I just finished doing an atheist role play with senior students at Coram Deo Academy in Plano, TX, and wanted to share some reflections here. My two daughters are in 4th and 1st grade at CDA. After the role play, I told my wife “We definitely have made the right choice for our family.” It’s not that we didn’t know that before, but interacting with the senior students gave me even more confidence in our decision, as I came away from my time with them highly encouraged. Lots of positives stood out about the students; the rigor of the discussion was high, they were congenial and fun to talk with, they had curiosity and passion, etc. All that was there in spades, and most role plays I do are enjoyable like that. They jumped right into conversing with me with virtually no nudging or prompting. At times, I was really pushed in the dialogue! But there is one aspect of the whole time that really stood out to me. It happened prior to the role play, before I even said anything to them and vice versa, in fact. When I share it, it might seem rather small and insignificant, but I don’t think it is. It is difficult to articulate, exactly, but let me try. I arrived a few minutes early, and had time to watch the students as they walked in and interacted with each other and with their teacher. What I both saw and felt is something I haven’t seen and felt much in school in a while. They immediately began socializing with one another, with a refreshing positive energy. A few exchanged small talk about recent comings and goings--sports, late night shenanigans, etc. Most got right down to studying together. Actually studying. They cracked open books, reviewed, quizzed each other, and shot questions about the material across the room, all with a palpable happiness, all without being told to by the teacher. Remind you, this was prior to class. They just started interacting, on their own. The body language and talk was quite different from what I’ve become accustomed to in the last year. As I’ve shared before, one perhaps unintended consequence of COVID policy in the classroom (it is not the virus itself, but how we’ve responded to the virus, that has created this trade-off) is that it has significantly deadened the atmosphere in the classroom and hallways. It all has the feel of a dentist’s waiting room or elevator. Awkward, dead, silence. The omnipresence of Zoom and Google Meet really tends to get in the way. As much as I’m thankful for these tools, for without them it would make education more risky in this pandemic time, combined with ed policy now, one of the trade-offs is that it hinders connection. This is not to blame students themselves for this--students in my environment will bring it up themselves if you let them. It bums them out. Even prior to COVID, cell phones would have the same effect in class--students would come in, sit down, and simply scroll on their phone until class started. In classes like mine, with teachers who take up cell phones upon student entry in the front of the room (in “cell phone caddies” so that phones are out of reach of students during class), students would wait until the last second to enter the room, staying in the hallway so they could scroll on the phone, getting that last hit. But in the CDA classroom I was in, they, well, actually talked with each other on their own initiative, in physical space, not in the online ether. I’ve missed that. And you know, honestly, maybe it is partly my fault for why I don’t see that more often. Far too often, nowadays I am on my computer as students come in. I’ve given up the habit of standing by the door to greet them as they come in. I myself am distracted by screens, and have missed many a moment to engage students in the little spaces. I should get back to that and focus on what really matters. We do talk a lot during class time, but I could definitely do better in the intervening spaces. Again, you might be tempted to brush this off as insignificant, but there’s more here than meets the eye. Our humanness often reveals itself most in these so-called “little moments.” Yes, this was just one small anecdote. Maybe an outlier. But maybe not. It was a glimpse...But it was a good glimpse. So thank you CDA students and teachers! You brought me joy. You guys are doing something right.