Gratitude: A Clean Wind to Blow Away the Fog

Gratitude aligns us with the will of God

It’s a fair bet that all of us, at some point in our lives, have found ourselves wondering about God’s will for our lives. Every so often, we hit those crisis moments; the trail forks and we wonder if God would have us follow the left path or the right… or does he want us to double back? Maybe he would have us break away altogether and start crashing through the undergrowth!

 In these moments, I’ve always found comfort in a little Scripture verse found in I Thessalonians Chapter 5. While it may not speak to the direction I should take in this or that particular situation, it absolutely addresses the manner in which I should make my choice.

 “…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV)

 In everything give thanks! Whether we choose to go left or right or even experience the agony of retracing our steps, we can know with certainty that doing it with a grateful heart is the will of God.

Gratitude expands our perspective

In my own experience, I’ve found that gratitude has a powerful way of clearing the fog, allowing me to see more clearly where I am. Gratitude forces my thoughts away from myself, away from my problems, away from my pain, and it directs my attention outward. Whether my thankfulness is directed outward to those around me or outward to the Lord himself, that outward shift in attitude is always a win. In fact, I would suggest that it is impossible to maintain selfish or fearful thoughts while one is being grateful. Gratitude is a clean and refreshing wind blowing through the stagnant, self-centered caverns of our souls.

Gratitude transforms our daily lives

As I mused about gratitude and its role in our lives, I couldn’t help but seek out our own Middle School teacher, Carri Svoboda. Back in January 2013, Ms. Svoboda began a new habit: keeping a daily gratitude journal. Her first entry read: “Beginnings and fresh starts. I am grateful that we have an endless number of opportunities to start fresh, to begin again. We don’t only have new years and new seasons. We have new beginnings every day.” Her original inspiration was to see if she could hit the 1,000-entries mark.

Eight years and 17 filled-out journals later, Ms. Svoboda is currently nearing entry number 12,500. In her words, “I’ve discovered not just that I am grateful, but that expressing gratitude creates a more grateful heart. Keeping a record of blessings has not only transformed my perspective on each day, but it has transformed me.”

A practical guide for focusing on gratitude 

Ms. Svoboda gave me some pointers to share for those who might consider beginning a practice to focus on gratitude: 

  • Embed it into an existing ritual or begin one—a cup of tea (or coffee) never hurts. I write my list in the mornings because that is when I practice the spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, and study. But I could just as easily create a nighttime ritual or a mid-day ritual. It just needs to be a time to which you can commit.
  • Nothing is off limits. If you are grateful for the morning sunshine, that is just as valid as being grateful for your children. It is the gratitude, not the degree of gratitude that matters.
  • If you miss a day, who cares? This is for you, not for a grade. Writing in your gratitude journal is not securing your place in heaven. This is about your transformation, not your salvation.
  • If you have children, it could be a rich and wonderful experience to keep a list as a family. Maybe it is something you do at the dinner table each night and you keep track in a family gratitude journal.

With all of these encouragements, the only thing left for us to do is to join in. You don’t need to be particularly skillful, intelligent, or even practiced; a six-year-old child can begin this habit just as well as a sixty-year-old adult.

 How else to close these thoughts but with sincere thanks? I thank the Lord for the good community I enjoy each and every day, a community I too often take for granted. I thank him for planting me in a place where learning is valued and people are cherished.

What are you grateful for today?

Rodney Meadth
Rodney Meadth

Middle School and Upper School Principal at Providence School

Looking to Jesus: The Perfect Model for Spiritual Disciplines

A Recess & Rhetoric Blog Post by Evan Covell, Athletic Director


An important reminder when thinking about spiritual disciplines

There are some things you need to know about me in order for this blog post to make sense. I am an athlete at heart. I am competitive; I really enjoy winning. Because of those two qualities, I tend to be hard on myself. I desire to be good at everything I do and when I start to make mistakes, I beat myself up for them. I truly value being disciplined, particularly with my physical training and my work.

Often when I think about spiritual disciplines in my  life, I spiral out of control. I start to think about how I’m not reading the Bible enough, praying enough, taking Sabbath rest consistently enough. I begin to beat myself up, thinking lowly of myself for not being good enough for God. 

Then I take a pause … and I remind myself of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will never be enough, I will never live up to God’s glorious standard. And just knowing that truth brings wonderful freedom. Because I know the rest of the story; that because I am human, a broken, messy human, Jesus Christ, who lived the perfect life I can not live, died the death that I deserve. And the story doesn’t stop there. Jesus defeated death, gifted me the Holy Spirit, and joined the Father in a perfect union that he freely offers me.

