Building a New World.

I sat in the Belo Horizonte airport and enjoyed the last few moments before I boarded the flight. I soaked up every moment of this great city. As one by one my fellow passengers boarded I knew it was time to go. I boarded the plane and watched Minas Gerais fade away in the distance.

The trip to Minas and our visit to Colegio Tiradentes was incredible, but in reality the journey that led our small party to BH (as trendy people call it) had started years before. In 2017, another boarding school was falling apart. Beset by financial issues and the end of their single largest donors checks each year, they had closed abruptly and left an entire community in a lurch. While we offered a lifeline and special benefits to their students, the most important question was asked by the NMMI Chief of Staff, “Are there any people there that we need”? Immediately my mind remembered the lady who sat at ICEF Toronto from a school that was no where near the quality of New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) that I was representing, yet she had agent after agent lined up to talk to her. It was effortless. While I stumbled through a few presentations that I had set up as a rookie with other rookies, she had meeting after meeting with the real players in the industry. After the event we said our goodbyes and went our own ways, but she was the first person on the list for a skillset we needed. I e-mailed, then called and finally after she had prioritized her students and families who were in crises she called back.

Over the subsequent five years, Cristhina built on success after success and more connections that we could ever imagine to recruit international cadets for NMMI. The number of countries represented in the student body went from 20 to 34. The additional revenue from international tuition helped the school to meet full need for all New Mexico residents and NMMI cadets benefited from the exposure to other cadets from around the world. In all of these events, the path eventually led to the meeting with a teacher from a Brazilian military school. In the first meeting, cards were exchanged and a glimmer of what could be likely danced in their minds.

For many years study abroad programs have mainly been limited to those who could somehow afford to make the journey. For both of our schools, we have very wealthy families who can afford tuition and study abroad mixed with students who have no ability to pay. The education at these outstanding institutions is free for these students, but they are limited from some of the opportunities that other cadets can enjoy. The idea came about, what if we could exchange cadets between the schools and make the experience either very affordable or free with a selection process that did not take into account a cadet’s ability to pay. This idea was so groundbreaking for both schools that the conversation heated up quickly. There were so many ideas, thoughts of what could be, but the whole plan hung in the balance waiting to see if it could be realized.

Part II will be released on May 12, 2022. Read it here!

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A moment of Zen.

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Building a New World Part III

The International office had been talking about the visit for months. In typical fashion, the meetings with the delegation were accepted and plans made. So many things were happening on campus it was hard to focus too far ahead. We had events planned for two solid days, then a Friday trip and a Saturday trip before they headed home. As folks volunteered to help, it was not totally clear what would come from the visit. As you do in New Mexico, you make guests feel welcome and we worked hard to do that well.

Our first meeting with the top three officials from Colegio Tiradentes in Minas Gerais helped all of us better understand the vision that Cristhina and the teacher that introduced herself three years before had started. It was a chance meeting at a recruiting event in Belo Horizonte that led to this meeting in Roswell, NM three years later. As introductions were made and discussions commenced it became clear that COL Welerson, MAJ Claudio and MAJ Jovenil had come with an agenda and a vision for how our schools could work together. As we learned more about Tiradentes, it was refreshing to find another institution that was organized very much like NMMI. It is a military school, with cadets who wear uniforms and follow a code of conduct. Then, somewhat in passing he mentioned that their school system had over 25,000 cadets. Hold on, please clarify what you mean by 25,000. In reality the system has almost 30,000 cadets. Enormous, and a public school, which acts like a charter school in American terms. The opportunities for partnership, which sometimes don’t end up working out, definitely were possible with Colegio Tiradentes.

There were many meetings and the two school leaders came to appreciate each other greatly. A dinner hosted by the MG and Mrs. Grizzle was a highlight. There were several working groups and certainly areas where cooperation was not only possible, but palpable. The real concern with our cadets working together was the language barrier. Without an interpreter, it would be almost impossible as the only cadets on campus who spoke Portuguese were Brazilians. Equally, they had very few cadets who had more than a very basic English ability. In reality, this was the place to start and before they left campus we had initiated the approval process, in partnership with MAJ Webber-McCollaum to have two teachers from Brazil offer a high school level Portuguese class and two of our teachers teach English to their cadets, online with a planned exchange of teachers once a year for a yet undetermined period of time.

