Dear Mandala Fellowship,
Welcome to the New Year! If you want to know the most about the Mandala Fellowship, be sure to
keep an eye on our facebook page.
We have had an incredible 8 months together. All of us have grown in the grace and knowledge of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as well as in favor of man. We are all growing not just in our love for one
another but in our enjoyment of each other. I believe the Fellowship is succeeding.
Throughout the summer the students worked 20 hours a week in addition to their normal course of
study. They learned to schedule their time as well as sacrifice free time in order to pay bills. The level of
adult responsibility was a shock to some and difficult for most. But they did it!
Fellows worked in small teams. Some worked in shipping, some in accounting, some in marketing,
and some in facility maintenance. I was pleasantly surprised by how many students wanted to work
outside painting and gardening as well as cleaning inside the warehouses. The work study is over but
the additional time could hardly be called free time. The students will now be putting their efforts into
building their own businesses if they choose.
We spent the fall working on the National Number Knockout – a calculating speed and accuracy
competition for children 14 and under that we will hold in Orlando, Florida on March 28, 2014. Some
fellows will continue to work on this project for their second semester business while others want to
move on their own ideas. We worked on this project as a class so I would have a way to direct their
attention to specific business tasks. For example, they all made a video describing the competition, they
worked together to write an extensive business plan, and they built the entire brand include costumes,
logos, and music as well as promotional materials like a website and Kickstarter campaign. We met a
few times to discuss tax and business structures and watched videos of successful, young entrepreneurs
in order to gather inspiration.
We also spent the fall working on FAFSA forms, resumes, college applications, recommendation letters,
and college essays. I paid for the application fees of the students who successfully completed the
assigned task of applying to a highly selective university. Many who aren’t interested in attending college
completed the task because they wanted to know how to apply to a college should they decide to go
in the future. We spent 15 hours of class time as well as many evenings working on the applications.
Many of the students have worked beyond the required academic time to write college essays, study
for the SAT, ACT, and SAT II topic tests. We had a team of writers share their craft with the students on
a Friday and then had SAT writing practice on Saturday as well as a couple of extra evening sessions to
prep for the SAT. Writing studies was never intended to be part of Mandala but many of the students
asked for this extra instruction and we were happy to provide it. Opportunities to write for the Mandala
website, the business plan, music projects, and marketing materials abound for students who want to
take the opportunity to work on their writing.
Italy! Italy was very fun and serendipitously educational. Traveling is education. We learned how to
navigate a foreign city’s bus system as well as some basic language skills and currency conversion. Our
art museum guide, Elena, kept us focused on just a few paintings with just a few questions so that
we could actually learn how to analyze art. Our Florence guide, Pietro, led us past all the important
landmarks and free exhibits as well as leading us through the countryside and taking us on vineyard and
garden tours. Our hosts at Villa Morghen were extraordinarily attentive to our needs. I appreciated
the large bedrooms (by European standards) and open vistas from the many porches. They provided as
many bag lunches as we needed for our travels as well as all the food we could eat at sit down meals.
For me, the highlight was the talent show we shared with the staff on our last night. It was good to stay
in one place for two weeks so we could get to know one another.
Our Quadrivium Connections were met with mixed reaction. All the speakers loved the students and
the students really appreciated the guests’ efforts to share their knowledge. Some of the information
was well beyond our understanding and it was cloudy the whole weekend that our guest brought the
special telescopes! Over all, we would invite the same teachers back. They included: Dr. Young, a math
and astronomy professor; Mr. Burr, astronomer and the inventor of telescopes and technologies used
by international satellite companies; Mr. Nickles, astronomer and author of Mathematics: Is God Silent;
and Mr. Yopp who builds guitars from blocks of wood. Astronaut James Dutton and music professor
John Hodges are planning to spend a few days each this winter teaching us more.
In many ways, astronomy feels like our lightest subject, but if you notice our Quadrivium Connection
guest list, we had mostly astronomers attend. Caleb and I recognize that this is our weakest area and
were glad for the help. We were especially grateful to all the students who came back to the house
after church, giving up their free time when the sun was finally visible and observed it with Mr. Burr’s
solar telescope. Many of the fellows stayed around to talk with him some more. Only about 90 minutes
of class time has been devoted specifically to astronomy each week. In it we watch Tony Flander’s
of Sky Week explain the phenomena in that week’s sky as well as how the galaxy operates. The goal
was to then go outside and chart what he taught. Unfortunately, it rained every Wednesday night! I
am proud of the fellows who took astronomy seriously and went out other evenings to study the sky.
Since we had so much bad weather, we spent the evening drawing the sky- memorizing key dimensions,
sketching constellations, and orienting ourselves to the longitudes and latitudes of our planet. Again, I
appreciate those who spent time on their own really learning how to sketch the heavens. Those with a
classical background can appreciate the art of sketching as a means of creating memoria.