This Gospel truth reminds me that cultivating spiritual disciplines has no impact on my eternal salvation. Scripture is clear, we were dead in our sins and God rescued us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

When I think about this truth, an image often comes to mind. I picture myself struggling to keep my head above water when Jesus reaches a hand out to grab me and I take hold of his hand. He saves me, right? No. I don’t think this image conveys the actual truth. A truer image would be me, already dead, floating lifeless in the water. Jesus gets in, drags me out, resuscitates me, and miraculously brings me back to life. You see, in this image, I have absolutely nothing to do with my salvation. That’s the way it truly is. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…But  God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:1 and 2:4-5).

I want to offer this truth to you, too. As we look at the life of Jesus and the way he modeled spiritual disciplines, remember that even though we seek to live like Christ our salvation is not dependent on our success. Our salvation is securely safe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

Now, let’s look at three disciplines Jesus modeled for us: prayer, rest, and community. 

Prayer

Providence faculty members Taylor Hurt (left) and Evan Covell (right) beginning a new school year with prayer.

In fall of 2019, I was feeling disconnected and discouraged in my relationship with God. I decided to retreat for a half day to a place that is special to me: a little turnout on Mountain Drive. I parked my car, set out a blanket, sat down, and opened the Bible. I decided to read through Luke’s gospel and take some notes. As I was reading, I started to make note of how frequently Jesus was recorded doing just what I was doing that day. I counted at least 10 instances recorded in the Book of Luke where Jesus retreated to solitude to pray to God. 

Clearly, this was an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle for Jesus; time spent alone in prayer, cultivating his relationship with God the Father. Jesus set his followers a goal to bear fruit. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). The way that we are guaranteed to bear fruit is to abide in Jesus. Abiding means staying connected with him. We can do this through consistent prayer and conversation with God. 

This conversation with God can extend beyond carving out time in our weeks to find solitude and to practice focused prayer. I teach my athletes something I call “breath prayers.” Essentially, they are prayers you can say in one breath: “Lord, help me” or “thank you, God” or “here I am, Lord.” These small prayers can recenter us and remind us of God’s active grace in our lives. Try it out, if you’d like.

Rest

Providence Lower School students take time to reflect and write in their journals on a spiritual retreat.

Sabbath rest is a glorious gift from the Creator of the world. God knew from the beginning that we humans would need to rest in order to thrive. I do not consistently keep Sabbath, but I wish I did. And when I do get in a good groove with taking a day of rest each week I recognize a difference in my mood, energy, productivity, and kindness to those around me. Initially, the idea of taking an entire day off from work seems impossible, especially to high school student-athletes. There’s homework to do, tests to study for, and seemingly not enough time in the week to get it all done. I often surprise students with a suggested 24-hour period in which they could Sabbath: Saturday sundown to Sunday sundown. By being efficient with weekend homework on Saturday morning or midday, students can set themselves up for success and simply put in some finishing touches on Sunday night. Try out this schedule to see if it blesses you.

I often get too fixated on Sabbath rules, which really are rules that I set for myself. So I remind myself to simplify Sabbath-keeping by focusing on activities that are life-giving, recentering my focus on God, and refraining from activities that I consider “work”. For me, “work” includes laundry, cleaning, emails, writing practice plans, etc. I don’t consider exercise to be “work,” because, for me, exercise is life-giving. I recommend taking some time to create a list of life-giving activities and “work” activities to help you structure a Sabbath day.

Community

Coach Covell enjoying community with a team of Providence Upper School students as they serve the younger students with organized carnival games.

Finally, I want to touch on Jesus’s knack for creating and investing in a community. I think this is a key spiritual discipline for cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Jesus surrounded himself with people, unless he took a deliberate break for solitude. He called his disciples to follow him closely and to live life together with him. He consistently shared meals with others and generously served and accepted being served by others. Demonstrating love and compassion for friends was a staple characteristic of these communities. I am forever astounded by Jesus’s kindness and love for others. I strive to follow Jesus by showing kindness and love to others, and there is no more important place to do this than within my consistent community.

My wife and I have fervently sought community throughout our four years of marriage. We know that it is crucial to our well-being that we have friends to hold us accountable, who check in on us, who we can share our lives with, from joking around to praying for each other. I highly recommend finding a group of friends who share similar values and meeting with them frequently. Your time together doesn’t need to be structured or formal. But it’s best to be as consistent as possible. We gather with our community once a week. For you, it might be once a month or twice a week. Whatever is best for you, I pray that you will find community and experience the love of Christ.

As broken, messy humans, practicing—not necessarily mastering—the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, rest, Sabbath-keeping, solitude, and community, among others, lead to a healthy, Christlike life that blesses us as individuals and the people around us.

Evan Covell
Evan Covell

Before being named Providence School’s athletic director in 2021, Coach Evan Covell was already deeply involved in the Providence community, having trained the track and field and cross-country teams for the previous four years. He continues to coach those teams while directing all Providence athletics programs. Coach Covell is wholeheartedly committed to the power of athletics to build character and instill strong Christian values in both athletes and coaches.

