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Archives - November 2018

"Book Tasting" Spices Up 8th Grade English

November 27, 2018
By Andrea Wenger
Librarian Julianne Ross gets the tasting started.

A "Book Tasting" added some variety to a recent 8th grade English class. 

Librarian Julianne Ross set up the experience for students to "sample" different books and write reviews in their menus so they would be able to return to the library later and select favorite books for independent reading.  

Ross grouped the books in courses --  appetizers, salads, main courses and desserts. Each course had a different theme such as "Award Winners," "Non-Fiction," "New Releases," and "Virginia Choice Readers' Selections." As they "sampled" and reviewed the books, they enjoyed grapes, crackers, cookies and after-dinner mints, served by a waitress.  

"It was an engaging way to review of a variety of delicious book selections," notes Ross. "Reading is important for EMS students not only to build literacy skills," she says. "Reading also fosters imagination and innovation, cultivates curiosity about our world, and nurtures compassion for our global community." 

Ross plans library events, designs reading programs, and offer reader's advisory, as well as works with classroom teachers to develop a reading culture at EMS.  

She graduated from EMHS in 2001, earned a BA  in 2006  in elementary education from Eastern Mennonite University and an MS in school library science from Longwood University in 2012


2018-19 First Quarter Honor Roll

November 19, 2018
By Andrea Wenger

Tags: academics

EMS Students Earn College Credit With Robotics Classes

November 07, 2018
By Liesl Graber '14

With Artificial Intelligence on the rise, Kevin Carini brings hands-on experience with robotics to Eastern Mennonite School, preparing students for the future.

Mike Mi '19 in Robotics II class at EMS.

“There’s going to be robots doing something in most households in the not-too-distant future,"he reflects. "Somebody needs to know how to code them and fix them. That’s really the future.”

In his second year with EMS, Carini teaches dual enrolled General Chemistry, dual enrolled Robotics I and II, and STEM exploration for 7th graders. He brings with him 13 years of experience teaching high school chemistry and physics, and four summer programs of robotics training through James Madison University (JMU) under the leadership of Nick Swayne and Dr. Joseph Enedy.

Thanks to new a partnership with JMU's physics department, EMS students now have the opportunity to earn dual-enrolled credit for Carini’s robotics classes. While earning credit for Robotics I and II at the high school level, eligible students can also earn college credit for JMU’s ISCI-Robotics 101.

Swayne, member of Harrisonburg City Schools’ School board and Executive Director of Virginia-DC FIRST Lego League (FLL), has worked with Carini for 10 years. “I am always impressed by Kevin’s passion for teaching and learning and his ability to pull kids out of their comfort zone,” he said. “I know many of his students never imagined themselves doing robotics.”

“Few small private schools like EMS have the capacity to recruit someone of Kevin’s caliber to focus on his areas of expertise,” Swayne continued. “Your students are lucky.”

Three levels of Robotics study

Students have the opportunity to take three levels of robotics at EMS.

In the STEM exploratory course, 7th graders learn about electronics through hands-on experiences building circuits, programming Lego Robots, solar cars, and eventually creating model rockets to end the school year in a bang.

Watch a video of Adam Stoltzfus' '20 robotic
arm, built in Robotics II, fall 2018.

Robotics I introduces students to robot basics: circuits, design, building, and programming on arduino boards. By January, they complete a robot that can avoid obstacles, back up, and turn. By April, they build robot arms using 3D printers and servomotors, a rotary actuator that allows for precise control of angular positoin. The class's final project uses Seaperch kits to build an underwater robot, which students will test at the JMU Recreation Center.

Robotics II builds on what students learn in the introductory class, expanding their application to build more complex robots, remote control cars, and microcontrollers.

"I really like learning how to code," says Adam Stoltzfus '20. "It's like learning another language." Stoltzfus built a robotic arm in Robotics II this fall (video at right). "I hope to get into Virginia Tech and major in some sort of engineering," he says. "This experience will help me to know more as I go into college."


 Lleyton Stutzman '21 built these robotic arms
controlled with Arduinos, a circuit board that can
be used to control motors, sensors, and more.
"I constructed it with masonite, wood, a 3-D
printed claw, and servo motors for the moving
parts," he says. "Overall I am happy with my end
result, but the claw is too weak to pick up anything."

