we do things.  In May 2018, we were forced to switch to online instruction for the last month of school.  As a result, although in some ways we were better prepared for 2020, the experience also felt more traumatic and brought back many vivid memories of the past.

As we move forward, we continue to face an uncertain future.  We are already working on plans for next school year. However, we know that God is faithful and will continue to use Nicaragua Christian Academy schools to bring more people to Him!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Liam's Day in Pictures

A few months ago we shared a newsletter about a typical day in the life of the Starkenburg family, with a special focus on Jessica and the kids.  But maybe you were left wondering, what does Liam actually do?

At first, this seemed like a boring picture newsletter topic, because there are days it seems Liam spends 95% of the time in meetings or answering emails, which doesn't look very exciting.  But when we stopped to look at what happens between meetings, or the purpose of those meetings, things take on new life.  Here are some of the typical things in Liam's life.

Greeting Students in the Morning.  Right after faculty devotions, Liam spends about 15 minutes most mornings welcoming students to school.

Meeting with Parents.  Liam leads many meetings with parents throughout the school year to discuss school goals, parenting advice (such as teaching responsibility and wise use of screens) and other topics related to each stage of their children's growth.

Joint Administrative Leadership Teams.  NCA has grown into an association of three schools, and that means a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the leadership of each of our NCA schools.

 Student Council Breakfast.  Once a year, the administrative team takes each of our student councils (elementary and secondary) out to breakfast to work together and share ideas on school improvement, with a special emphasis on the student perspective.

School Board.  The school board and administrative team meet together about once a month to discuss accomplishments, challenges, finances and school improvement.

Senior Bible Class.  Liam really enjoys teaching the senior Bible class every year.  The class is called "God in Popular Culture" and focuses on Biblical worldview and living out practical faith on a day-to-day basis.

Construction Supervision.  Whenever we do small or big construction projects, Liam is closely involved in developing the initial design and coordinating with the contractor.

Discipleship Group.  Like many other teachers and some upperclassmen, Liam leads a small discussion group about once a month with 7th-8th grade students.

International Schools of Managua.  Liam has taken a lot of leadership in organizing collaboration meetings with the leadership of several other international schools in Managua.

HACIA Democracy.  Liam is a faculty advisor for this student activity (like Model United Nations in the context of the Organization of American States).  Students develop debate and public speaking skills while tackling challenging issues facing the nations of the western hemisphere.

Liam's job is full of a lot more things that are not very photogenic but have a major impact on the operations and direction of the school.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Flooding And Lost Bus

Exceptionally heavy rains in the area of Nicaragua Christian Academy on October 3, 2019 resulted in flooding and the loss of an NCA school bus.  One report said 7 inches of rain fell in 2 hours; another report said 4 inches of rain fell in the most intense 30 minutes of that time.  One person (not part of the NCA community) died in the torrential waters 2 kilometers away from the school.

One of our school buses was lost in the torrential rain water.  Fifteen minutes after dropping off the last student from the preschool noon route, the bus was returning to school for the afternoon pickup.  However, the bus got stuck and the storm waters rose quickly.  The bus driver and chaperon were able to get out of the vehicle safely before it was carried away by the torrential waters.  NCAI subcontracts this service.

We give thanks to God for His protection by sparing the lives of our students and transportation staff.  As you can see in the following video, this could have had a very different ending.

Please pray for Nicaragua, a country that has faced so many difficulties!