Taking a Moment: The Key to Compassion

A Recess & Rhetoric Blog Post by April Torres, Sixth Grade Teacher


Take a moment to remember

Who God is and who I am

There You go lifting my load again . . . .

His yoke is easy and His burden is so light

I’ve been listening to these words from a song, “Take a Moment,” by United Pursuit over and over again the past few weeks and have been struck with the idea that the heart of compassion—something we all need to practice and to receive— can be characterized by the first three words of this song: Take a moment. 

I invite you to listen with me as you read this blog post.

Compassion and taking a moment

Two concepts of compassion emerge from the Old Testament.

First, compassion is the intense longing of tender love that can cause physical pain, extending from the innermost depths of our vital organs or the womb.

Second, compassion is the act of sparing someone from harm or pain or difficulty.

We see examples of these concepts of compassion many times in Scripture.

In Genesis 43:30, a prideful, favored son turned slave and prisoner finds himself lord over the entire Egyptian empire. Interactions with his starving, fearful brothers cause him to take a moment to allow his intense grief and tears to rise to the level of deep longing for restoration even after suffering grave offenses. After taking that moment, Joseph’s compassion leads him to extend his resources to save his father Jacob’s family—including the brothers who betrayed him—and thereby preserves the Hebrew family tree.

In Exodus 2:8, a privileged, protected, pampered princess takes a moment to notice a basket in a river and investigate its contents. She connects the cries of the baby she finds there to the Hebrew families who must sacrifice their children to obey her father’s commands. She spares the baby, a direct descendent of the once-favored Joseph, not only out of the basket, the river, and death, but to a lifetime of care and protection. Pharaoh’s daughter spares Moses with multifaceted compassion that hinges on the moment she took  on the banks of the river. 

A personal experience with taking a moment

Recently, a young woman kept popping up in my mind. I eventually texted her a short message: “Hey, thinking of you.” It turns out, her mother had just passed away from COVID pneumonia. She was on a sudden three-day trip to Georgia to meet with her sisters and say goodbye. She so appreciated my tiny kind words. When she returned, we walked along the harbor while she shared her memories of her mother and the mysterious struggle with grief. It only took a moment to activate compassion. 

How do we help students learn, practice, and value compassion?

Providence School, where I teach the sixth grade class, has a mission, motto, and various “habits of the mind” we strive to develop, with the goal to see them flourish in our graduates. Compassion is one such habit.

Recess-time provides the perfect arena for spreading wings of compassion. Students leave the routine and structure of their classrooms and race toward relief, freedom, and recreation. They move their bodies and renew their minds running across the field or climbing up slides and ladders. Most of the time, partnership and laughter prevail.

At other moments, students jam their fingers, scrape their knees, struggle to compromise, find their ideas are not chosen, or even are ignored. Their eyes dim; their shoulders droop. In that moment, another student may reach out with help and comfort. These daily experiences provide the perfect opportunity to learn and practice compassion.

Teachers are moment-makers, hoping one day these children will be moment-makers on their own. Our goal is that they will take a moment and help someone, apologize, love someone, or lift someone in Christlike compassion.

Daily life on the playground and in the classroom provides students the arena to nurture compassion through consistent practice. Extended isolation and too much privacy short-circuit opportunities for bending, adjusting, and showing preference for the needs of others over oneself. With social interaction, our students have built-in motivation for extending second chances and a gracious perspective.

What about adults in the school setting—and elsewhere?

At Providence, as well as at other distinctly Christian schools, we who encourage students to take moments for compassion must ourselves actively practice compassion. Words of kindness, offers for support, encouraging texts, or reassuring calls make a big difference in the lives of our communities. 

Over the past 19 months, COVID has impacted our efforts for active compassion, at school and elsewhere. Deep relationship history and loving trust are tested by each families’ unique needs and perspectives. More than ever before, we are tempted to isolate, grumble, or make judgments that might strain or even break opportunities to cement lifetime friendships. Birthday parties, play dates, and parent events have to pass through complicated steps to reassure safety for participants. 

We must reestablish markers of trust and respect and acceptance after months of letting go and prioritizing protection. The forbearance we extend each other demonstrates the active, wise, and loving compassion of Jesus within us.

We must cultivate, care, and respond to the moments around us. I know I couldn’t have made it through this last year of teaching without my loving and prayerful colleagues. Teachers need teachers. Moms need moms. Dads need dads. Kids need each other. We all need friends we can count on. Take a moment to embrace the vast resources in your community, as we are so blessed to have at Providence.

And, finally, what about Jesus?

I routinely ask my class, “How does this biblical story, verse, or concept point to the person and work of Jesus?” 

