Light in the midst of darkness: Adventist teens share how the pandemic has affected their spiritual life
Voices filled the air, shoulders rubbed up against each other, friends linked arms and swayed back and forth; Hankin’s Hall was filled with high schoolers praising God. Before 2020 this was a Campion student’s everyday worship experience. Throughout a full year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been unable to worship together in the same way. How can we help each other connect to God through a mask? How can we show our love for each other from six feet away? Despite all the restrictions, God has still been at work at Campion.
Milka Mendoza, senior at Campion, felt it was especially hard being separated from her friends. “COVID has made it a lot harder to stay close with God. A big thing for me is being able to worship with my friends. Because we have to be home most of the time, that has happened less this year.” Despite the circumstances, Milka has managed to stay positive. “Through this pandemic, I have felt God’s presence closer than ever. Why? Well, because despite everything that has been happening, He has still found a way to bless me and the people that I love. Waking up with good health is one of the biggest blessings.”
The pandemic aroused doubt in many people, including Jayden Anggormas, senior. “My spiritual life was affected a lot by this pandemic. There were a lot of problems and doubts because I was worried about how my life was going to turn out.” Jayden realized that he had to let go of his doubts and just trust God. “I started to notice others around me lose their faith because the in-person contact was gone. It was really tough, but I found it to also strengthen my faith. Despite the discouraging setbacks, it reminded me that God is stronger. He can work through situations that are even worse, and by keeping this close to my heart, I was able to become closer with Him.”
Teens may find themselves wondering where God is in the midst of the pandemic, but some have been able to use this time to gain a clearer vision of God’s kingdom. “It honestly feels a little difficult to understand why God has "allowed" COVID to happen,” explained Mark Zelaya, senior. “However, if the world was perfect, we wouldn't look forward to heaven. I think that maybe God is allowing this to happen because He wants us to see how messed up and cruel the world is, and the sooner we accept that the sooner we'll want to be reunited with Him.”
Jayce Treat, Campion News Team
Classes still begin at their scheduled times, but that is about the only thing which has stayed the same for teachers at Campion Academy. Having to jump back and forth from in-person learning to a virtual classroom, and sometimes a mix of both, teachers are having to adapt in more ways than one.
Campion teachers have had to keep up with constantly updating safety precautions and remain flexible with sudden changes to their everyday routines. One day they could be giving a lecture in the classroom, and the very next day, they may find themselves leading class from their kitchen tables.
One thing is certain: teachers have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Even when classes are in-person, with COVID precautions, there are usually students who have to join virtually due to minor illnesses or potential exposure. Jill Harlow, Spanish and English teacher, described a little bit of what her days look like: “When I walk into my classroom, I’m running around sanitizing the desks, trying to switch on Zoom while students are walking in, and thinking to myself, ‘Ok what am I doing in class today, and what can I do to engage those one or two students on Zoom?”
This pandemic has challenged both new and experienced teachers.
Cindy Santana, who has been teaching at Campion since 2005, has come across many obstacles in the jump between virtual and in-person education. “Just using Zoom was a learning curve,’’ Santana commented. “Teaching for nine hours, grading, and doing the prep on top of all that makes for long days. When everybody’s here, you are a team; you have readers and other teachers to bounce ideas off of, but when we’re all on Zoom, we kind of operate in a vacuum. Sometimes, you feel like you’re going it alone.”
Campion’s chaplain and Bible teacher Nancy Meszaros, in her second year of teaching, has learned to use a variety of presentation tools to keep students interacting, but still recognizes the challenge the socially-distanced classroom presents. “I feel like sometimes my creative juices are no longer there. I want class to still be fun and engaging, but with so many regulations that always change, it’s hard to keep track and can be really draining.”
As the director for spiritual activities on campus, Meszaros added, “Another thing that has been difficult with this pandemic has been trying to find creative activities and programming to reach students spiritually. A lot of activities require mingling and close interaction, so we can’t do those things anymore.”
In spite of all the challenges, Campion teachers have chosen to stay positive and try to make learning as engaging as possible. Harlow elaborated: “God has blessed us through everything. All of us have learned to adapt. Students are still learning, and we teachers are still forming positive relationships with them. Even online, we can laugh or have deep spiritual conversations that bring us together. And there is light at the end of the tunnel; we are all looking forward to being back on campus together in the coming weeks.”
Sami Hodges, Student News Team
Campion Academy has had to move to remote learning for a period of at least two weeks due to a residence hall student testing positive for COVID-19 last Friday, January 15.
