Congregational Life/News from the Pews
The Congregational Life Committee works to provide year-round opportunities for community building within the church. You are invited to participate and serve in the wide variety of events fostering Christian fellowship, friendship, and fun. Call the church office and join us!
Here are some of our regular events:
- All- Church Picnic
- Adults’ Night Out
- Annual Meeting Supper
- Hanging of the Greens
- Christmas Dinner
- Winter Family Retreat
- Family Night Supper
- Easter Breakfast
- Girls’ Night Out Banquet
- Strawberry Festival
- Monthly Hobby Night
- Monthly Book Discussion
- Movietalk Film Discussions
- Summer After-Church Lemonade
- Sunday Morning 10 AM Coffee Hour Fellowship
- First Women
- Pick-up basketball Thursdays at 9:00 pm, Jan. – April
News from the Pews –“Eric Schmidt: Science [Teacher] in Motion” Teachers from kindergarten through college, have you had a stressful week? Are you dreading the upcoming days? Maybe you should check out the center pew section, where Eric and Barbara Schmidt usually sit. Compare notes with Eric, and you may leave church grateful for your employment in Central PA. You see, Eric enjoys life with his wife, friends and family on weekends, but on weekdays he teaches Physical Science and Chemistry to four classes of inner-city Philadelphia youngsters, most of whom are far wiser in the ways of the world than their small-town counterparts. A few minutes of conversation with Eric about a profession and a city he loves will convince you that his is not a routine for the faint of heart.
Eric and Barbara Schmidt moved to Lewisburg from Philadelphia in 1978. Eric grew up in Mt. Airy, Northwest Philadelphia, and Barbara lived in Abington. Before his teaching adventure, Eric worked for 19 years in Purchasing at Bucknell. Barb is in her 31st year as a nurse at the Family Place / Obstetrics Department at Evangelical Community Hospital. The Schmidts have four grown children: Sandra, a Professor in the Dept. of Education at the University of South Carolina; Sharon, a vice-president of a bank in Philadelphia; Anita, an employee at Selinsgrove Center; and Shawn, owner of a landscaping business in Milton.
Eric’s career as a teacher has roots in his early interests. “Although teaching wasn’t in the forefront of my mind upon high school graduation, I’ve always enjoyed solving problems, and from the start I was drawn to chemistry,” he said. After two years at Penn State, he took a job with a chemical quality control lab in Philadelphia, doing work for the space program. An eventual layoff prompted him to take his skills to Temple University’s purchasing division, where he bought items for the school’s science departments.” In time, his purchasing experience, along with a degree in business from Temple, led to a career in purchasing at Bucknell.
“Throughout those years,” Eric commented, “the chemistry bug never left me. When Bucknell considered offering an early retirement plan, I thought, ‘Maybe this is my opportunity. Perhaps I can save enough money to return to school for my teaching certificate. In short time, Bucknell dropped the idea, however, and once again I put my dream on hold.”
Taking the Long Way Home
After 19 years at Bucknell, Eric left, thinking that a good economy meant he would find a job. When the job didn’t materialize, he became so discouraged that he decided to earn a CDL License. “For the next year,” Eric noted in mild disbelief, “I drove an 18-wheeler back and forth across the country. On Sundays, I had always been in church, but on the road, Sunday was just another day. My low point came near Del Rio, Texas, one Sunday, when I had an overwhelming urge to find a place to worship. My maps showed a small truck stop in the town where I could park and then be pointed toward the nearest church. When I arrived, however, the truck stop was closed, and I could find no other secure place to park. I didn’t break out in tears, but I remember asking myself, “God, what do you want of me?” What followed was less a
‘Road to Damascus experience than a ‘You dummy!’ indictment. Just one year earlier, my heart had pounded over the possibility of retiring to become a chemistry teacher. Now I found myself sitting behind the wheel of a truck in a desolate Texas town. Why had I turned my back on my dream? Putting my plight into spiritual terms, maybe I hadn’t been listening to God. Perhaps I had to reach that low point in Texas before my heart would open enough for me to ask myself that hard question. Within a year I had traded my CDL license for a PA teaching certificate from Temple University.”