“Our Robotics I class starts for beginners,” Carini said. “They know nothing, I assume, or most of them don’t. By the time they get to January, they have built, programmed, and wired a robot that will move around and avoid obstacles.”

Because both classes are project-based, Carini can teach Robotics I and II at the same time. This allows students to learn from their peers, which he says “helps to scaffold students to higher levels of understanding.” By observing their Robotics II classmates, beginner robotics students can see potential in their own growth and aspire to the same projects next year.

In October, Carini secured a $650 4-VA grant towards the purchase of two 3D Flash Ford Finder printers for the Robotics Makerspace. Part of the grant requires collaboration with the local Harrisonburg City Public Schools, which will give EMS and HCPS students new opportunities to learn through each school’s STEM activities.

Kevin Carini, front right, took Robotics II students
to JMU earlier this fall to visit their 3D printer lab.


The printers move the school’s STEM and Robotics initiative closer to a completed makerspace, something Carini says he is "super excited" to be a part of. 

A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools, according to In educational settings, "a makerspace presents readily-available materials that can act as a provocation for inquiry, as well as modern technology and items" with which to invent."

The 3D printers arrived at EMS on October 16. Students immediatley excitedly put them to work making their first tester cube.

Carini’s excitement in the classroom is contagious and students pick up on that enthusiasm, developing passion and desire to learn more about all the subjects he teachers. “The reason I do it is because I enjoy it. I just want to share my enthusiasm with my students,” Carini said.

“The passion and energy of our science teachers for their subjects is a school-wide trait of all of our teachers,” said Patsy Seitz, director of academics for EMS. “We know our students will experience academic excellence in all of our classrooms.”

Opportunities ahead

Upcoming opportunities for robotics students include attending lectures at JMU, FIRST Lego League (FLL) in December, and FIRST Technology Challenge (FTC) spring semester. Beginning in January, the FTC group will meet after school to work on completing this year’s mission: simulating a rover landing and mining on Mars.

“Last year we got dead last,” Carini said of the FTC competition, “but that’s okay for being rookies. The only way to go from here is up.”

Carini keeps looking up, hoping to introduce more STEM courses to EMS in the near future. New offerings would include Robotics III, Advanced Placement Computer Science, and a coding class for students to learn programming languages like Java.

He also wants to fully convert the shop classroom to a Makerspace and soldering area for robotic creations, as well as expanding robotics curriculum to the elementary school level, providing EMS students of all ages with creative spaces to engage technology.

Tags: Carini, robotics, STEM

At the Foot of the Tree: Reflections from Pittsburgh

November 05, 2018
By Hannah Cranston '09 Godwin

Note: Hannah Cranston '09 Godwin shared this reflection from Pittsburgh, where she is a Youth Care Worker at Holy Family Institute's Journey of Hope Program. She went to Pittsburgh to work with refugee resettlement efforts through Compass AmeriCorps. Regarding the experience of living near the Tree of Life Synagogue and the aftermath of the Oct. 27 shooting there, she wrote "I am filled with gratitude for the way EMHS has shaped the way I meet joyful and tragic events in my life, and especially grateful for the songs that... have been written on my heart." Photos by Hannah Godwin.

At the Foot of the Tree

Every stone, flower, candle, and piece of paper alive in this growing memorial is a separate story. Here are my three.

I went to the synagogue with a slip of paper in my hand, an illustration torn from a children’s book about gnomes: the common sparrow. On the 31st, I’d dislodged a burnt sparrow from the out-take pipe of the dryer in a closet in Nazareth, one of the houses I work. I’d cradled it down the stairs and out the door, remembering our dead, and thinking, “Not a sparrow falls...”

This slip of paper I placed at the foot of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz’s white wooden cross. Dr. Rabinowitz is beloved in our community, a caring professional who did what he could to heal the sick while honoring the dignity of each patient. He had been training his replacement, getting ready to rest easy in retirement with his family. I’ve heard the tremor in the voices of those who remember him and felt their controlled anguish as they seek the words that will tell again how kind, how manifestly decent, how bright. I secured my sparrow with three small stones and unfolded a rain sodden child’s drawing beside it. Small offerings.

