Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Looking at the main courtyard in recent weeks makes me want to sing the Hallelujah Chorus!  Despite my indescribable joy, I’ll save you all the agony of hearing my serenade.

Over a decade ago, someone carefully considered what plantings should be placed in the courtyards of our new school building.  Their vision has blessed us with the opportunity to appreciate various blooms and fruits, continuing to delight us when the seasons change. 

However, after fourteen years, it is fair to say even the best visions need a good caretaker to make sure things are as they were meant to be. Weeds and volunteer plants make their presence known when given the opportunity!  Enter John Frankenfield.

John was our school’s Director of Development from 1974 to 1986. Sarah, one of his lovely twin daughters, is a devoted kindergarten teacher on our EC-8 campus. 

When John heard there was a need, he made the decision to volunteer his time, adopting a courtyard in need of some TLC.

The courtyard face-lift began on a Wednesday as John stood in the courtyard chatting with a family member and imagining how he would tease and tweak the space back to its original orderly beauty.  

His imagining was interrupted only slightly by the deafening strains of a planned school fire drill.  Undaunted by the piercing sound, he considered which items needed removal, which existing plants were due for a haircut, and how many chrysanthemums would be needed to make his plan a reality.  

On Thursday, he returned with the gorgeous plants he intended to donate. Dressed for the job and with appropriate tools in hand, he coaxed the earth into submission, leaving bunches of perfectly positioned colorful mums in his wake.

Friday rolled around, and John was back.  This time, he brought friends!  

Eldon Miller, Wilmer “Wib” Zook, and Libbie Derstine were his crew.  Mulching was the order of the day, and what a wonderful difference it has made!   Eldon and Wib are retired Dock Mennonite Academy teachers, having cumulatively served our high school students for 56 years.  

Eldon’s wife, Gem, continues to teach first grade students and if her lovely home garden is any indication, this is not Eldon’s first mulching rodeo. 

9th grader (Libbie) thought she might have at least part of her day off on Friday to relax like most of her classmates.  But it was not to be!  Her grandfather (John) is apparently as proficient at coercion as he is at gardening.

I think I saw the crepe myrtle smiling this morning with all that gorgeous mulch around its feet.  Even the birds seemed chatty and thrilled with the makeover of one of their favorite spots.   

Our students love to spend time in the courtyard.  Classroom games, outdoor lunches, seasonal learning and special reading times are all favorite activities in this wonderful space.  

Ms. Price’s kindergarten students are seen below, checking out the handiwork of their teacher’s father. 

There are other reasons our Main Courtyard is a special place.  Several plantings in our courtyard honor friends we miss.  

A columnar oak was planted in remembrance of a wonderful kindergarten teacher, Janice Meyers.  

Another tree reminds us of beloved math teacher, Karen Nofziger. When the white flowers bloom on her dogwood, it makes us smile.

A gorgeous butterfly bush from the high school class of 1991 honors the memories of both Travis Bechtel and Garrick Clemmer, graduates of Penn View.   

We suspect John Frankenfield would like to fly under the radar (or as Director of Marketing, Kathy Gordon, so aptly phrased it, “Mum’s the word”).

But we who peer through the window each and every school day could not be more appreciative.  We didn’t want to miss a chance to give thanks for the generous investment of time, energy, and beautiful flowers.   

The courtyard renaissance is a truly wonderful gift to our school community.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Great Start!

Big and small yellow buses began rolling in around 8:00 a.m. on the first day of school.  Favorite new shirts, colorful backpacks, and eager smiles were the order of the day as our students greeted one another and shared about their relaxing summer weeks at home and at various vacation spots. 

There are often mixed emotions when change is afoot, but overall the return to a regular schedule is a welcome transition for families!  

It feels good for all of us to be together again.  

As first days go, it was rather smooth sailing on the EC-8 campus of Dock Mennonite Academy!

Some first week observations:

     Our youngest classes toured the building like adorable rows of baby ducks.  Some of the teachers made the exploration into a classroom scavenger hunt, encouraging team building while the students learned where to find important landmarks on campus.

    There is something incredibly nostalgic about seeing little people with bus numbers and districts dangling from dismissal-time lanyards.  We try hard to make sure everyone gets where they are supposed to be!



Our middle school students greeted old and new friends, found their lockers, and worked to become acquainted with new schedules and classrooms. 

Everyone in the 6th-8th grade end of the building grew about THREE FEET since departing for beaches and camps in June.  (Okay, 36 inches may be an exaggeration, but we're giving you fair warning for shopping purposes…their jeans will likely not reach their sneakers when the days turn chilly)!

 Mrs. Baker started Family and Consumer Science class with a bit of excitement on the first day, setting up mystery tasting stations for some unusual foods.  Let's just say some of the foods were tastier than others....


K-8 students were excited to discover a beautiful new salad bar, chosen by Food Services Director, Bill Lorah.  There are colorful, nutritious options to tempt even the most reluctant eaters!  

 Because the salad bar is sized for our students, our salad-loving staff and faculty need to perform some interesting contortions to reach under the protective shield.  But it is so delicious, we are not dissuaded!

     Over the summer months, the fiction section of the library was painstakingly rearranged by genre!  Thank you, Mrs. Thomas!  This will make book selection more efficient and fun for all of our readers.

     Parents may have noticed less paperwork at the start of this school year.  Efforts were made in the springtime to electronically process some of the emergency and permission forms in order to make things easier.  Some of our families are so accustomed to having mounds of paperwork, they forged ahead and filled out an extra!  We sincerely thank numerous efficient parents for such impressive diligence! 


        NEW FACES   

There are some wonderful new faces in our hallways. Please help us welcome approximately 50 new families to our school community this year! We look forward to learning and growing together. 