Following protocol, the student and his roommate were isolated and then tested last Wednesday, January 13 when he first displayed symptoms, and the results came back on Friday afternoon. At that time, the administration completed contact tracing and isolated others who were close contacts. By Saturday morning, three of those close contacts had come down with similar symptoms, so the administration acted quickly to protect the other students and staff by sending all students home beginning Saturday evening and Sunday.
The students affected have remained in the residence halls under the care of the deans and school nurse and currently have mild symptoms.
Following Larimer County guidelines, after an outbreak of COVID-19, all classrooms have to move to online learning and quarantine for a minimum period of two weeks.
“It is unfortunate that we’ve had to send our students home for the time being; however, this is a situation that we have had to anticipate and plan for this year,” explained Principal Donavan Reeder. “Most importantly, we want to keep our students and staff safe, so we had to be proactive in preventing a further outbreak.”
The administration will be further monitoring the situation and is seeking out best protocols to bring students back to campus as soon as safely possible. The Thompson Valley School District Safety Officer and District Nurse Coordinator met with Campion's administration team on Wednesday to offer advice on how to increase our safety plan, conduct efficient contact-tracing, obtain rapid testing, and ultimately avoid another closure once students return again.
“We were blessed to have had a COVID-free first semester, and we trust that God will carry us through this experience as well and bring us back together soon,” says Reeder. “Please continue to pray for the ministry of our school.”
Dear Campion Family,
We have so much to be thankful for as we reflect on how God has been present on our campus this school year. Campion completed the first semester of the 2020-21 school year with zero COVID cases. We praise God for He has kept His promise in Psalms 91:3 to protect us from the "deadly pestilence."
I wish to express thanks to our school nurse, Jenny Gann, for working with the administration and the Rocky Mountain Conference to put together a safety plan to minimize exposures and risk. I want to also mention our residence hall deans who have worked hard, endured risk by living with students, and kept to the plan to ensure safety.
In addition, teachers and staff have put themselves at risk to educate young people in a Christ-like environment. I appreciate all they have done to complete a successful first semester. A special note of thanks goes to Drs. Elias and Nohemi Hernandez who have been instrumental in helping us with medical supplies, guidance and support.
Finally, I am grateful to the students and families who have endured masks, social distancing and other restrictions to minimize risk so we can teach "in person".
Please join with us this Thanksgiving in giving praise to our God for His watch care over us.
Principal Donavan Reeder
Campion Academy was among the first high schools in the nation to reopen for in-person classes on August 9. Now, eight weeks later, they’ve completed the first quarter without a positive COVID case.
School nurse, Jenny Gann, was instrumental in developing the health and safety policies which have helped Campion manage the risk of an outbreak. For starters, mask wearing is required at all times, even outdoors. Gann commented, “As frustrating as they can be, I believe masks and limiting our students coming on and off campus have been the main policies which have kept our students healthier this quarter.”
Residence hall students have only been able to leave campus with immediate family members, and trips off campus have been vastly reduced, which has limited the potential for community exposure. While some of these restrictions can be draining on students, Gann says, “I appreciate that the staff and students have been cooperative, so that we’ve been able to stay open.”
Teachers have had to adapt as well to social distancing and to managing an in-person classroom along with students joining on Zoom. Anytime a student experiences any type of viral symptoms, he or she must stay home or in their residence hall and is able to join classes remotely through Zoom, until they’ve been cleared through testing and/or nurse approval to rejoin their classes.
Erin Johnson, Literature and Geography teacher, comments, “I think the challenge is trying to be creative with the restraints. I’m typically a teacher that puts students in groups, so I have to be creative in getting students to work together without being physically close.”
With all the added precautions and bumps in the road, has in-person education been worth the risk? “Definitely,” said Johnson. “The kids value our spiritual programming and having in-person help from a teacher. Just being able to see each other’s eyes face to face is valuable. It’s hard to have that ‘ah-ha’ moment, or connection, through a screen.”
Principal Donavan Reeder commented, "I am so proud of our staff, students and families. It has been difficult to navigate all of the restrictions. I am amazed at the creativity of our teachers in delivering education with these challenges. Students and families have been understanding and cooperative. Our Spiritual Life team has been faced with challenges for spiritual programming, but the efforts are worth it. We can see God's Spirit moving on our campus as we seek to Know Him and Show Him."
