January 25, 2013

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Acts of love: Program helps students learn lessons in compassion and stewardship at an early age

Ken Lolla, head men’s soccer coach at the University of Louisville, speaks to fifth-through eighth-grade students at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville about “Finding Your Gifts,” also the title of his children’s book. Earlier, he spoke to second-graders. His talks were part of the school’s “Step by Step Stewardship” program. (Submitted photo)

Ken Lolla, head men’s soccer coach at the University of Louisville, speaks to fifth-through eighth-grade students at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville about “Finding Your Gifts,” also the title of his children’s book. Earlier, he spoke to second-graders. His talks were part of the school’s “Step by Step Stewardship” program. (Submitted photo)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

CLARKSVILLE—Even kindergartners are learning the meaning of “stewardship” at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville.

While most adults associate the term with the Sunday collection basket, these students are learning to share their own gifts and appreciate those of others.

The school is in the second year of a program called “Step by Step Stewardship.” It was created by a Louisville woman, Susan Reuter, 10 years ago in her own parish of St. Patrick. Copyrighted by Reuter in 2002, the program is now used in some form in many Catholic schools.

St. Anthony of Padua Parish has just less than 800 households, and its school has a preschool through eighth-grade enrollment of 300 students.

Jim Kenney, director of stewardship and development at St. Anthony Parish, explained that each grade level follows a specific theme throughout the school year, focusing on that subject in their studies and participating in a monthly Stewardship Friday.

At a recent Stewardship Friday, fourth-graders received first-hand experience of their focus topic—disabilities.

Volunteers staffed eight “disability stations” where the children experienced what it would be like to do daily activities without the use of various parts of their bodies. The stations represented hand impairment, back injury or paralysis, loss of ability to walk, loss of limbs, visual impairment, blindness, speech impairment, and hearing impairment or deafness.

At the hand impairment station, Christy Masters, mother of one of the fourth-grade students, Rylie, helped students put socks on their hands, one of which had a hole that allowed the use of only two fingers. The children then tried to do such tasks as open a medicine vial or peanut butter jar, use a can opener, tie shoelaces, button a shirt or write their names.

Fourth-grade student Samantha Thompson said the hand impairment station was “the hardest one of all, because you can only use two fingers and you can’t open anything at all. You would have to ask someone to help you.”

She said that if she saw a person with a disability, “I might want to help them, like open their water bottle or a door. They are different, but no one’s better than anyone else.”

At the back injury station, a student’s upper body was tied to a chair while he or she attempted to put on a sock and do other motions without moving from the waist, as though injured or paralyzed.

Monica Nokes, another fourth-grade student, thought the back injury station was the hardest. “I could use the sock aid with my hands and I could move my head,” she said, “but that’s all. If you were paralyzed, it would be hard to do everyday things that we usually do.”

Asked what the focus on disabilities has taught her, Monica said, “If someone looks different, you shouldn’t make fun of them, because basically they’re the same as us. They probably still like the same things as us.”

This year’s theme for St. Anthony kindergartners is that food is a gift from God, that some people do not have enough to eat, and that we should help the hungry. Their parents read a related book, Dewey’s Magical Sleigh by Brahm Wenger and Alan Green, and the children made Christmas care bags for needy children at an agency in Jeffersonville. Each bag contained a can of soup, juice and snacks.

In the first grade, children learned the difference between gifts that cost money and gifts that are “acts of love.” Their parents read and discussed Pearl Buck’s book Christmas Day in the Morning.

In November, the first-graders spent time with less fortunate children at a neighboring Head Start program, where they gave out books, played games and sang songs. In December, they made holiday cards for the same children and sent them books and photos of their visit.

Second-graders heard a talk by Ken Lolla, men’s soccer coach at the University of Louisville, on “Finding Your Gifts.” Lolla has written a children’s book by that title about inclusiveness and appreciation of the differences of others. Before Christmas, these students of teachers Jennifer Kelly and Janet Marlin participated in a “Bags of Blessing” canned food drive.

“The stewardship program has provided our second-grade students an opportunity to take an active role as members of our community in reaching out to those in need,” Marlin said. “Through the well-planned monthly activities and the Christian witness of the adult volunteers, the children are learning some of the most important lessons of life. The program has truly helped my students to know what Church is all about.”

Kelly agreed. “The second-graders have gained perspective about hunger and sharing their blessings with others,” she said. “They demonstrated such pride as they read daily announcements over the intercom and as the number of donated food items grew.”

This year, third-grade students and their parents studied the changes that come with aging, including wrinkles, gray hair and dentures. During a role-playing exercise, the children acted as doctors while parent volunteers were elderly patients with such problems as cataracts and varicose veins.

Third-grade teacher Nancy McGarvey also praised the program. “Through their many letters, craft projects, and especially their visit to an assisted living facility, these students have become aware of the signs of aging,” she said. “I believe this program has made a significant, positive change in the way these children view the elderly.”

So far, “Step by Step Stewardship” is in place in St. Anthony’s kindergarten through fourth grade, and Kenney is introducing it to an additional grade each year. At present, he organizes 15 to 25 volunteers for the program every month.

On a recent Stewardship Friday, students in grades five through eight, although not yet part of the Step by Step program, heard a talk by Lolla, who explained that people who are different also have talents and gifts to share.

“Everyone benefits from the gifts of everyone else,” the coach told them. “God wants your light, your gift to shine.”

(Patricia Happel Cornwell is a freelance writer and member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon.)

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