Sacred Heart School sharing Catholic social teaching through yearlong projects

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, February 12, 2012

On Veteran’s Day 2011, a former Marine stood before Megan Garza’s second grade class at Sacred Heart School, 2926 E. 96th St., and began discussing his two tours of duty in Iraq. He described the challenges of being overseas, away from one’s family and having slim communication with loved ones stateside.

Garza watched as her students fixed their young eyes on the Marine, hanging on his every word and sympathizing with his plight, all of which served a fitting tie-in to the class’ month-long effort collecting writing and communication supplies to send to U.S. soldiers serving overseas.

“Collecting the supplies made his words that much more powerful,” Garza said of the Marine’s presentation. “The kids could understand the real impact of what they were doing.”

Garza’s class project is among a number of community outreach projects activated by students at the South Side school, all of them rooted in the seven principles of Catholic social teaching: respect the dignity of all people; promote the family and community; protect basic human rights; work for the common good; honor the dignity of work; practice solidarity; and care for God’s creations.

Lessons in action

The faith-inspired class projects are the brainchild of first-year Sacred Heart principal Steve Adams, who was motivated to connect student’s in-class curriculum to Catholic social teaching and community outreach.

While working at a South Side public high school on behalf of the St. Sabina Youth Ministry program, Adams helped create an inschool peace council and armed students with the tools to diffuse volatile situations and spark respectful resolutions.

“You could see a real impact in the kids,” Adams said. “They could see that they could create real change versus just talking about it.”

When Adams was appointed Sacred Heart principal in mid- 2011, he looked to activate a similar game plan, confident that providing hands-on activity would allow Sacred Heart’s 140 students to see the full power of their actions.

He challenged teachers at each grade level to fashion a community outreach project that embodied the principles of Catholic social teaching.

“More than reading, talking and discussing, I wanted our students to live out their discipleship,” Adams said.

Projects with a purpose

In addition to the efforts of Garza’s class, members of Rosann Ramos’ fifth-grade class crafted and delivered homemade Christmas cards to residents of the nearby Villa Guadalupe senior living community on 91st Street. Other completed projects this school year have addressed leukemia and hunger, including a student council- led effort that, for one day, turned Sacred Heart into a food pantry for local residents.

And, as 2012 unfolds, more projects will follow.

“The idea is for our students to be active disciples in their community and in the world,” Adams said. “It’s important our students live out what Jesus taught us about being loving and caring to one another.”

Much as Jesus fed the poor, healed the sick and brought injustices to light — actions that provide the foundation for Catholic social teaching — Adams wanted his students to embrace discipleship as a natural part of their lives.

“The Lord has a plan for them and they’re on this earth for a purpose — to build the kingdom of God,” Adams said. “That’s a lesson we hope they take with them after they leave Sacred Heart’s doors.”

Beyond inspiring lifelong habits, Adams hopes the community outreach projects teach students they can make a difference in spite of the investments of time, money and energy that come with following Jesus’ example. He says doing so remains among the most important missions of Catholic education.

“If we don’t develop discipleship and encourage our children to be active in the Lord’s work, then what will it mean for the future?” Adams asked.