By Dr. William H. Hughes, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer
Students at three of our schools prayerfully and peacefully embraced the issue of school safety and stood in solidarity with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on National Walkout Day, March 14th. These activities most of which lasted 17 minutes, in symbolic tribute to the Florida victims, were student-led activities that gave students voice and influence in their community.
Please see the end of this blog for a recap of their efforts.
The nationally organized walkouts are unprecedented in recent American history. The gatherings, both in Milwaukee and around the country, represent a realization of power and influence by young people, raised on social media, who have come of age in an era of violence and trauma most of us have never experienced.
At Seton Catholic Schools we value student engagement and believe that when students and school leaders and teachers work together on projects of the children’s choosing, student culture and student growth improve. We know that when students engage in their community they learn more.
Civic engagement and youth voice are important ways to help students connect to their schools and teachers. In turn, it also has the ability to improve the community the school serves and to create a better understanding of citizenship.
Student Engagement Focus
Student engagement is a high priority at Seton Catholic Schools. Increasing student engagement leads to better learning and students who feel connected to their school community. Youth voice, civic engagement, and service learning is part of that strategy. We know that when adults and students have a bond of trust and belief in growth and change, students learn more and teachers working in the school are more engaged with youth and the community they serve.
Steps to Engagement
Youth voice and civic engagement happen when students learn to identify a community to be served, assess community needs and opportunities with the assistance of community partners, and relate community needs to underlying societal issues. Then students take action. They create a project that they believe in and execute it with the support of parish and school leaders and teachers. The students drive the work, not the adults.
Students develop an action plan. They define the attainable and visible outcomes of the service activity, identifying the value of these outcomes to the community served.
Students set learning goals with their teachers aligning the service experience with their academic curriculum and parish community. They identify specific knowledge and skills transferable from school to the real world. They create a plan for demonstrating their outcomes in a final presentation.
The teacher plays a critical role, providing input to the plan and giving approval of the final project plan. Getting plan approval is part of learning how to engage others in their work and civic involvement.
Throughout the process, students learn appropriate conduct for themselves, other volunteers, supervisors and community members in a service learning experience. They consider the diversity and mutual respect required in the experience. And then they begin their service. They adjust and make changes to their plan as it is executed, just like we all must do in our work.
Students assess knowledge, skills and attitudes before, during and after the service experience, describing the effects of the service experience on their lives and evaluating their progress toward service goals and learning outcomes.
Students complete the civic experience. They report on their achievement of service and learning goals, and sum up their reflections in a final presentation to their peers and community.
We are working to integrate real student engagement learning in classrooms across the Seton Catholic Schools network so that students learn the difference between civic engagement and volunteering.
Seton Catholic Schools students learn the essential elements of improving their community through meaningful service, partnerships, links to curriculum, reflection, progress monitoring and youth voice. They learn the steps they will take—investigation, planning and preparation, action, reflection, demonstration and celebration.
We have a long way to go in this work, but with a growth mindset and providing opportunities for students to set their course in civic engagement, they will learn the power of engagement, rely on their faith and find their voice in their lives.
Seton Catholic Schools Participation in National School Walkout Day
St. Thomas Aquinas Academy hosted a Call for Peace prayer service in memory of all school violence victims. The 17-minute service included prayer, song, a Gospel reading and chalk signing on the playground where each student wrote their name as a pledge to promote positivity and inclusivity within their school. Students advocated for peace and reminded fellow students that violence is never the answer. Together, three eighth grade students created the hashtag #Our17, encouraging students to show love and compassion to fellow students over the next 17 days, recognizing that they themselves are responsible for making positive changes in their school.
St. Roman’s students dedicated a prayer service to the victims of school violence and discussed the trauma a tragedy like this could create within a school. Student council members remembered each of the 17 students and staff from the Florida school tragedy with a poster. Afterward, students released 17 balloons in memory of those who lost their lives.
Prince of Peace students gathered around a memorial of empty shoes, one pair for each of the students and staff who lost their life on February 14th in the Florida school tragedy. A prayer was read in honor of each life and a brief description of each person was read to the group gathered.
To see photos of these peaceful school demonstrations, please see our Facebook page.