January 26, 2018

2018 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

‘Team Jesus’ approach proves to be a big hit for school

The smiles of Kaelen Hauersperger, left, Adylin Cox, Kaylen Cox, Brooklyn Woods, Eliza Kreutzjans and Drew Spurlock reflect their support for “Team Jesus,” the approach that guides students and staff members during this school year at St. Mary School in North Vernon. (Submitted photo)

The smiles of Kaelen Hauersperger, left, Adylin Cox, Kaylen Cox, Brooklyn Woods, Eliza Kreutzjans and Drew Spurlock reflect their support for “Team Jesus,” the approach that guides students and staff members during this school year at St. Mary School in North Vernon. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The “aha” moment came for Lisa Vogel as the Catholic school principal dealt with two students who were constantly arguing on the playground a year ago.

Trying to find a way to change their attitudes, Vogel suddenly heard herself telling them, “We’re all on the same team. We’re all on Team Jesus!”

Just as soon as she said those last two words, Vogel knew she had the theme that she hoped would guide the students, the teachers, the staff and herself at St. Mary School in North Vernon during this current school year.

So on the first day of school in August, she gathered everyone in a big huddle—“because that’s what teams do,” she says—and shared the theme of “Team Jesus.”

Trying to add a concrete symbol to that theme, Vogel showed everyone that day a huge sports bag normally used for storing and carrying baseball bats. Then she asked the students what they should put into the bag to represent Team Jesus. Soon, a Bible was placed into the bag. So was a crucifix. Then a rosary.

Vogel also told everyone that one of the things that teammates often do is give “high fives” to each other, so she encouraged everyone to adopt that practice too.

“I told them that each of the five fingers represents one of the words I wanted them to say to each other—‘I am here for you,’ ” Vogel recalls. “So when they see someone struggling on the playground or in the classroom, they should just offer them a high-five and they’ll know you are there for them.”

That practice has caught on at the school. Teachers high-five students. Students high-five students. And teachers high-five teachers.

“I love seeing our team having each other’s backs,” Vogel says.

That caring for each other has extended to a concern for others—a concern that’s reflected in the school’s monthly service projects that are led by a different class each month.

The eighth-grade class organized a collection of new and used shoes for the people of Haiti. The seventh-grade students went to the three Catholic cemeteries in Jennings County, grooming some of the gravesites and placing the silk flower arrangements that they had made on some of the graves.

When each service project has been completed, each class has put a symbol of their efforts into the Team Jesus baseball bat bag. So the eighth graders added a pair of flip-flops in there. And the seventh graders placed one of their flower arrangements in the bag.

The efforts for Team Jesus have left their mark on the students.

Fifth-grader Charlie Taylor confesses that he really didn’t think much about the concept of Team Jesus when Vogel initially shared it, but he saw the difference the approach made when his father, Brian, went into a hospital to receive a heart transplant. His classmates rallied around him and another fifth-grader whose mother is battling cancer. The class focused its monthly service project on raising money to help school families reeling from such concerns.

“I like that it helps people who need it,” Charlie says.

Third-grader Aubree Crane shares how her class built a “rosary walk” on the lawn of the school during October—the month of the rosary—creating and coloring pictures that showed the beads and the mysteries of the rosary. Then each class in the school used the rosary walk daily to pray at least a decade for others.

“I thought it was a really good idea—and a good opportunity to pray for people who need it,” Aubree says. “I think it’s a good way to get closer to God, and do better things.”

That’s exactly what Vogel wants for everyone on Team Jesus. And sometimes the blessings of that approach come in ways that surprise even her.

“Before Christmas, I was a little distracted walking down the hall, and this second-grader was coming toward me,” she recalls. “As she approached me, she had her hand in the air, and she said, ‘I am here for you, Mrs. Vogel.’ And she gave me a high-five.

“I said to myself, ‘I think we’re getting this.’

“I want my students to have empathy for everyone. Jesus loved everyone. I want my students to not just love their best friends, but to love everyone.” †

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