In Matthew 9:36, Jesus sees the multitudes fainting and scattered, harassed and helpless, without a shepherd and hungry. He takes a moment to invite his disciples into his compassion for these followers and feeds them bread. Jesus broadens love to action and we can do the same with our meager offerings, comforting and preserving the people we do life with.

In Luke 23:39, as Jesus endures death on the cross, he takes a moment to speak with a fellow prisoner. He recognizes repentance and humility and hope in the person next to him. As the crucified One offers forgiveness to the crucified criminal beside him, Jesus offers us his compassionate mercy and grace and the reality of paradise, despite his own agony, blood, and labored breath. 


Take a moment.

What do you see in the eyes of the person next to you? Do their shoulders, walk, or posture show signs of pain, weariness, conflict, or doubt? When we extend the mission and vision of Jesus’s compassion into the moments of our day, we will bless those around us with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. Habitually offering active compassion releases good into our days.

As you lift the loads of others, the Lord will lift you.

<strong>April Torres</strong>
April Torres

A 6th grade teacher at Providence School in Santa Barbara, CA, she enjoys leading students through core content areas that activate discovery, discipleship, and human creativity inspired by God, shepherded by Jesus, with significant purpose in the Holy Spirit.

Libertas Goes to South Dakota

Libertas Scholars Blog | Bruce Rottman, Libertas Scholars Program Director

In the past several years, our country appears to be at an inflection point, with statist solutions to problems becoming more popular and more common. This July, ten Libertas Scholars from Providence spent four full days exploring these issues at FreedomFest in South Dakota. Graduates Christine Venzor and Olivia Bates, seniors Liza Coffin and Davis Peterson, juniors Avala Elwood, Emma Johnson, Ruby Kilpper, Jacklyn Pryko, and sophomores Teleios Zermeno and Eliana Bordin were chaperoned by Mr. and Mrs. Rottman for an intense and entertaining conference on the Western plains.

Students connect with Dr. Mark Skousen, FreedomFest Founder 

Libertas Scholars are required to attend a summer program, but COVID-19 made that impossible in 2020. This summer was a different story, allowing students to travel to Rapid City, where 2,700 “free minds” met “to celebrate great books, great ideas, and great thinkers.” There they were challenged by hundreds of options (presented in debates, talks, and films) and a variety of opinions. 

Students took full advantage of the many opportunities. 

— We heard Governor Noem of South Dakota and Senator Mike Lee of Utah

Governor Kirsti Noem introduces herself to the attendees
Senator Mike Lee (Utah) and his wife, Sharon, get a selfie with Liza

— Students were fascinated to learn how New Testament geography adds insights into what Jesus really said about justice and economics in a talk by Jerry Bowyer

— California gubernatorial candidate (and talk show host) Larry Elder inspired the attendees

Larry Elder rallies the crowd


— We saw several amazing documentaries at the simultaneous Anthem Film Festival

— Senior Davis Peterson served as one of 12 jurors on a Mock Trial on whether the pandemic lockdown was justified

— We heard insightful comments from economists Stephen Moore, Diedre McCloskey, and many others

— And we heard author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s defense of America’s war on Islamic terrorism, countered by an equally cogent and  convincing counterpoint from scholar Scott Horton

— Some of us saw a hilariously raucous debate, “Boomer vs. Zoomer: Which Generation Is More Dangerous to Freedom?” (Conclusion: they both are equally dangerous)

—We bought books, visited booths in the large exhibit hall, and laughed with comedians

Olivia and talk show host Dave Rubin

— We explored historic downtown Rapid City, played mini-golf, and experienced a moving lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore

Students experienced first hand the problem of tradeoffs (should we see an inspiring movie or hear a senator speak?), were tantalized by vendors’ treats, and competed in daily photo contests, trying to capture the best and oddest images from the Festival.

Checking out one of many statues in Rapid City upon our arrival at the airport

In addition to ten hours of learning each day and experiencing a civil exchange of ideas, students from different classes also enjoyed getting to know one another, which they missed out on during the past year of enforced cohorts, while exploring a different part of the country. 

But most of all, students gained an deeper appreciation for and understanding of the principles of freedom that have made our country a light on a hill. 

As Ruby wrote, “I was compelled by the consistent message of hope for America and progress towards a more free society.” Eliana added that she learned “new perspectives of the ideas we’ve learned about,” while Olivia noted how it was “healthy to talk across political divides.” Given how social media tends to move us into echo chambers, FreedomFest brought about “conversations with those who have different beliefs” and helped students “build up our own convictions as we participate in society today.” Liza noted that the broad range of ideas and speakers highlighted the “common values of freedom and individual rights that brought them all together;” like Olivia, she noted the “civil political discourse done with grace and respect” for other people’s values.

We trust that students will take these lessons into the upcoming school year, their college experiences, and their lives, and we are grateful for the generosity of Providence supporters, Robert and Margie Niehaus, who made it possible for our students to experience this enlightening and educational program.

