Do you ever feel you might not be growing anymore? Does it sometimes concern you that you have been doing the same thing over and over again? Perhaps, like our division, it is time to dig a little deeper and find a way to step forward renewed and refreshed. The theme for our school year, You and Me, Stepping Forward in Mercy and Love, has been an open invitation for us to explore and reflect.
You can imagine that we would believe we already are a merciful and loving bunch of people, so when the Year of Mercy was declared, we had to revisit our belief and discover the ways in which we could stretch and challenge ourselves — all students and staff.
The first order of business was to recognize that this would be both a public and personal journey. We know very well the tried and tested motto, “Together Everyone Achieves More — TEAM,” and truly believed this would be our way of attacking the development of the activities and celebrations related to our theme. We had to take a step back and allow for each individual to come to know themselves better in terms of their capacity for mercy and love. Could we each offer mercy to the “least of our brothers”? Could we show love for those who didn’t seem to offer love in return?
In order to “step forward” we needed to find ways to enrich or enhance our daily experience. We already have many practices that show we are kind and caring and that we demonstrate mercy in our lives. Where would we find a way to offer someone something expecting nothing in return? Soon we were gifted with a few opportunities!
Our Catholic community in Weyburn partnered with other denominations and public entities to sponsor a number of Syrian refugee families. To date, three families have come to make Weyburn their home. We have supported their arrival and settlement with a collection of household items. We have attended and volunteered at fundraising events. Our youth welcomed them at Christmas by carolling at and delivering groceries to their homes. Some of our families volunteer to drive the them to the Sunday masses celebrated at St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
The father of twin boys enrolled in our system had the following to share with local media: “Even during the Christmas holidays . . . school officials reached out to them. Mike and Alex, who speak English, were prepared to begin classes when the Christmas break came to a close and are enrolled at St. Michael School . . . it’s like the entire community are prepared to help us, and they did everything possible thing that someone dreamed about it, it was offered to us. I doubt there is anything better.”
Another example took place right on our school grounds. Buddy benches were introduced to each of the schools. When a child is feeling left out or alone, they take a seat on the bench. Very quickly it seems, another student joins them there offering to chat or join in some form of play together. The creation of a dedicated space has helped to reduce the number of students experiencing that struggle at recess and increased the caring and compassionate nature of our children.
The schools in all four communities, Estevan, Weyburn, Radville and Wilcox, have generously offered Good News stories to be published on the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association website each month of the school year. These publications are filled with examples of our students and staff living out the theme.
A fall 2016 submission from Sacred Heart/Sacré Coeur in Estevan tells of the legacy project the Grade 7 and 8 students have undertaken. Throughout the autumn months, 39 youngsters were meeting weekly with 17 seniors residing in a local nursing home to learn of their stories of joy and struggle. Sometimes there would be laughter, sometimes tears. In the end, the students learned what it was to face all of the new beginnings our senior citizens have experience.
They have developed a love for learning personal and historical information. They celebrated by creating keepsake photobooks for their partners to cherish. The organizing teachers “the students have learned of the legacy and impact one person and their story can have on another and how acts of love, mercy and compassion can tear down stereotypes and create an atmosphere of friendship.”
A final example of a stretch or challenge comes with a focus on self-regulation. Holy Family RCSSD #140 has begun the process of “diving deeper” into learning. We are striving to produce high-functioning, successful and productive citizens for this 21st century. We are generating learning experiences that help our students to recognize the skills and abilities needed to accomplish all tasks in life, whether for work or for pleasure. We are focusing on the value of knowledge but also on the skills of being creative, collaborative and a critical thinker.
In order to do so, we needed to step back and discover how it is that we prepare ourselves to engage fully in each task presented. We needed to determine how we each individually deal with distractions and frustrations which can block progress.
We began by focusing on mindfulness and then participated in profiling ourselves, both students and staff. We have now been able to manipulate environments and routines to offer a place where self-regulation is real and achievable. Doing so is a true act of mercy and love, because what is good for you may not be good for me.
We have identified strategies that are acceptable in gathered learning spaces and have supported our people in using what suits them best by managing well the use and limiting the disturbance to others.
“When we offer each other a merciful mind and heart, we no longer experience envy or frustration. We give each other the space and time needed to best prepare for any experience or opportunity coming our way,” shares a staff member.
We have indeed found ourselves growing and changing our ways of doing things over the course of the year. We have “stepped forward” by dedicating our efforts to finding ways to improve our actions mercifully and in loving kindness. We don’t believe we are doing the “same old, same old,” but instead are creating new ways to offer one another support and compassion on our journey.
Colquhoun is the religion/curriculum co-ordinator for Holy Family Roman Catholic School Division.