It’s Catholic Schools Week – an annual celebration of the ministry and vision for education embodied by Catholic schools across the country. It’s a great time to reflect on what makes the Catholic education experience special, and I think this year’s theme is particularly apt: “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” Research has shown that graduates of Catholic schools are more civically engaged, more tolerant of diverse views, and more committed to service as adults (Campbell, 2001). This is the promise of a Catholic school education, that a student’s knowledge and power are informed by her compassion and sense of social justice.
This week during morning assembly and prayer, I was touched to hear our students’ intentions – their prayers for those impacted by the government shutdown who need help paying for rent or food or who need shelter during our recent cold spell. They also prayed for their family members, themselves, and each other. Their thoughtfulness is in stark contrast to daily news, which is so often consumed with negativity and divisive messages. The prayers of these young girls are a reminder that we are all one community, and we are here to support one another. Our students recognize how God works in our lives and calls on us to serve the greater good.
So how do we teach our students to be individuals who care about others, to be better citizens? How do we instill in them the belief that the things they do make a difference? There is, of course, our religion classes where students learn about Catholic moral and social justice teachings. Daily prayer and communion with God and one another, help our students find comfort and strength. We also provide opportunities for teamwork, leadership, and other social skills development through community-building, enrichment activities, and service learning activities. But I think, what really brings theory and practice together, what drives home the value of good citizenship, what truly instills compassion, empathy, and respect for all life in our students and affirms their growth and learning every day is the real-life example of what it means to be a good person in our teachers, staff, and volunteers.
Being a role model, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the best or the brightest. You can be a role model by simply doing one thing: caring. Our students know that their teachers care for them; they understand that every adult at WSG supports them both as learners and as individuals with unique talents and dreams for the future. Our teachers and staff are polite to their students and each other, they do the “little things” without being asked like cleaning up and holding the door open, they are part of a team, they support their colleagues, they keep their word and hold themselves accountable, and they recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Their beliefs align with their actions, even when no one is looking. They lead from the heart because they care about their students, their work, and their community.
Life can be messy and complicated. As a Catholic school, we want our students to know that God is always beside them to help them as they learn, serve, lead, and succeed in life. Our students learn the importance of morality and a strong spiritual life through daily prayer and faith-building activities, and they learn how to live those values through the words and actions of the adults around them. We strive to show our students that they are loved, and we empower to share their love with the world. That is the true value of a Catholic education.