Teachers connect through MEA, build public educator relationships

Kristel Kennedy and Lyn Carlson — Mennonite Education Agency Kristel Kennedy and Lyn Carlson — Mennonite Education Agency

When Kristel Kennedy came to the Mennonite Church USA convention last July, she wasn’t expecting to emerge as a leader and organizer for Mennonites who work in public education.

She just knew it was hard sometimes being one of the only Mennonites in her public school in Pennsylvania. On a whim, she stopped by the Mennonite Education Agency booth and started a conversation. That conversation has become a series of online gatherings with the next scheduled for 7 p.m. EST Jan. 25.

“Mennonites who work at Mennonite schools receive a lot of support for their faith,” Kennedy said. “They can talk openly and freely about their convictions and how their faith intersects with issues in education and current events. Public school teachers have to be much more careful.”

A day later, in a moment of convention serendipity, Lyn Carlson visited the MEA booth and asked a similar question about support for Mennonite educators in public schools. Carlson was struck by the contrast between her current position and a Mennonite school where she had taught previously.

“Having worked in Mennonite education for almost 10 years before returning to public ed, I wondered if there were other Mennonites in public schools who needed a place to belong together too,” she said.

These two women who had never met and shared the same love of teaching were from the same town in Pennsylvania and lived only a few miles apart. They had each traveled to Kansas City, Mo., with the same questions on their hearts.

Back home after MennoCon, MEA staff picked up the connection and put the two women in touch. These conversations led to a brainstorming session with Yasi Bouwman and Hannah Bachman, two teachers with MEA connections from Indiana. The group imagined an online gathering of Mennonite educators from across the country having real conversations about what it means to live out their faith (or not) in public school settings.

“Anabaptist Mennonites believe that following Jesus is central to daily life, and we embrace nonviolence and peace over nationalism and war in response to human conflict,” Kennedy explained. “So, what do you do about saying the Pledge of Allegiance or in response to the wars in Gaza and Ukraine or controversies over racism, book-banning and critical race theory? These are real issues that Mennonite public educators face daily.”

The first online gathering of Mennonite Public Educators was held in October and about 20 people showed up. Many more shared an interest in future gatherings. The January gathering will address critical race theory, social-emotional learning and book banning, followed by sessions April 25 and July 25.

In addition to hosting conversations about hot topics educators face, relationships have emerged as a primary goal of the group. Carlson hopes to build a sense of community for educators across the country.

“We hope this group can be a place where we can talk freely about faith issues in a public education context and gain mutual encouragement, support and learning,” she said. “Having that Mennonite connection is meaningful.”

The virtual gatherings are open to anyone working in public education who identifies as Mennonite. Participation is free but registration is required at info@mennoniteeducation.org.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!