Moving to the Head of the Class
Eric’s teaching experience consists of five years at Philadelphia Regional High School, an alternative school in Center City Philadelphia, and Lincoln High School, one of 23 high schools in the Philadelphia School District. He is completing his sixth year as a chemistry teacher at Lincoln.
“With teaching jobs being scarce in Central Pennsylvania, I returned to my roots,” remarked Eric. “I was an experienced professional, but a rookie teacher. Philadelphia Regional was a place where teachers design special courses to help students graduate. It was and still is a teaching challenge. Girls outnumbered the guys, many of whom had been incarcerated. And many of the girls had children of their own. Attendance was spotty, and dropout rates were high.”
“In an atmosphere of constantly rolling enrollment, we teachers were trying to give kids an opportunity to succeed. Sometimes an extreme situation required an unorthodox solution. For instance, if I had a student working fulltime outside of school and coming to class ready to sleep, we made a deal: in exchange for completing a 30-minute assignment, she received 30 minutes to put her head down on her desk.”
When an economy move closed Philadelphia Regional, Eric moved to Lincoln High School, and he has been teaching there ever since. “Lincoln is one of 23 public high schools in the Philadelphia School District,” he explained. The students come from low and low-medium income families, most of which are black, Hispanic, or one of several other ethnic minorities. Ironically, the school is located in a white neighborhood consisting of families who send their children to private or parochial schools.”
To complicate an already difficult situation, Lincoln has become a dumping ground for students that other schools do not want. “We have many problem kids, but our problems are not much different from those found in the Central Susquehanna Valley,” Eric explained. “We simply have more of them. The problems I see daily are tardiness, cuts, disruptive class behavior, apathy, fatigue from working fulltime outside of school, and the effects of a lifestyle involving drugs, alcohol, pregnancies, and dysfunctional families. As you might guess, parental support is almost nonexistent. We have regular parent meetings two or three times each semester. For my 100 kids, if I see 4 parents, I’ve had a good night.”
“Half of my students deserve to fail, but I refuse to fail that many. Hard as we work to provide special programs, classes, and preparation days, our students get hammered yearly by the PSSA tests. Measured against the best brains of the country, even my AP students struggle; if the scoring range is 1-5, a 2 for our kids is a good score. Because kids can be intimidated and then discouraged by their test performances, I try to keep them focused on their progress in class, hoping to have them experience success in small steps.”
“You may ask, ‘ What keeps you going under these circumstances?’ I like the challenge of teaching, and I like to teach chemistry, especially problem-solving.
AP classes are a particular challenge, and the kids are more able and more motivated than those in my regular classes. Success stories are few and far between, but they are definitely appreciated. One of my former 9th graders, a girl, is now a sophomore at Penn State. She has been back to tell me about college. Another of my last year’s students has returned to ask if he can help in my classroom and labs in order to fulfill a community service requirement. I’m surprised, but pleased, that he chose to come back. I’ve also had a student recently who came by to apologize for his behavior in my classroom last year. In the midst of so much adolescent irresponsibility, an experience like that makes a teacher’s day.”
Eric’s weekday life outside of class is important in preventing burnout. He fills late afternoons and evenings with school athletic events, class preparation, in-service courses—he’s at Masters plus 50 credits now—walking and biking in Fairmount Park, and educational or cultural events such as the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra, theater events, the flower show, and programs at the Franklin Institute and Academy of Natural Sciences. “I like Philadelphia,” he asserted. “I will definitely miss it when I retire.”
A scouting enthusiast and soccer official in earlier years, Eric now directs his precious home time to family and church. The Schmidts have been as active in church as their schedules permit. Eric is an usher, Barbara has worked at “Dinner by the River,” and both have served in the nursery. Barbara also volunteers to help with events such as the annual Strawberry Festival. “And we have a great relationship with our four grown children,” Eric added. “That makes us rich people.”
Thinking back over his time in Philadelphia, Eric concluded, “My life appears to be hectic, but Barbara and I have accepted it as simply another way to make a living. We regret the time away from one another, but we have grown in our appreciation of one another. Although I believe God nudged me toward teaching, I still pray that what I’ve been doing for twelve years is not simply what I want but what He wants for me. Barbara has been a great support; her faith in God and belief in me have helped both of us to cope.”