Maryland vacation school: science, religion and no pinching

September 19, 2019
Maryland vacation school: science, religion and no pinching

Looking for a “sword of peace” or “asteroid belt,” perchance? The Baha’is of Montgomery County South, Maryland, have plenty — products of a vacation school in July for children ages 5 to 13.

“Fundamental Verities and the Universe” was the theme of the two-week school enjoyed by 16 children from several nearby communities and held in the homes of two local families.

“The school’s primary objectives were to strengthen the children’s spiritual foundations and integrate concepts of God and the Baha’i Faith into their understanding of science and the universe,” explains Noah Bartolucci, who served as a guest speaker.

Creating art outdoors is part of a vacation school during summer 2019 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Noah Bartolucci

Lessons on the Baha’i Faith’s teachings and history alternated with myriad arts and science activities. A basic tenet of the Faith is the essential harmony of science and religion.

On the first day, following welcoming remarks and prayers, the children were asked to formulate their own set of rules to set clear expectations and facilitate a learning environment, says Bartolucci. The list of agreed-upon rules included

“Always raise your hand,” “Listen to all,” “Be respectful of all opinions,” “Use an inside voice” and, of course, “No pinching.”

Morning classes entailed readings of Amazing Stories from the Dawn-Breakers, about the earliest Baha’is; exploring the Baha’i Faith through the coloring book Garden of Baha’u’llah, about the prophet-founder of the Faith; and games with such names as “Stainless Deed Tag,” “Laugh Machines” and “Seeker of Truth.”

Mornings closed with a reflection circle.

In the Seeker of Truth game, children made a sign called the Word of God. Next, one child acted as the Seeker of Truth, one child acted as the Guide who reminds them of the Word of God and another was the Distractor who uses love of old habits to distract the Seeker from the truth. The Seeker was blindfolded, then the Word of God was hidden. The Guide had to give verbal instructions to help the Seeker find the Word of God, while the Distractor tried to steer the Seeker away.

Each afternoon featured science, art and physical development. A class titled “Baha’u’llah and the Universe” opened with a presentation on the harmony of science and religion and in subsequent days focused on the solar system, the human body, microorganisms, pollinating insects, and one’s connection with the biosphere.

Children gathered for a vacation school during summer 2019 in Montgomery County, Maryland, learn the Baha’i short obligatory prayer. Photo courtesy of Noah Bartolucci

Science projects included the construction of cardboard-tube Galilean telescopes (to peer at the heavens), drinking-straw fountains (to demonstrate centrifugal force) and asteroid belts (made from garment belts, the type that hold your pants up).

Among art projects were the making of prayer beads, virtues wheels, swords of peace, individual fund boxes, and door hangers.

What’s a sword of peace? The children made a lifesize replica of the sword wielded by Mulla Husayn, the first person to declare his belief in the Bab, herald of the Baha’i Faith, in defense of the persecuted early community.

The classes and sessions were led by adult volunteers Katy Anis, Zia Samadani and William Nothwang, as well as by youth counselors Bita Momeni, Sam Momeni and Yasmeen Nekoui. Guest speakers included Dawn Browning, Bartolucci and Nasir Bashirelahi.

The school culminated in a graduation, where students demonstrated what they learned, and a cookout. Following the ceremony, one child was pleased to report that during the entire two weeks of classes, in fact, no pinching had occurred.

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