We also watched a number of astronomy videos and have begun the study of the mathematics of the
heavens – physics. As we master the mathematics of Kepler and Newton, I believe the students will
see that we have actually been studying the dance of the planets all along. Besides the memory work,
astronomy has been so easy academically that I think they think the topic is being overlooked. As we
dive into an astronomy text this winter, I hope they will see how much they have learned.
I must confess that I wasted too much time at the beginning of the year as I instructed in math. I was
hoping to jump right into an algebra review as we prepped for the SAT and Physics and to tailor the
teaching to the individual’s needs. I was unable to do this because of the wide range of abilities. So,
I went back and forth to extremes which didn’t help anyone. I should have just taught what I knew
everyone needed to know in a consistent manner and pulled everyone towards an attainable goal. I
think I have figured out how to do this now and thank the fellows for their patience. I had hoped to just
show lots of fun problems on the board (which I still do now and then, because math is fun). Instead,
math has become an intense time of self-study so that all can work at the place they need to be. I’ve
worked with the fellows on table assignments which I know seemed childish at first to some of them
but I hope all are now happy. Part of self-assessment in academics comes from studying with the right
people. All should have someone to help, someone who helps, and someone who challenges them. I
play a part in all these roles for each of them, but as a fellowship, I thought it was important for each
one to figure out their role also.
In math and music theory, we could have established an entrance qualification. It would have made
planning lessons much easier, but taught us much less about living in fellowship. I think it is important
to know when to move ahead on your own, when to humbly repeat a difficult lesson, when to help
another, and when to be quiet and think hard. Also, Caleb and I would have been robbed of the
opportunity to see students with no background in a subject quickly catch up to their superiors as well
as the more accomplished students honing the details by instructing others. The quieter students have
had to learn to ask questions and some who ask lots of questions have learned to not ask until they have
tried more on their own.
Our fellowship SAT scores were 1737, the national average is 1498, and the home school average is
1636. We had 3 students break 2000 and 2 came close. So 5 out of 19 students had very high scores.
All who had taken a standardized test before told me their scores went up in math, though many scores
were similar in reading and writing. That inspired more of them to ask for writing help before they took
the SAT for a second time.
The SAT, college applications, college essays and the other things we do that are college prep are not
how I measure a successful student. But here’s what I did notice – the same students who worked
hard and put in extra time for those optional assignments are the same ones who do the best at the
mandatory assignments. It’s made me value the college prep process for what it reveals about the
character of the student whether they go to college or not. Assessment as a letter grade from an expert
has limited value. Observing those around you, your authorities, and God’s standards provide the
clearest self-assessment. I speak to the fellowship often about this process. Satan is so strong, and we
are so self-centered, that delusion can drive us more than illumination. The body of Christ, God’s word,
and His creatures are the tools He gives us to sanctify our lives. We need to use all the tools He provides
to grow in grace before God and man.
Free time and fellowship has been diverse and we have been delighted by the choice of activities.
Besides the obvious like hiking, biking, swimming, and playing ping-pong, the students have participated
in a number of cultural events. Some attended the Hearts and Hands concert, some swing dance in
Greensboro and our house, a few attended a Hobbit literary weekend in Virginia as well as a trip into
DC, many learned to wakeboard, and almost all went to the beach. A few work out at the gym and play
rugby. Most play Ultimate Frisbee. Cooking healthy foods and shopping at the farmer’s market occupy
the attention of others.
As for the fellowship, I think all are trying their very best to love and encourage one another. We’ve
had ample opportunities to work on conflict resolution as well as the gift of sacrificing for one another.
Living this closely and studying all the same subjects has been a challenge, but all have recognized it
as the heart of Christian living. I’ve come to realize that the greatest part of the Mandala Fellowship
has been learning how to die to one’s own desires and sometimes even convictions so as not to cause
another to stumble. These students are strong in their faith and have been grounded in the love of
Christ. They are a great testimony to their parents love and sacrifice.
The rest of this year is very full. The students have set goals in physics, performance, and music theory
as well as beginning the new astronomy text. Astronaut James Dutton and musician James Hodges
are coming to teach at the Quadrivium Connection and Wes Callahan is coming to teach us at the next
Toward the Quadrivium event. Some will prepare for their AP Physics and Music Theory exams. All will
go to Orlando after working to market the National Number Knockout. And of course, we will end with
another music performance on Friday, May 2, 2014. When I asked the students what we could do to
make the next Celebration even better because the first one was so perfect, one student suggested we
rent those tall cloth men that bounce and flap their arms to attract attention to car dealerships! They
always make me laugh!
I want to end with some clarity about 2014-15 Mandala Fellowship. We are not taking new students.
Instead I will be working with a handful of this year’s students for a second year. The fellowship is a
success. So, I will spend this next year trying to figure out how to endow the program, how to staff it,
and where to locate it as well as whether it is a one year program or extended to multiple years. I will
be speaking to some of the students about opportunities for next year. It will be by invitation only. As I
determine which students to work with, I will be informing their families of the details. As in all things, I
covet your prayers as my husband, Rob, and I determine if and how the Fellowship can continue.
Love, Leigh Bortins