The sunny chrysanthemums in the orange bucket are the weight a stranger placed in my arms as I stood before the crosses shaking in my too-thin sweater, hiding my face in my scarf to weep. I have no memory of what this person looked like and it’s possible I never saw them. I’d been holding myself and making a concentrated effort not to sway. My legs proved unreliable. The mums anchored me, rooting my feet to the spot. I held on tight, opened my eyes, emerged from behind my scarf. My shirt is still stained green from their fresh cut stems. I wanted to keep them, or at least to keep one. Now I was able to form a thought, attempt prayer.

I mentally stumbled through Psalms 23 and 139, then looked up for a place to put the flowers. I arranged them in an orange bucket full of rain water, crushed the leaves I’d stripped in my palm, and took in the myriad petals of the hundred bouquets heaped about me. I wanted to gather them all up and dump them into the buckets to halt their wilting, but I stepped back again to watch as mothers and fathers trundled their children along the caution tape line.

“Yes, it is sad. Uh-huh. Look. Yeah, they are sad too. Me? Yes, dear, I’m sad.”

It’s not the first time I’ve soaked up the comfort that parents extend their children. And the tyke in a superman suit and cape, the huge-eyed, curly-haired princess, the infant on his mother’s hip, a young woman who had walked here in flip-flops with no socks on her feet, the knee-high brothers, the schoolgirls in their grey-blue sweaters and skirts. This hopeful parade caused more than one mourner to share a cautious smile. Then the leather-jacketed man who bore eleven sunflowers, one to place beneath each cross, then stood beside me to pray in a whisper. I remembered Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower: The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. In this Holocaust memoir, the sunflower is both a link between heaven and earth and a symbol of the atrocities of war. Wiesenthal, a prisoner bound to brute labor in a Lvov work squad, resents the tall sunflowers that mark the resting place of the Nazi dead. His own people are piled up and forgotten in mass graves.

The turquoise mason jar was riding along in my car, rolling on the floor on the passenger side until I returned to retrieve it. This is why. A grey-haired Jewish woman came to stand at my side, offering three tea candles and a book of matches.

“Would you like to say a prayer? It is okay if you are not Jewish. You may pray in English.”

“How should I pray?” I ask. She showed me Psalm 23 on her phone. 

“That is what I have been praying," I tell her. "Do you know...the one about being hemmed in? Being knit together in our mothers’ wombs?”

“Yes,” she replies. There is also this," she says and shows me her phone. I read, "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord. Maker of Heaven and Earth."

Sounds of EMHS choir...

And with the next verses, a sound came to me clearly:  Eastern Mennonite High School choir, singing a song from Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio, Elijah, in four parts, “He watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps/ He slumbers not/ He slumbers not/ He slumbers not/ He slumbers not/ Sleeps not/ He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps.”

Each successive phrase swells and breaks gently as the first recedes. Not one is sung alone. My prayer wove up through many remembered voices. I knelt before the hilled heap of flowers, placed my three candles in a triangle, and struck a match. A damp wind snuffed it out immediately.

In the next moment, a bearded, bespectacled man was kneeling at my side, saying with grave humor, “We will do this.” He labored to light those candles. No sooner had we a little flame going than the wind put it to rest. Again and again the small flame sputtered out, and my new friend’s determination was unchecked. We built little walls around our candles with the stones. We sheltered them with our hands, endeavoring not to scorch each other.

“I’m okay with fire.” I tried to tell him. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Finally I scrambled to my feet. “I have to get something from my car. I’ll be right back.” I didn’t know what I would find, but the mason jar was exactly right. I hurried back. We slid the weak brightness into the jar. It dropped perfectly and was out. Another reverent stranger approached and announced that he’d retrieve a longer lighter. And then, at last, the prayer and the candle were nestled, burning, into the whole.

I can’t tell you how long I stood there. I do know that many people came and went but that there were a handful who, like me, could not force their feet away from that ground. I thought about taking off my shoes. I thought about overturning every rain-filled candle, relighting each, and watching the collected blaze. Finally, I knew I had to go. It was All Soul’s Day. I was hungry, exhausted, and I needed to get myself to work. I searched the mourners’ faces for a person who might accept an offered matchbox and chose a young Jewish man with two small sons huddled against his black suit. I pressed the box into his hand, crossed the street and looked back to see the three already on their knees.

As I write this a little over a week since the massacre, I have just finished reading Mendelssohn's song and found in it the promise I forgot as I stood with the mourners at Tree of Life: “Shouldst thou walking in grief languish, he will quicken thee.” Though these words are sometimes impossible to speak, I will always be able to sing them.

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