Bruce Rottman
Bruce Rottman

Humanities, economics, and government teacher at Providence School; Libertas Scholars program director

Classroom Standing Desk: Delivered!

 We’ve written on this blog about the completion, delivery, and feedback for PathPoint’s wheelchair computer desk, but what about the other project intended for Mrs. Jones? We’re glad to report that this project has now been constructed, assembled, and painted according to the student plans and delivered to a grateful 4th grade teacher!

Like all of our COVID-friendly projects this year, the design work was done by students: Alan, Davis, Eliana, Isaiah, Kaitlyn, Kassy, Sam, Zach, and Pedro. Their original concepts were submitted as sketches and miniature models back in October 2020.

Alan’s early LEGO concept (October 2020)

Mrs. Jones reviewed these concepts and filtered out the ones that were less suitable. The result of this, plus another online design charrette, was a series of simple sketches and a collaborative CAD model in Onshape, which can be accessed here.

The result of a design charrette in December 2020
The final collaborative CAD model emerges

Mr. Meadth acted as fabricator for this project, with Zach in 11th grade contributing a beautiful hand-finished red oak table surface. Angel, while not an actual member of this project, worked after school to attach caster wheels and paint according to Mrs. Jones’ requested color scheme.

The linear actuator motor, intended as a replacement for an
armchair recliner and capable of over 150 lb of force
The actuator is sandwiched between
two pieces of plywood
Zach’s table surface attached and
actuator extended
In retracted position

From the very beginning, these mechanical furniture designs needed to closely follow the advice given over two thousand years ago by the Roman architect, Vitruvius. Vitruvius was primarily concerned with buildings for home and public use, but his timeless principles seem to fit this project particularly well: firmitas, utilitas, venustas. Translated as “strength, utility, beauty”, this triad neatly underscores the challenges and requirements of Mrs. Jones’ desk.

Strength: Can a desk be put on wheels and still be stable and secure? How can you design a desk that changes its size and shape without risking damage to users and their property (like a laptop that slips off and smashes!)? When will a cantilever design be so audacious as to become a tipping hazard?

Utility: What features are necessary and useful for any teacher? How to incorporate a maximum amount of storage while allowing room for the electrical mechanism? What are the exact heights that Mrs. Jones requires for her sitting and standing? How much desk space is enough?

Beauty: How do you hide away the necessary mechanical equipment? What should be the focal point of this design to catch the eye? What color and trim will best fit a classroom and suit the client?

Carving out a shallow hole for the wooden handle
The wooden handle structure ready for installation
(note the dowels and holes)
A strap clamp to secure the handle while gluing

Angel attaches the caster wheels

The rubber stoppers are screwed into place after painting
With the door and shelving installed, this is ready for delivery!

In March 2021, after six months of work, it was finally time to deliver the finished product. With the help of Mr. Knoles, the Lower School Principal, Mr. Meadth surprised the entire class one morning with the desk delivery. Mrs. Jones was delighted to receive the desk, and promptly filled it with her hefty teacher editions—which definitely helped as a counterbalance to the cantilever design!

The crew proudly presents their product!
Mr. Meadth surprises Mrs. Jones with the
finished desk!
“So I just press here…?”
Loaded up and ready to go in 4th grade
This project shows us once again that engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and technologists are uniquely poised to love those around them. As we often discuss in the Providence Engineering Academy, it is only those with a particular type of training and set of skills who can turn good intentions into deliverable outcomes. To quote Christian philosopher Etienne Gilson, “piety is no substitute for technique.”

Thank you, Mrs. Jones for allowing us to partner with you in such an interesting project this year. It was an admirable test of the students’ skills as they sketched concepts, designed CAD models, collaborated interactively, calculated forces and moments, and put saw to wood. Well done to each student who contributed—you are accomplishing great things.

Update: Wheelchair Computer Desk Feedback

 Back in February, we posted a blog describing the completion and delivery of our wheelchair computer desk to PathPoint. After a few weeks, we were finally able to get Mr. Meadth and Mr. Gil Addison together with his team to go over the design and get that long-awaited feedback.

Feedback from the end user is critical to the entire design process. For this particular project, the Academy had all sorts of unanswered questions: will the design function as requested? Does the screen angle suit a typical wheelchair user? How convenient is the keyboard position? Is the mechanical motion safe enough for general usage? Would a typical PathPoint resident be able to operate the remote control? What improvements could be made? While we don’t currently plan on producing a Mk II, one project often leads into another and we improve our products by understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

Gil Addison (far right) together with his grateful staff

Mr. Meadth (center) joins in for the camera

Gil met Mr. Meadth together with six of the PathPoint staff members and together they went over the particulars of the design. You can watch the entire footage here, and a summary of design points is also included below.