While Campion can celebrate this milestone, the administration recognizes that the fight is not over. Students were able to return home for a much anticipated break last week, but with that, the risk of COVID exposure was increased at the start of the second quarter.
Gann comments, “It is easy to let our guards down because we’ve been safe so far, but diligence in wearing our masks, washing our hands, keeping our distance, all of those difficult things, is extremely important right now.”
Principal Reeder further said, “I am grateful to God for His watching over us as he promised in Psalms 91, and we ask for everyone to keep us in your prayers for the rest of the school year.”
As students have returned from the break, Campion plans to continue the second quarter as they did the first: with diligence.
Jill Harlow, Communication Director
UPDATE: With 10 days left in the semester, Campion has still had no COVID-19 cases.
Campion Academy’s international students have faced a variety of challenges with returning to school due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Students from Brazil were able to return home during the quarantine period, but now are faced with closed borders and are having difficulties returning to the U.S. Students from China were not able to return home at all due to the travel restrictions that began in February.
Giovanna Balgamon, along with nine other students from Brazil, has started the school year online. She said, “Starting school online was discouraging. I think all of us hoped that things would be back to normal by now.”
Eager to return to Campion in-person, the Brazilian students have had to get creative in finding a way to fly into the U.S. Carol Silva, senior, along with Duda De Oliviera, junior, were able to get to Campion Academy in early August. In order to do so, they had to take a flight from Brazil to Mexico, and stay in Mexico for 15 days. After that, they flew from Mexico to Colorado. Silva said, “Although it was tedious and frankly very tiring, I am beyond grateful to be able to spend this year growing with God and being around all my friends. I am appreciative to all the staff and the students for following the rules to keep our campus safe.”
Seven more Brazilians are going through the same process as Carol and Duda. They arrived in Mexico on August 24th, and plan to be at Campion by the 9th of September. The remaining two students from Brazil will continue with online classes until the borders open.
Chinese students Gregory Lang and his brother Jarrod started at Campion last year and are now entering 10th grade. Jarrod Lang said, “I first heard about COVID-19 in February when the outbreak began in China. My family was then already prepared for us to stay here and sent over 400 hundred masks immediately. In March, the outbreak hit the U.S., my brother and I immediately began donating and handing out masks to Campions staff.”
Both Gregory and Jarrod Lang stayed with Campion’s Alumni President Codi Jahn and her family for the summer. Jarrod Lang said, “They are very good people and have strong relationships with God. I was never sad or depressed during this time. My brother and I both love the U.S. and are very grateful to be here. During the summer we were able to get more in touch with God, and learn about his grace. Codi and Caleb Jahn took very good care of us and my family is extremely thankful!”
Although new international students were not able to enroll due to visa restrictions, Campion Academy still has 17 international students coming from Brazil, China, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Japan.
About two weeks ago, Campion faculty members, Steve and Wendy Eickmann, began to feel run-down with headaches and fatigue. When their daughter Kelby began to show similar symptoms, she went to a testing center and was surprised to find out she was positive for COVID-19. They had already been following social distancing guidelines as much as possible, but after the results, they went into a stricter form of self-quarantine for the next two weeks.
While each member of the family showed varying symptoms, all of them seemed to only have had mild cases. Throughout this time, they continued working from home, both teaching and attending their online classes. After about a week of symptoms, they began feeling better and are now back to their normal healthy selves.
Wendy Eickmann says that she most worried about the possibility that she could have unknowingly passed the virus to someone else before she started feeling sick. “I like to manage things, but in this situation, I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do but recognize that God is in control. God is on His throne and He is sovereign,” she reflected. “Knowing that we have our Creator taking care of us brought us peace.”
We are thankful for God’s healing hand as the Eickmanns and others in our Campion community have quickly recovered from illness. Our Campion staff continues to pray especially for our students and their families that may be affected by the virus.
Jill Harlow, Communication Director
When I was young, I lived in El Salvador, where there were massive rain storms. Every once in a while, it would get so bad that church would be canceled, and we would have church at home. My family would put on our own mini church service with a sermon, offering call, and everything. Of course, that was before there was such a thing as online-church. Now, it’s a lot more convenient to have church at home. However, it still takes a lot of work to make it happen, and there are many dedicated individuals who have put in the work.