   We've got new faculty faces too!

New faculty members from both campuses.

     Our high school will be alternating blog posts with the PEEK this school year, so watch for a new posting from one of our campuses each month!

It promises to be a great year at Dock Mennonite Academy.  Click the link below the photo for a first day video- produced by photographer, Mike Landis.

                                                      CLICK HERE FOR FIRST DAY VIDEO LINK
                                                      CLICK HERE FOR SCHOOL WEBSITE

Monday, May 1, 2017

Little Birds

Today I had the opportunity to accompany some of our Early Childhood Department students on a much-anticipated bird walk. 

We set off on foot, traversing our beautiful campus in search of some feathered friends.

Along with finding and listening to the birds, developmental kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ness and her "little birds" had another task to accomplish.  They were collecting objects with which they would build their own nests!

Working diligently on his creative nest, one of the boys 
glued a piece of branch to the side as a "camera" to 
keep tabs on his birds.  He also thought the flower would 
be a nice touch for any bees stopping by to visit.  
We think an engineering degree is in Collin's future.

Almost immediately after exiting the building, the teacher instructed everyone to "freeze and listen!"  The sound of the tweeting birds caused a wave of increased enthusiasm in the bird-watching line.  They had clearly spent class time learning the song of the robin because they began imitating the tweets in the form of a jingle. "Cheer up! Cheer up!  Spring is here!"

Birds on our campus are not a new sensation.  Some evidence:

  • A kamikaze bird flew directly into one of our school softball players several years ago! 
  • Our school community spent years watching purple martins swoop and dive around carefully positioned houses made expressly for them.
  • Almost a decade ago, my daughter and I were regularly accosted by a very particular birdsong while walking into the building.  The voice came from a rather large bird which routinely sat atop the parking lot lamp posts in the morning. This bird sounded decidedly like a W.C.Fields impersonator and we were certain it was repeatedly making fun of us as we trudged up the incline.  (It should be noted, NONE of today's birds were as disagreeable as that fellow).

Observing birds for their appealing nature (rather than tracking them for food) can be traced to the late 18th century. 

Our entourage of small students found many appealing traits in the first birds we encountered.  They were two chubby robins, their red breasts prominently displayed as they sat high atop a flowering tree branch.

These harbingers of spring were exhibiting an impressive amount of bravery since their perch was abruptly surrounded by a spirited collection of rather noisy miniature bird enthusiasts, half of whom held colorful binoculars to their eyes.

The American Birding Association has specific rules about bird watching and subsequent documentation.  No such rules encumbered our search today.  I'll admit I kept an eye out for my favorite home feeder visitor, the Carolina Wren.  

No wrens were spotted which was a little disappointing as I would have loved to show the students that wonderful cinnamon fluff and distinctive white eyebrow I so admire. 

Being able to recognize the languages birds use is an important skill for the disciplined birder. 

For my part, I love hearing random tweets and morning songs from the hodge-podge of feeders and birdhouses hanging from my porch trellis.  

Threatening calls from a hawk or the distinctive sounds of a territorial blue jay will sometimes drive my slippered feet through my back door in a vain attempt to scatter small joyful friends before they suffer oppression at the beak of a larger and less congenial visitor.  So much for survival of the fittest.  

Before reaching the nature walk portion of the campus, the class had to get a little something out of the way.

Apparently, one of their all-time favorite pastimes is running at breakneck speed down the grassy knoll.  In light of today's birding agenda, their running took the form of "flying" down the hill...our young birds flapping their arms as they giggled and tumbled down, down, down.

Safety in mind, Mrs. Ness and I collected binoculars from small necks before our adorable birds took flight.

Classroom aide, Mrs. Welby handed out plastic bags.  It did not take long before the students began eagerly searching for nest components. 

As if by magnetic pull, the troop moved immediately to a thorn bush! Their teacher was quick to redirect and before long, pine needles, twigs, grass, leaves, strings, and feathers were added to personal collections.

Onion grass seemed like a good idea to some of the boys until Mason caught a whiff of the scent.  It was soon labeled unfit nesting material and discarded.

Birdhouses and nests were discovered and there was an appropriate amount of oohing and aahing over each new find.  One such nest was enormous and affixed securely to the very top of a tall and swaying tree.  Though the only sea birds we see on campus are the occasional vagabond gulls, the nest we saw today looked large enough to comfortably seat a pelican! 

At one juncture, Mrs. Ness pointed to the top of the trees and called for the class to listen for the chirping.  However...it rapidly became evident that the bird watchers were much more captivated by a rather large groundhog hole at their feet!  

Discussion ensued about birds making homes in holes and a perfect hollow log was soon on display.

SPEAKING OF HOLES....                        

"We have a GARDEN SNAKE at our house...TO PROTECT OUR GARDEN! 

This alarming information was shared by Ellie - (with great satisfaction in her voice)! Let the record show, I will not be visiting the Shafer residence anytime soon.

The "sneaker group" crossed the water on the high road while those equipped with rubber boots stepped through the creek with a surprisingly discreet amount of splashing. 

A bluebird residence was spotted in the field and there began a mad dash to the pole.  The sudden and unexpected approach of our noisy plastic bag-wielding crowd must have surely inspired cardiac arrest in any mother bird looking on.

Sara noted that a bird entering the birdhouse hole would need to protect its wings by tucking them alongside the body.  She demonstrated this by perfectly tucking her own wings. Despite her excellent demo, the class remained unconvinced of Sara's ability to pass through the hole.

Near the end of the walk, the children found a patch of remnant daffodil greens.  A beautiful spot for a classroom nest.

A little bird told me we were going to have a great adventure and she was correct.  It was the perfect day for feathered friends and five-year-olds.  

Photos by Kathy Gordon