Reflecting on Education & Praying it Forward
"Today we pray for Maggie, Deacon, and James. May they know their worth in this world is not dependent upon the amount of knowledge they can retain, their score on a test, or their GPA. May they always know their worth comes from above, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in opportunities they are given through Him, and in how they respond to them. May they take these God-given gifts and talents, along with the opportunity of education to make themselves the best they can be, to go forth and live out their talents in greatness for love of you, and through that, in love of others. May they measure their worth in moments of love, the smallest of which often have the biggest value." This was the prayer I opened our school with as we ended our first academic year. It is a prayer for our small, but fierce student body of three. As the first year of our little school came to a close, I had a lot of discussions with our students about what I hope they learned this past year, and their hopes for the future.
As students were preparing their final presentation of learning for my History of Christian Civilization class, two of them were begging me to just give them a normal final exam with multiple choice, short answer, and fill-in-the-blank questions. I continue to tell them that knowledge of information is just a small part of the purpose of education, that what is much more important in school, but really in life, is what you do with that knowledge. The assignment included an analysis of the entire year of our course through their strengths of character. They were to reflect on how they struggled, grew, and accomplished in academia through the skills that will last beyond these four years. And this is hard for them. The easy road is one with a concrete right or wrong, a definition, knowledge easily scored by a scantron or rubric. Life isn’t so easy though, and neither are the skills that will bring fulfillment in life. I am pushing them into metacognition, and reflecting on all of their learning, how they faced it with character, how it helped them to become a better person, for I’m teaching people, not a subject. My success as a teacher, lies not in the history books, but in the impact of my relationship with each student and how it will change their lives. I know, in my heart, that God has paved a path in my life, leading me to this very spot at Father Capodanno High School. I was an apathetic but disciplined student in middle and high school, doing what was expected, not what was inspiring. My discipline earned me a spot on the honor roll and admission to every state school in Texas, but little love of learning or curiosity. I was a strong athlete and held the school record (at what was once the largest high school in the country) in the mile and two mile for years after my graduation. I went on to college with similar apathy, but earned an art degree and built a dream to open an art studio for children and adults with disabilities. This dream gave me purpose, and with that purpose in mind, I went back to the classroom and became a special education teacher. I spent 8 years teaching students with various disabilities, but with a specialty in autism spectrum and behavior disorders. I built deep relationships with my students, their general education teachers, and their families. Every student I served taught me as much as I taught them. I was awarded the 2007 Exemplary Teacher of the Year in Austin Independent School District. My experience with students on the autism spectrum gave me a unique insight into the God-given talents instilled in each of us. These students have amazing talents, far beyond my abilities as an adult in some areas, and strong passions for particular things. These talents and passions were the key to success with them. In order to build relationships, foster engagement, and create motivation, using their talents and passions was crucial. When I demanded compliance, I would never get it, but when I started with why, filtered out all that was not crucial, and used their talents and passions as tools to engage, we found success. After 7 years away from the classroom to raise my children, Father Capodanno opened a new door, and invited me back into the schoolhouse. I know my apathetic high school and college experience, followed by a dream that gave my learning purpose, and insight into the power of talent and passion in a classroom have primed me to create a new dream for Moore County families: a dream of an educational experience that fosters passion, has deep purpose, and opens doors to a future of loving and serving God and others, and that dream comes true in Father Vincent Capodanno High School.
My hope for every student that will one day pass through Father Vincent Capodanno High School — that they may be prepared to take the knowledge and understanding of our world, the gifts and talents that have been bestowed upon them, and go forth to touch the hearts of those they encounter, not just at 18, but at 81, with strength of character. The skills we are harnessing are not simply preparing students for the challenges of college, or the critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, and creativity that managers are seeking in new employees. We are building the skills that will lead to a life of joy and authentic fulfillment. For this is what we all seek right? When asked what a parent wishes for their child, the common response is happiness. Unfortunately, our culture has mistaken material wealth, success, and achievement for happiness. I propose we aim a little higher and pray for joy for our children, and eternal life in heaven. As the Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. A wicked and evil man may have pleasure, while any ordinary mortal is capable of being happy. Pleasure generally comes from things, and always through the senses; happiness comes from humans through fellowship. Joy comes from loving God and neighbor. Pleasure is quick and violent, like a flash of lightning. Joy is steady and abiding, like a fixed star. Pleasure depends on external circumstances, such as money, food, travel, etc. Joy is independent of them, for it comes from a good conscience and love of God.” Our children deserve joy in life, independent of worldly possession, and this comes from being who God made us to be, not for ourselves but for love of God and neighbor. A life filled with true joy is the road to salvation, and this is our ultimate goal for every member of our school community. The gates to salvation are narrow and the path is not paved with perfect SAT scores, a college degree, a corner office, or a luxury car in the driveway. The path to heaven is paved in acts of love, positive relationships, and strong moral courage. Our school was formed because we believe that it is time to make a change in education, and that change starts with parents. So parents, take a moment, and step into the future for your child. When it comes to the ends of their lives, what words do you want spoken in their eulogy? How do you pray your child will live, not now, but throughout their lives? Personally, I pray that my children will know and live the truths in the prayer opening this blog. Are our children living lives that will lead them to eternal salvation and are they learning how to do that at their school? At our school, we care more about the heart and soul of every student, and potential student, than we do about tests scores and tuition. Whether your child comes to our school or not we pray this prayer for them as well, for it is what every student deserves! If this speaks to your heart as a parent, call me and let’s have coffee and discuss the joy your child can find through our school!