Many churches already have a media team and a live streaming system in place, but there have been other obstacles they have had to work together to overcome. Since outreach is such a huge part of the Adventist church's mission, it has become a major goal for pastors all over the world to make sure that they can still reach out and connect to their church families and the community. The church staff and members have been doing things like driveway visitations (while still respecting the parameters of social distancing), calling to pray with people, spirit weeks, and Instagram take-overs to name a few. Church leadership is encouraging people to get creative and find even more new ways to stay connected.
There are many volunteers who have also contributed and are making an impact. Sabbath School teachers record sabbath school lessons for kids. Whole families have joined together to provide music for Sabbath Schools and for the main service. Pastor Micheal Goetz of Campion church says, “We have seen an increase in individuals and families who are coming up with their own way to care and show ministry to other people. And that's really what the church has dreamed of being about.”
Many Campion Academy students have stepped up to help in their home churches. Ben Maxson, a junior at Campion Academy, says, “I run the video camera and help with sound and slides. I also help the associate pastor with the church’s social media presence. I also go with my parents when we visit people’s houses and just stand outside and talk. I love that I can stay active and help out my community.”
Many other students including musicians, Andy Obregón and Kylie Wehling, and speakers, including Robyn Quillin and Erick Maldonado, have all been involved in Campion Academy Friday night vespers. Campion Academy is also planning to have an online week of prayer the first week of May, hosted by the senior class.
Social distancing may have physically separated the church members, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still gain a blessing by worshipping together at a distance.
Ashley Reyes, Guest Contributor
For most of us, self isolation means staying home with family, but that is not the case for many of Campion Academy’s international students. Before last Friday, there were 14 international students staying in the dorms, two girls and 12 boys, as well as some others staying with local host families. Thanks to the help of friends in Brazil, the Brazilian students were all able to go home over the weekend. Duda De Oliveira, a sophomore, said, “I feel really excited to go home, but at the same time I’m sad to leave the deans that were taking care of us.”
There are now only three Chinese international students staying in the dorm. To help pass the time, Rain Li, a senior from China, said, “I play video games with other people, watch videos, and have class.” Mrs. Fagan cooks for the students and they are able to go outside on center campus to enjoy some fresh air.
Gregory Lang, a freshman from China, stated, “It is definitely weird because you never see anyone. We have to clean every day. We have breakfast, lunch, supper, and online classes and a lot of homework.”
Being away from home is especially hard right now. Before she left, Duda De Oliveira reflected, “It’s really sad. Everyone else is with their family. We are here with the deans, and the deans are taking care of us really well, but I miss my family and I wish they could take care of me. If something happens, I won’t be there. My mom is a nurse and she has been in contact with a doctor who had the coronavirus. I thank God she had no symptoms, but it's hard and I wish I could be with her.”
Yan Silva, a sophomore from Brazil, told me before he left that “it’s sad and hard because I miss my family so much.”
Jarrod Lang, a freshman from China, said, “I miss home and I’m feeling homesick.”
The Chinese students don’t know what this summer will look like, if they will be able to go home or have to find housing. Some students are still trying to get a ticket home where they will have to be quarantined. Other students who were able to go home, like Airi Nomura, a sophomore from Japan, are now having to do online school with a huge time difference. Please keep these students and their families in your prayers during this difficult and uncertain time.
Ashley Herber, Student Editor
Being outside can provide a nice break from being locked in during this long quarantine. Fortunately for neighborhoods across America, kids are finding a new reason to venture outside.
“Bear Hunts,” as they’re called, involve placing stuffed bears in windows visible from the street. Kids can then walk through the neighborhood and attempt to spot them all. It adds a little bit of interest to walking around the neighborhood, especially since that’s all they can do outside now.
“I noticed bears in windows around my neighborhood, and I thought it was cute,” says Naomi Boonstra, a senior at Campion. “I looked up what they were for and decided to get in on it. Now, I see the kids in my neighborhood stopping outside the house every once in a while to point at my three little bears in the front window. It’s a nice way to stay feeling like a community when we can’t see each other as much.” Throughout this pandemic, we’re seeing more and more people finding creative ways to draw together.
Walking through his own neighborhood, Ben Maxson, a junior at Campion, noticed a sign on a house that read, “We love the senior class of 2020!” Then, he saw another one. He noticed that the neighborhood was full of them.
“I think it’s really cool that people still want to show their excitement for the graduating classes this year,” says Ben. “It’s a small act, but it shows big character.”
Although the pandemic has forced us into isolation, it’s nice to see the spirit of unity among communities around America. Together, we can shine a little bit of light on a dark situation.
Erick Maldonado, Guest Contributor