As we draw this project to a close, thank you to PathPoint for being willing to work with us in an ongoing fashion! May our students always be inspired to use their God-given gifts with training and understanding, and we hope that the PathPoint residents are blessed through this simple gift.

Design Feedback

Screen Angle: Although the older iMac that was tested tended to slip on its hinge, once kept in place, the screen was easily able to tilt downwards to any wheelchair user at a suitable viewing angle.

Gil tests out the seated angle

Standing Height: The PathPoint ambulatory staff members found the maximum standing height to be comfortable and sturdy.

PathPoint staff test the standing height

Motor Function: Although the motor sounds like it is straining to raise the desk, and there is a slight but noticeable bending of the wooden attachment, the motor appears to be able to operate the desk satisfactorily.

Desk Size: The PathPoint team felt that the final desk size was a little smaller than they would have liked; although the keyboard and mouse did fit on it, there was not much room to move the mouse. Possible solutions: use a trackpad instead, attach a larger plywood sheet to that desk, or rebuild that component.

Operability: It is very easy for an ambulatory user to operate, although the small remote with small buttons may be difficult for some users. The desk adjustment at the front might be hard to operate, but it probably doesn’t need to be used often after being set in one position. Possible solutions: rebuild the remote with larger buttons that still trigger the same microswitches, build an app that uses the same remote frequency.

Other Improvements: The iMac base barely fit under the clamp; the wooden piece at the back that gets in the way could be chamfered down. The same wooden piece that flexes slightly could be doubled up. A spherical router bit could carve out a channel in the desk for the keyboard to fit into. The carriage bolts for the rear clamp could be longer to permit a thicker desk.

Wheelchair Computer Desk: Delivered!

 Following on from our last post, we’d like to provide an update: the custom computer desk for Gil Addison at PathPoint was recently delivered, bringing that particular project to a close. This desk raises up and down to any given height using an electrically driven linear actuator. The wheelchair user carries the remote control key fob, allowing complete adjustment from near or far. The desk is intentionally designed to tip the computer forwards to face down towards the user, as many wheelchairs seat the occupant in a reclined position.

You can play with the online CAD model here.

At the time of this writing, we are still waiting for feedback on the end result and photos of the desk in action. But in the meanwhile, enjoy some photos of the students as they put together the final product and examined the results. Thank you, Gil, for helping us execute such a meaningful project!

The final product assembled in the workshop, after some
final modifications. The actuator placement had to be changed
in order to create more torque to lift the table.

After disassembly, Nolan (senior) set to
work applying the protective oil to the
upper table surface

Abby (freshman) oils the lower base piece

After all pieces were oiled, Angel (sophomore) reassembled
the entire structure together with Mr. Meadth

A few more bolts to go–almost there!

The finished product as attached to a typical household
table, keyboard shown

The finished product in the full lowered position

Teleios, Hunter, and Abby (freshmen) get their first
look at the end result on the day of delivery

Joshua and Nolan (seniors) test out the remote control

The whole team from left to right: Hans, Abby, Hunter,
Teleios, Mr. Meadth, Angel, Joshua, and Nolan
(James was also in this group); note an iMac computer
attached as per intended use

Service Project: Mechanical Furniture

Freshmen Hans and Hunter, tools out

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, the Providence Engineering Academy follows a particular philosophy that transcends circumstances. While many robotics clubs and engineering programs might teach physics, maker skills, CAD, and more, we believe that these elements—fascinating as they may be—are only the means to an end. In the latest application form for the coming year, there are six “big ideas” listed; Big Idea Number 1 is that service matters:

As Christians, we have an obligation to turn our skills outward to the world around us; we learn not for our own sakes.

While we may not be allowed to mix cohorts or share equipment, the seventeen dedicated upper school students are committed to loving their community using their math, physics, coding, CAD, robotics, and maker skills.

Early on in the school year, we found two willing partners in this process: one was Mr. Gil Addison of PathPoint, an organization serving at-home and on-site residents, many of whom use a wheelchair each day due to their limited mobility. The other was Mrs. Christa Jones, 4th Grade teacher in the Providence Lower School. Both of these clients had distinct requests for custom-made furniture and it was the perfect opportunity for our students to put their new-found statics knowledge to the test (statics is the study of physically balanced situations where the net force is zero, such as buildings and bridges).

Mrs. Christa Jones, 4th Grade Providence Teacher

Mr. Gil Addison, PathPoint

Mr. Addison wanted a custom-made desk for an iMac computer that could be set to a lower height for a wheelchair occupant, and then back up to a standing desk height for an ambulatory user. Such a desk is hard to find in the current marketplace, and the engineering students saw an opportunity to provide something uniquely useful. The desk would be mechanically driven by a remote control, safe for an individual with limited dexterity, and functional to hold the computer at any height without concern.

By contrast, Mrs. Jones needed a new teaching desk at the front of her room to help meet the new style of a COVID year. This mobile desk would need to be equally useful in a standing or sitting position, for maximum versatility with her in-person and at-home students.

