Recently I’ve had multiple opportunities to reflect on the reasons I chose to work in a Catholic school when I began teaching, and also the various reasons why I continue to work in Catholic education 10 years later. In a series of years that have been difficult for our family personally, financially and health-wise, there have been times where we had to look long and hard at whether or not I needed to make the switch to public schools so that we would have the insurance and money we needed to start a family etc. But time and again I come back to the good things that come from Catholic education, and I sign that contract for another year at what I consider to be one of the best schools in our state.
This year’s Catholic schools week theme is Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed, and I love how our school and many others embody that theme. Because I am not bound by state curricula, I can educate the total child and adapt to what our class needs at a point in time. We also can focus on the arts in a way that sometimes other schools can’t. Our students learn about other cultures through art, music and drama in addition to traditional lessons. We tie environmental lessons to Catholic social teaching, and history to God’s plan of salvation. Most importantly students can learn about a personal God who loves them and listens to them. They can learn that their actions and words contribute to building God’s kingdom on Earth.
Service is an integral part of Catholic education. Time and time again in my time at our school, when we see a need, we do what we can to meet that need. For the past two years our middle school classes have made thousands of sandwiches for the church across the street that gives them to the homeless women and men who come to their food pantry for lunch. We sponsor families at Christmas, we participate in CRS ricebowl during Lent, we donate our All Saints Day money (see the Living Saints post) to charity. But most importantly, we serve in the little ways that may not seem important at first. We read at church or sing in the choir. We pick up trash off the playground just because it is the right thing to do. We hold doors for people or offer to help with a heavy load. Service becomes part of who we are, not just what we do.
My experience in our school and our valley is that the students from Catholic schools are leaders. Our alumni are the captains of high school and college sports teams, student body presidents, Rotary exchange students and community advocates. One way our school supports and celebrates this leadership is by keeping a bulletin board of newspaper clippings, pictures and write-up about our students and former students doing amazing things. Those seeds of leadership are planted in the opportunities to read at masses and prayer services in front of large crowds of people, in the planning and organizing of school wide events, and even in our celebration of Catholic Schools week. At our school the 8th grade students plan, organize and run all the activities this week. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it.
Succeed. Our world has so many ways of describing success, but Catholic schools have what I think is the right one. When I was working with my students to plan Catholic Schools Week this year, we were talking about success, and one student raised her hand. “Isn’t becoming a saint what success really is?” she asked. I’m just going to leave it at that. If that doesn’t make the case for Catholic schools, I don’t know what does.
Stay tuned this week for some videos on my facebook page celebrating this year’s CSW theme, as well as some lesson ideas here and also a gallery of door decorating ideas! (The door featured in this post was created by the fabulous Christin Garcia for her pre-K classroom last year.)