January 27, 2012

2012 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Little Flower students look to Jesus to become servant leaders

Kindergarten students at Little Flower School in Indianapolis pose on Jan. 4 with pajamas that they donated to charity. All grades at the Indianapolis East Deanery school are finding service organizations to partner with to help the students learn to be servant leaders. (Submitted photo)

Kindergarten students at Little Flower School in Indianapolis pose on Jan. 4 with pajamas that they donated to charity. All grades at the Indianapolis East Deanery school are finding service organizations to partner with to help the students learn to be servant leaders. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

When the faculty and staff at Little Flower School in Indianapolis wanted to form their eighth-graders to be servant leaders, the choice for a role model for them was obvious.

Jesus Christ.

But in using the example of Jesus to help the students become good leaders, Little Flower principal Kevin Gawrys didn’t just look to Scripture and the Church’s teachings.

He also took advantage of the writings of Ken Blanchard, a secular author known for promoting effective methods of business leadership.

In his book, Lead Like Jesus, Blanchard argues that servant leadership is the most effective way to lead others in a common task, and that the best example of this form of leadership is found in Jesus Christ.

The past three eighth-grade classes at Little Flower School have taken a Catholic version of Lead Like Jesus developed by Owen Phelps and learned how to become better leaders in their school and to lay the foundation for being good leaders as teenagers and adults.

Gawrys meets with the eighth-graders once a month for an afternoon to study the leadership qualities of Jesus, and how they can use them in their everyday lives.

“I think most Catholic school [administrators and teachers] tell their eighth-graders, ‘Hey, you’re the leaders of the school. You’ve got to be the leaders,’ ” said Gawrys. “But we don’t always give them the tools to be the good ones. And this has really helped them understand that they are called to look out for everybody.

“Leadership is every time you have an interaction with another person.”

The leadership that Little Flower’s eighth-grade students show isn’t just in school-wide events such as Masses or athletic activities.

It happens in ordinary events in the classroom and the cafeteria.

“They’re more willing to include everybody in the classroom,” said Theresa Slaton, Little Flower’s

eighth-grade teacher. “I’ve seen a lot of inclusion and not leaving people out. At lunch, nobody ever sits by themselves. I’ve actually seen people get up on their own and move to a seat so someone didn’t have to sit alone at lunch.”

Wesley Moss, an eighth-grade student, appreciates the way that Lead Like Jesus has changed his and his classmates’ perspective on various aspects of their lives.

“I’ve noticed that we have become better leaders at home and at school, and even with people in day-to-day life outside of school,” Wesley said. “I’m more willing to watch my twin sisters or help them with homework.”

Little Flower’s faculty and staff have also started encouraging students at all grade levels to become servant leaders.

This occurred last September at the start of the academic year when Little Flower had a “service-a-thon” instead of a walk-a-thon to raise funds for the school. Students elicited pledges for the amount of hours they would give in service.

“It sends a whole new message,” Gawrys said. “I’m not going to go walk. I’m going to go do things for other people. That’s what we’re about here.”

And, starting this year, it’s what the whole school is about. Each grade at Little Flower is working to pair up with a service organization in the broader community.

The second-graders have reached out to the residents of St. Paul Hermitage, a retirement home and nursing home facility in Beech Grove.

Eighth-grade students have spent time volunteering at the Pratt-Quigley Food Pantry of the Indianapolis Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Wesley said that going to the pantry to meet and help people in need was more powerful than simply donating food items in order to be able to have the privilege of not wearing his school uniform.

“They’re really thankful that you’re there and willing to help them,” Wesley said. “When you do this, you feel more rewarded than getting out of uniform once.”

Sheila Gilbert, a member of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish and president of the national council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, sees great potential in the students giving of themselves in service to the community.

“What I hope it will do is create passionate hearts in them so that, when they see suffering, they’re going to be moved to try to do something about it,” Gilbert said. “They’re not going to be cold or indifferent.”

Gawrys shares Gilbert’s hopes.

“Our job is to change the world,” Gawrys said. “That seems like a huge thing, but I think these opportunities of service show them how to do it. They come back here realizing that they did it that day. They changed the world. They dealt with people and changed their world that day.”

(For more information about Little Flower School in Indianapolis, log on to www.littleflowerparish.org/school.)

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