How to meet the needs of these clients in a year when the Engineering Academy is functioning in an independent-learning mode? How could we hold a meaningful design charrette when mixing between cohorts is prohibited? How can seventeen students come up with an agreed-upon detailed design and communicate it with the clients?

Answer: with creativity, technological tools, and a great attitude!

The students began by watching pre-recorded videos from the clients as they described their requests and necessary constraints to Mr. Meadth, the Academy Director. Mr. Meadth offered up some quick sketches and ideas in the videos to help sort through what would and wouldn’t work.

Early notes for Christa Jones’ project

Early notes for Gil Addison’s project

The students then used LEGO and other construction materials to make quick miniature mock-ups of their ideas, along with sketches to help show functionality. The images were sent to the clients to help them think through the possible solutions at hand. Another round of recorded video reviews with the clients, and then the real design work began!

Alan’s rolling cart concept

Kaitlyn’s desk concept with extendable platforms

Together with Mr. Meadth, the students worked together over Zoom and in their grade level cohorts, using the cloud-based CAD tools from Onshape. With each student taking ownership of several parts from the whole, they worked collaboratively to produce something that could be presented back to client as a visualization and to the fabricator as dimensioned drawings. Teleios in 9th Grade can create the top part of the desk, Angel in 10th Grade can make the support struts, and Nolan in 12th Grade can design the platform for the keyboard. All team members can see how the pieces fit together in advance, spotting potential problems before a single cut is made. This kind of ease, speed, and confidence in the design process simply did not exist even five years ago, and we are glad for it!

(The computer desk for Mr. Addison can be viewed live here, and the rolling cabinet for Mrs. Jones here. Both models are interactive.)

Mrs. Jones’ rolling cart CAD model

Mr. Addison’s adjustable computer desk CAD model

So where are we today? After purchasing the plywood, oak, mechanical actuators, caster wheels, and other bits and pieces, fabrication is underway. The clients are now eagerly awaiting the delivery of their prototypes. Gil Addison’s computer desk is nearly complete at the time of this article, and Zach in 11th Grade has put together a beautiful biscuit-joined red oak desk surface for Mrs. Jones’ rolling cabinet.

James assembles the clamping mechanism for Gil’s design

Teleios and Abby show off the parallel linkages

Nolan with the mechanical actuator

The vision nears reality for PathPoint!

Zach’s red oak table surface (3 ft long)

We’ll update this blog site as the projects are completed and delivered. For now, we’re just glad to be able to continue our exciting mission through a pandemic and out the other side. The exhortation in I Peter Chapter 4 seems particularly apt:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Keep on serving with the strength God provides, engineering students! You’re making us all very proud. 

America’s Civics Education in Trouble

 

By Chloe Olsen, Class of 2021

Dinner is served, and the powers of the government are hungry. As politicians eagerly lift the lid from the silver platter, there lie your rights. All the worse, you, the server, did not look under the lid before you inadvertently surrendered your freedom to the mouths of tyrants. 

Many Americans are ignorant of what the Constitution means, or even what it says, for that matter. Over half of U.S. citizens have admitted to never laying eyes on the Constitution, the document that secures our rights and limits governmental powers. Americans either do not realize that the Constitution is the electric fence between tyranny and liberty, or they misinterpret usurpations of rights as harmless acts. 

When the government attempts to abuse its power, it is not always obvious. Rather, abuse of power and violation of rights are often under the nose, masked as a necessity for the “common good.” For this reason, many citizens fall prey to subtle attacks of freedom, unable to recognize tyranny for what it truly is. Here emerges the urgency of a proper civics education. Our country’s lack of civics education has raised generations of Americans who do not know the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment or even what the three branches of government are. If we come to understand the Constitution and the way our government functions, however, we will be armed to defend our rights.

Providence seniors take Mr. Rottman’s U.S. Government course, which includes an in-depth study of the Constitution. Considering the seniors have not yet taken economics or even completed their U.S. Government class, the contrast between the knowledge of these high school students and average Americans is jarring. Providence seniors were asked a series of questions regarding the Constitution, and the results were compared to those of American polls. 

When Americans were asked, “Which five rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment?” a mere 3% could list all five, while nearly 71% of Providence seniors answered correctly. In answering another question, 79% of seniors knew that the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominees while only 30% of Americans answered correctly. The percentage of seniors’ accuracy in answering these constitutional-knowledge questions was markedly higher than the average American for each of six factual questions. 

When asked more subjective questions, the stark contrast of results continued; 36% of Providence seniors believe that the minimum wage should be reduced or eliminated, while only 5% of Americans agree (and this is before those seniors have experienced their AP microeconomics course). When looking at the topic of minimum wage, Americans tend to view it as an equality or general welfare issue rather than a freedom issue. That said, a comprehensive knowledge of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution would clarify whether or not federal minimum wage laws are constitutional and squash misunderstandings. 

