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Having a Field Day

Moody-trained teacher discipling hearts at unique Christian school for families of all income levels
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • September 29, 2023

Moody Bible Institute Emma Aramouni

 

As the gray sky pours down rain outside The Field School on Chicago’s West Side, more than a dozen second-grade students in Emma (Miller ’21) Aramouni’s classroom are studying the colors of a painting called Hope to imitate the work of the African American artist Ellis Wilson.

“What colors do you notice in the background?” Emma asks, as several hands go up. Eloise says, “I see red, orange, and some brown.”

Suddenly three boys scoot back in their chairs to look out the window at a small rainbow in a patch of clearing sky. As more students crane their necks to see its colors, Emma acknowledges the artistry of heaven, then calls them back to begin tracing and coloring their pictures.

For Emma, engaging students in works of art is part of training children in the habit of attention—“to be able to attend to things and just savor them,” she says. Instead of being entertained by videos, for example, “we learn to sit and look at a painting for three minutes in silence—that’s hard. But it’s so good.”

Whether the focus is art, music appreciation, or God’s creation during a nature walk, “the goal is to put students mind to mind with the author or with the text, letting them engage with things directly and then wrestle with it,” she says. “It also pushes them to enjoy things that are good, true, and beautiful.”

From Moody to The Field School

Emma first heard about The Field School when its head of school, Jeremy Mann, spoke to her church about starting a diverse, classical Christian school for pre-K through 8th-grade students in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

“My dad nudged me and said, ‘You should work there,’” she recalls.

She wasn’t sure. Her plan was to teach in public schools. But as she studied Elementary Education at Moody, her perspective changed. Professors like Peter Worrall showed her that teaching goes beyond academics.

“It is really discipling hearts,” Emma learned. “I was able to see a grander vision of what Christian school could be like—it is embracing all these little hearts and minds coming from different home environments and being able to shepherd them.”

The idea of reading the Bible with students in class every day appealed to her. So did the opportunity to apply her faith to conflict management and “pray for students who are going through a hard time.” She was also drawn to the diversity of the school staff and student body—not just ethnically but also in income levels and life experience.

“We can learn so much from each other and from people who are different from us,” she says.

The Field School, which opened its seventh grade this fall, has a sliding-scale income-based tuition and reserves more than half of its seats for students from low-income families. (Also, the Illinois Invest in Kids program allows donors to receive a state tax credit valued at 75 percent of the total donation.)

Emma believes Moody prepared her well with a strong foundation in the Bible, teaching methods, and working with a diverse population. For her practical Christian ministry assignments, she tutored kids in the homework center at Devon Oasis Ministry, had a mini youth group for girls, and made home visits to refugee families. She also took a Moody mission trip to Greece, where she worked with Syrian refugees and met her future husband, Andrew ’19. They both spent the following semester in an immersion program in Jordan.

Those missional experiences “helped shape why I wanted to come to The Field School,” she says. “I really wanted to minister with people who came from different backgrounds or people who lived in poverty.” However, she never expected that she would join their teaching staff even before she graduated.

Teaching Latin and fourth grade

As an Elementary Education major, Emma completed many of her observation hours at The Field School. There she was exposed to the school’s classical curriculum, which integrates rich ideas from across time and cultures in history, literature, math, science, art, music, and Latin. “I began to really enjoy how deeply students were engaging with really good texts like Charlotte’s Web,” she says.

It reminded her of her own upbringing. “Without knowing it, I had grown up in a classical education,” says Emma, who was homeschooled along with her eight siblings and regularly read classic literature her mom picked out.

When Jeremy Mann found out Emma had learned Latin from third grade through high school, he hired her to teach Latin part-time during her senior year at Moody in 2019. Besides reading excerpts from the Latin Vulgate (the Bible written in Latin), she had the third- through fifth-grade students listen to hymns and memorize the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.

She graduated in December 2020, completing her student teaching internship at Pui Tak Christian School in Chicago’s Chinatown. Then the principal of The Field School offered her a full-time job teaching fourth grade for a teacher going on maternity leave in February 2021. She agreed, still teaching Latin as well.

Incredibly challenging time

Things didn’t go well right away. The COVID pandemic required her to teach hybrid learning, with half the class on Zoom, “which was incredibly challenging,” she says. “As a first-year teacher, it was a lot of juggling, moving pieces, and making sure everyone had turned in assignments and that the students on the screen were engaged as well as the students in class.”

That’s not all. “Our principal quit three weeks into the school year,” she says. “Then our dean unexpectedly had to leave. COVID cases were flaring. I constantly had a student who was sick and out with COVID or had been exposed. So I was making packets upon packets for these students. And I had a lot of students with behavioral struggles.

“Many mornings I cried before work, and I didn’t want to go. Yet I’m so glad I pushed through.”

‘Jesus is in the room’

Today a plaque hangs in Emma’s classroom with the words “Be Still” from Psalm 46—a gift from a fellow teacher who filled the gaps with daily check-ins and encouraging words. She told Emma to remember in the overwhelming moments that “Jesus is in the room with you.”

Emma took her colleague’s advice to heart. “That was so freeing for me. I don’t have to do it all. It’s going to be okay. Jesus is going to take care of it.”

The school administration also helped the teachers by getting more volunteers, freeing them from daily recess duty, and other changes. “I feel very supported by administration here, truly cared for as a person,” Emma says. After teaching fourth grade for a year and a half, she transitioned to second grade, which she adores. She chalks up her early anxiety to new teacher jitters, COVID burnout, and the growing pains of a new school.

To recharge spiritually, Emma and her husband, who’s earning his MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Moody Theological Seminary, attend a small group Bible study twice a week. Emma also carves out time in the morning or evening to be with God, away from distractions.

Habits for humanity

Emma takes seriously her school’s commitment to help students develop good, biblically inspired habits. Second-graders practice obedience, attention, responsibility, reverence, reflection, punctuality, thoroughness, and respect. “Why do we show respect?” Emma asks. “Because God has created us in His image, and so we respect one another.”

Emma has deep love for her students, holding high expectations to help them become all God made them to be,” says Jeremy Mann, head of The Field School

Fielding Questions: “Emma has deep love for her students, holding high expectations to help them become all God made them to be,” says Jeremy Mann, head of The Field School.

When conflicts arise in the classroom, it’s usually because “students are not understanding each other well and they’re hitting barriers,” she says. “But it's so sweet to be able to work that out in a second-grade classroom where there’s so much trust and community built instead of being sheltered in your own bubble with people who are just like you until you become an adult and then encounter people who are different.”

She used to worry that being a teacher would not be a full-time ministry, but now she is convinced that it is. “It’s discipleship. And I think it's just such worthwhile work. It’s a mission to help these children grow academically and to grow to know and love Jesus and to know and love their neighbors as themselves.”

She says her students’ joy for learning is contagious. “It’s been fun to see them move from picture books to chapter books later in the year,” she says, adding that the class spent a long unit on ancient Egypt, carefully reading the book of Exodus at the same time. Then they celebrated with “Saturday School,” where parents were invited and the kids were docents presenting artifacts they’d created.

“Emma is a wonderful, living example of the ideals of Moody Bible Institute,” says Jeremy Mann. “She received an excellent education herself. But instead of using that blessing to enrich herself, she has deliberately sought a difficult mission—ministering in the name of Jesus to children who do not normally have access to strong schools.

“She helps children grow in their understanding of who Jesus is: our Savior but also the Creator of every good thing we learn about in school,” he adds. “Emma has deep love for her students, holding high expectations to help them become all God made them to be.”


About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni & Friends magazine and is a senior editor for Marketing Communications at Moody Bible Institute.