January 27, 2017

2017 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Teacher’s creative class helps students overcome challenges in life

Emily Denton strives to give her students at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis “a sense that we’re all on this journey together, and we are here to care for each other.” Here, she works alongside Owen DeLaney. (Submitted photo)

Emily Denton strives to give her students at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis “a sense that we’re all on this journey together, and we are here to care for each other.” Here, she works alongside Owen DeLaney. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Emily Denton views Catholic education as having a simple purpose: “To pursue academic excellence and to follow the model of Christ in all that we do.”

What has always amazed Denton during her 11 years of Catholic teaching are “the incredible things that can be accomplished when guided by this simple purpose.”

In that spirit, Denton created “Challenge Box” for her junior high students at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis.

“Challenge Box is a 30-minute period, during Friday’s religion class, when students can anonymously submit questions, thoughts or challenges to a shoebox to be discussed,” Denton explains. “During this time, we move all the desks to the edges of the classroom and sit in a circle. After reading aloud a ‘challenge’ submitted by a student, I give my own advice and then open it up to the other students to offer their advice or thoughts on the situation.”

It’s become an experience, Denton says, when she’s seen her students, “who can seem so tough and independent at times, open up about their biggest insecurities and offer sincere advice to others who are struggling.”

Challenge Box has also led to one of the most rewarding teaching moments for Denton, a finalist for the 2016 Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for an educator in the archdiocese.

“A student had submitted the following question: ‘What is the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to you?’

“The students took a while to think about this, and gradually almost all of their hands went up. A couple of students mentioned a coach who had said something they never forgot, and others talked about compliments from family members. Then a girl, who had transferred to our school mid-year due to a move, raised her hand.

“She said, ‘I don’t know exactly what the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me is, but I know it’s something that’s been said here in the last few weeks. This is the first time I’ve had people who I know are my real friends.’

“Her classmates’ faces were beaming, and a couple of the girls blurted out that they were so glad she was here. It was one of those moments when I could just step back from the class and watch them take care of each other as a community. I see the effects of Challenge Box. I hope that it gives my students a sense that we’re all on this journey together, and we are here to care for each other.” †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!