Fall Conference Launches New Year with Additions to EMS team
Seven new faculty and staff joined the Eastern Mennonite School team this fall joining the faculty and staff fall conference for inspiration and connection. Two of the new team members are completing doctoral work; four have extensive international experience; and two are EMHS alumni.
Working in a school is a bit like “carrying a cast iron skillet,” Seth Crisman told the conference participants during a morning reflection. The image helped the group think about the choice each one has made to “pick up that skillet because it brings great joy,” said Crisman, a pastor, special education teacher at a public school, musician, and father of four. “Cooking with a cast iron skillet brings me joy,” he said, telling the story of his willingness to carry one on a hike some years ago — with joy — after finding it a flea market along the way.
The conference provided time for play, singing, laughter, policy review, updates on COVID mitigation, room preparation, and sharing good food.
New faculty and staff
Benjamin Bixler will teach high school Bible and humanities courses while he finishes his dissertation for a PhD in Bible and Cultures from Drew Theological School. Bixler taught at EMS for eight years previously, and earned a master of arts in religion from Eastern Mennonite Seminary., where his wife, Sarah, is now dean and professor. He is the father of three EMS children, and is renovating the historical Lincoln Homestead, north of Harrisonburg, together with his family.
Oscar Erazo, originally from Honduras, joined the school over the summer in his role as fleet and grounds coordinator. In that role, he oversees all the mechanical, maintenance, and use of the school’s fleet of eight full-size buses, mini buses, vans and a car, in addition to grounds oversight. Erazo is married to Fanty Polanco, a Spanish teacher in Harrisonburg City Schools, and is father to two EMS students.
Nathan Hershberger will teach AP world history in a hybrid (in-person and from a distance) mode while he finishes his dissertation for a PhD in theological studies from Duke University. Hershberger, EMHS class of ’08, was born in Nicaragua, studied in the Middle East with Eastern Mennonite University, and lived and taught in Iraq with his wife, Kaitlin. He has three small children and will pick up additional EMS responsibilities in the 2022-23 school year.
Matthew Overacker will teach physical education and health for grades 6 to 10. Overacker earned a BA from Eastern Mennonite University in recreation, leisure and sports studies with kinesiology and coaching minors. He was a key member of the EMU men’s soccer team where he played in the position of goalie, and has continued to coach since graduating.
Eliz Ozcan fills a new half time role as International Student Officer where she will oversee recruitment, enrollment, and host family support. As a Bulgarian who grew up in Turkey, a high school exchange student in France, and a recent host coordinator with Education First in Orlando, Fla., she brings a wealth of experience. Ozcan has a bachelor’s degree in finance with minors in French and accounting from the University of Tampa, and an MBA in finance from Northeastern University. Her husband, Tim, is also Turkish and teaches at James Madison University. They have a son, who joins EMS this year, and two younger children in a local school where Ozcan is a kindergarten assistant.
Karen Suderman joined EMS last year as an EIS (English for International Students) teacher, and moves to full-time this year teaching high school Bible classes. Suderman has a bachelor’s degree from Canadian Mennonite University in literature, and a master of arts from the University of Western Ontario in Library Science. Previously, she directed the Intensive English Program at Eastern Mennonite University, where her husband Andrew is a Bible professor. The couple served with Mennonite Central Committee in South Africa for seven years and have two school age children.
Lucas Wenger will teach algebra and pre-calculus courses. He graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from Eastern Mennonite University. His skillset will help the school to increase its computer science offerings. Wenger is a 2017 EMHS alumnus.
“We are so grateful for the professional expertise and worldwide experience that this new cohort brings to us,” said Paul Leaman in the fall faculty-staff conference. “I truly believe God has brought them here compliment those already on the team, and to fill a unique role.”