On the last day of the visit, when the meetings were done we were set to go on a tour through part of Southeast New Mexico. We were supposed to have a student interpreter, but that did not work out. In typical international exchange fashion, we used a variety of Spanish, which two of us knew and google translate to work to understand. We drove to the mountains for their first experience with snow, then back to Roswell. We had a few language issues. In English bear and beer can be very difficult to differentiate with any accent. We cleared up that there were bears in the mountains! On the drive back my Spanish with an American accent was in high gear with COL Welerson’s Spanish with a Brazilian accent. We managed to talk about everything from UFOs to the current conflict in Europe and the future of US trade partnerships with Brazil vs. current trade partnerships with China. Then we went to Whataburger for a quick bite since it was late and we were all tired.

Whataburger provided a moment where sometimes cultural differences are challenging. As a middle aged guy I usually order the Whataburger Junior as it is plenty to eat for me, especially with fries and a glass of tea. COL Welerson said that he would have what I was having and the other LTCs ordered on their own. Then the food arrived. The top dog at Tiradentes had a smaller burger than the MAJs and a cold war style standoff occurred. With MAJ Jovenil and MAJClaudio looking at the tray, then at COL Welerson, then back at the tray…COL Welerson had and incredulous look on his face as the pregnant pause continued unabated. I didn’t understand, so I looked at them all and said, “What”? To which we all ate our burgers and I thought how absurd it was for the size of a burger to matter. As in many cultural differences my first impression was all wrong…but I wouldn’t know the rest of the story until we sat in a restaurant for our last dinner together in Belo.

The next step was a trip to Brazil, which was a few months away. We worked to get ready, hosted virtual meetings with cadets and Colegio Tiradentes worked tirelessly to ensure a great trip. I don’t know that any of us were quite ready for what the Colonels had in store for us when we landed in Minas Gerais.

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A minute of Zen.

St. Charles, IL
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Putting our future first

Since March of 2020 many things have changed. The pandemic has caused so many lives lost. Some who survived the pandemic are left with lasting health issues. There are so many hasty retirements, folks who were not necessarily planning to retire yet, but now it has just become time. There are businesses and livelihoods lost, plans entirely scuttled some never to be re-written. Nowhere does this seem to be more apparent than in New Mexico where our indoor face mask policy was the only lifted earlier this spring. Exhaustion…its palpable here. While loss is felt by all, one great area where too many have fallen behind is in the education of children that have been irrevocably impacted by the pandemic.

In New Mexico most schools were closed for a year with all learning moving to remote and online. Of course if you had asked any educator prior to the pandemic if teaching Kindergarten online was a good idea there would have been a guffaw and the ensuing laughter would have ended any question. Yet, there we were…March 2020 and after the extended Spring break our kids are online and going to school. My family was so very lucky that our charter school was fast to implement, adapt and move forward with the curriculum. This value became even more apparent when schools didn’t open in August, but remained fully remote until March 2021. Almost a year to the day since the schools had closed.

Families were left trying to help kids keep up with as much help as the schools could muster, but the training that was needed to make online learning effective is primarily geared to college age students. Again, the concept of online learning for elementary age kids was an incredible challenge. Some will point to home schooling, but a home school curriculum is designed differently. You have a set of lessons and texts provided by the program, they expect that there will be an adult figure administering the classes, etc. The school environment in these programs is the home and that is largely designed by the family. Efficacy of homeschooling has mixed results based on various factors as studies have shown. That is not what online or distance learning from the public schools was, nor is. Most teachers weren’t trained, but did their very best.

