Ministry of Fun unites faculty members long distance

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The school’s closure has made interacting with members of the community more difficult; nevertheless, the Ministry of Fun (MOF), a faculty-led initiative, continues to connect faculty members to their coworkers.

At the beginning of the school year, Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil and history teachers Dr. Ellen Bales and Dr. Emily Straus formed the MOF to connect their coworkers with other members of the Upper Division faculty whom they would not normally interact with, Bales said. Because of the enormity of the campus, faculty members often only see the same group of people throughout the day, she said.

In the new, online version of the MOF, faculty members continue their own initiatives aiming to unite the community during quarantine, Bales said. “[The new MOF] is reliant on the strength, generosity, and the fun-spiritedness of other faculty members.”

However, since the school’s closure, the “Ministers of Fun” have had to alter their initiatives’ format. At the beginning of the year, the committee held meetings to allow other faculty members to contribute ideas for initiatives. It was important to incorporate other faculty members in the decision making process so that the activities could be fun for everyone, Bales said.

After the school’s closure, the “Ministers of Fun” organized a spreadsheet on which faculty members could sign up to host initiatives they believed would be enjoyable, Bales said. Examples of these events include a tour of campus photographer Barry Mason’s home studio, a playgroup for children of faculty hosted by Upper Division Physical Education Department Chair Amy Mojica, and a book group hosted by history teacher Melissa Morales.

After Mason revealed a portion of his home studio in his background during a faculty meeting, Bales asked him to give a tour for the MOF, he said. Mason agreed and gave a virtual tour of his home studio on Tuesday, May 5, after organizing a time with Bales, he said. This allowed Mason to share his art with anyone who cannot physically come to his studio, and he was able to show his coworkers what he does when he is not at school.

Additionally, the MOF enables faculty members to simultaneously connect with each other and their own families. Mojica runs a weekly Zoom meeting for both faculty members, and their children, for example, organized a playdough session and plans to host an activity where kids get to create their own instruments with common household items.

Morales started reading the book “The Mirror and the Light” by Hilary Mantel, and thought that her coworkers would also be interested in it, she said. Morales was inspired by the MOF’s transition online to create a faculty book club to further interact with her coworkers, she said. “I would have been reading this book anyway, and being able to open that up to other people and have really interesting conversations is great.”

As a first-year teacher, the MOF initiatives have helped Morales connect with the community, she said. In December the MOF’s orchestrated a “Secret Snow Pals,” initiative modeled after Secret Santa, which gave Morales the chance to reach out to colleagues and learn about them in a new way. “I had to find out from colleagues what my person’s interests were, so I knew what to buy them. It wasn’t just getting to know one person, it was also introducing myself to other people,” she said.

The new MOF is more accommodating for different schedules, which allows for more faculty to take part in these initiatives, Bales said. The increase in community participation enables a wider range of activities on a more regular basis than before, she said. Furthermore, the spreadsheet organization and the nature of Zoom calls helps avoid scheduling conflicts. “Doing a Zoom meeting is easier in the sense that you don’t have to physically be in a different space,” Bales said.

While many faculty members appreciate the connections the MOF has been able to provide during this time, the new virtual format has come with downsides as well, Bales said. “It’s not as fun as if we were actually sitting around a table together, but it’s the best we can do right now and be safe,” Bales said.

Regardless of the new challenges and benefits the online version of the MOF provides, the mission of the overarching initiative remains the same, Bales said. “[The MOF] is an attempt to do our best to bring the school community into each other’s lives at a moment where we can’t see each other.”