As seen by the comparison of constitutional quiz results, proper civics education is imperative to the basic and necessary knowledge of rights. The Declaration of Independence states that the function of government is to secure our rights. Public comprehension of the Constitution is remarkably poor, and civics engagement is at an all-time low. Providence combats these dangers to our republic by preparing students to be both informed and engaged citizens. By the time they graduate high school, Providence students likely have a greater understanding of the constitution than 99% of Americans. 

Bereft of civic knowledge, Americans will be ill-equipped to defend our unique system.  Attacking the erosion of Americans’ rights at its roots requires sufficient education on the Constitution for Americans of all ages. The more we are unable to identify the powers governments have and the rights you have, the more we hand the ability to violate those rights to the government on a silver platter. Once our rights are seized by the unrelenting jaws of politicians, it is difficult to restore them or prevent more from being devoured. 

Let not the discovery of our rights occur as we read their names in an obituary. Providence equips students to understand their freedoms, so that they can guard these rights against disguised threats—before it’s too late. 



Physics, Freshmen, Furniture… and a Grant Win!

There hasn’t been a lot of action on this blog site so far this school year—but not because there aren’t things worth writing home about! As you can imagine, I (Mr. Meadth) have been much busier on the ground each day with cleaning and supervision, let alone teaching the engineering class.

But some things are worth documenting and celebrating. So let’s jump in!

1. Four New Freshmen

We took four new engineering students into the freshman class. A big welcome to Hunter, Abby, Teleios, and Eliana. These junior engineers are hitting the ground running, despite all the challenges. They are learning trigonometry before their time, taking baby steps into the world of computer-aided design (CAD), and just generally being awesome. Welcome, freshmen!

Hunter, Teleios, and Abby (Eliana couldn’t make this
photo, but she’s just as much a part of this group!)

2. College-Level Statics… From a Textbook

Despite my propensity to always design my own curriculum from the ground up, I tried something new this year: a textbook! It turns out this was the perfect year in which to do this, as it matched well to the statics studies that we’ve always done anyway. Don’t be led astray by the name—Statics for Dummies—the lighthearted tone helps high schoolers get through those pesky equations. For those engineering parents out there, you’ll find all of the fun you can handle in vector calculations, force couples, and free-body diagrams.

3. Independent Mode

This is a grand experiment, and one that we committed to from the start of the year. Can we commit to a full year of engineering studies in independent mode? Some would say that it’s never been tried, but this is the year to come up with new solutions! Despite the absence of stimulating classroom discussions, this has allowed students to take seven classes plus engineering, and it allows students to watch at their own pace. Students have watched 18 videos so far this year, and responded with written assignments and discussion boards. They are now eagerly discussing their community design project in a shared Google Doc, which brings us to Number 4…

Acceleration sums in three dimension, anyone?

If you can’t find the centroid of a composite area,
you just can’t call yourself an engineer

4. Community Design Project

I’m so happy with how this project is rolling forward! We have two “clients”, Mrs. Christa Jones on the San Roque campus and Mr. Gil Addison at PathPoint, who works with residents in wheelchairs. Our student teams are busily designing an adjustable standing desk for Mrs. Jones and an adjustable computer desk for Mr. Addison. Both of these designs are required to involve electrical/mechanical aspects, such as motorized lifts or built-in LED lighting. Once the student teams finalize their designs, complete with drawings and CAD models, I (Mr. Meadth) will be building their designs myself—in the interest of staying as contact-less as possible.

5. Lots of Publicity

We’ve received a surprising amount of national-level publicity lately. Our students use the CAD platform Onshape, and Onshape reached out to us to record a video and write a blog article. The video has been up for a over a month now, and the blog article will be published soon. Our Academy was also mentioned in another national publication by the American Institute of Aviation and Aeronautics (AIAA), Aerospace America, because we won a $500 grant to help build our remote-controlled aircraft.

6. Major Grant Win

Is it just me that believes in our outstanding Providence engineering program? Is it just the university lecturers who receive our already-highly-trained students? Am I just blowing my own horn over here? Apparently not! The Toshiba America Foundation decided that our second-semester robotics project was something worth funding, and we are pleased to announce that over $4,000 of the very latest in classroom robotics equipment will soon be arriving on campus. This will be put to use in our Mars Rover project, where different student teams will design, build, and code different components of one big vehicle. I’m looking forward to this one. Thanks, Toshiba!

One of the advanced Vex V5 sets: coming soon!

As always, stay posted for more exciting announcements. Our junior engineers are doing something very different, but making the most of it. I’m confident that their skills and experience will remain at the very highest level amongst similar programs in our area. Keep it up, students!

–Mr. Meadth