In Spring of 2020, stories began to emerge of the heroic teachers who were working as hard as they could to move all content online, a herculean task in itself. First there were packets to pickup and return, then the programs started to move online, but some of the software designed to support the process did not work so the best laid plans were sometimes put asunder. This heroic work was not the case for all schools, teachers and students leaving some with untenable situations. Many working parents were forced to leave their very young children home alone with the hope that they could get online and complete some work. Still others had no internet connection, so while schools worked hard to get technology out to students, online learning can’t work if there is no internet connection. Providers and school districts stepped up in many areas, but still the sight of kids seeking wifi was heartbreaking.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, this fall I consider my college first year students and I can see the difference. Writing a paper requires basic explanation of concepts that should be familiar. Giving instructions to blank stares make me wonder if they are imagining I am a character on their screen. These students are profoundly different. This is something that over time will be forgotten, so I write it here for the future. However, there is hope as education has taken a great leap forward, with online offerings and support that would have been unimaginable before the pandemic.

I look at all of the pointless activities I was involved in before COVID. They seemed so important at the time, but as I look back at that life and consider what to add back into my life now I am careful to only add what is important. Remember what matters in life and considering carefully before I say yes. Before I put my kids in another activity or volunteer for more civic duties I consciously ask the question of what I hope will come from the activity. I think about how much time I am willing to invest and how long I will be able and willing to invest that time. Often these simple questions answer the question. If its worth investing my time, great. If not, then it may be something I will consider later when my kids are in college. Often its not anything that I want to invest my time in, so saying ‘no’ is the right answer. That is one of the best gifts COVID left with me that has positively impacted virtually everything our family does. Oddly enough, I don’t think we are the alone.

We have to find a way to build a better future for our children and ourselves. Focus on catching up on your education, learning a new language, enjoying a good book. Tell folks no and invest that time into things that matter to you. Your life will be all the richer for the journey.

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The Same Choice Over

A few years ago my mom showed up at a meeting hobbled up and struggling a good bit to get around. I asked what had happened and there was a trailer, a staircase and a winter concert involved in the tale. Over night it became obvious that some assistance would be necessary, but I couldn’t take the day to go with mom to my hometown, to help her out. Abie, my wife, let me know that she was able to help. I paused as it wasn’t something I had even considered at the time. She was able and willing to take her home, stay with her for a couple of days while she got things checked and finished packing for a trip to California. It was just no big deal. It was just what she was all about, helping to calm a storm.

There are so many ways that she is the one for me. She calms me when I’ve lost my way. Tells me when I’m wrong. Loves me for me, the good, the bad and the ugly. This love is best exhibited with our kids. Its not all sunshine and roses, but she works to show them how to love truly…not the way the world counts love, but true love.

1 Corinthians 13:4–8a (ESV) Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

On mothers day I have been reflecting on our moms. Ours lost their husbands, our fathers, the last few years. I realize that choosing who to share this life with is incredibly important. When I was younger I had various ideas on who might be a good spouse, they were many of the ideas you would expect. However, after these years of experience, I have begun to tell my children to choose a spouse who shares their faith and values. Those two things matter, the rest is not important.

In March of 2022 I ran into a bride in Florida who was having a very busy night before her wedding. I told her I would do it all again. Then I asked if he shared her faith and values…after thoughtfully pondering the question, she replied, “yeah”. “Then you all will be just fine, you can work through all the rest”. It’s not easy, but it will all be worth it!

Today I reflect on how lucky we are to have our moms. For me, I would make the same choice over. In the good times and the bad, she makes all the difference.

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Life moves pretty fast…

Today I was in a rush. I wanted to get up early so I could cut some boards for my kids to build bat boxes with Grammy and Grampy, so I was up by 5:30 AM. Then I had to work yet another Saturday. I grabbed 20 minutes for lunch and finished my Saturday of working at work at 5:00  PM. Lots of people work extra hours, and in this case it is for a good cause, however after working four of the last five weekends, it is getting old.

I have to remember that great lesson from Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

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A moment of Zen.

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I was lost and God sought after me relentlessly…

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Choose JOY today!

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