Dancing isn’t for everyone. Sashing to a beat takes a certain amount of confidence, coordination and self-assurance. So when a young student at Holy Cross, sweet yet somewhat socially-unsure, stood up in front of a crowd of 50 potential donors and offered his personal, impassioned testimony for his love of dance, Barbara Deane took, the school’s principal, took notice. “I’d never heard this youngster utter more than ten words,” she shared, “and here he was speaking articulately in front of a roomful.” Perhaps dancing isn’t for everyone. But for that particular young man, it was life-changing.
To dance is to take a risk, Deane explained. In fact when she first introduced, Take the Stage, an educational outreach program of the Owen Cox Dance troupe, her middle school students were horrified. The prospect of getting it wrong kept them from enjoying the process at all. “The younger kids however,” Deane continued, “were all over it.” Learning to dance equates to learning body awareness, cultivating confidence.
For the past three years Take the Stage, engages fourth and second grade students at both Holy Cross and Our Lade of Hope in an innovative curriculum which encourages discipline, develops self-confidence and helps youngsters discover their unique and creative talents.
“If not necessarily a life-changer,” Deane concludes, “It’s definitely been a life-enhancer for middle schoolers.”
Typically second grade Holy Cross students show up the first day of school knowing how to read, having mastered their know-how the year before. One young boy didn’t. A reserved, quiet youngster, the little tyke, nevertheless, was the first student to reach out to the school’s new reading mentor, approaching her with a book of his choice and then sitting down to read the words out loud. The book was Clifford the Big Red Dog. The mentor was Addy, a Labrador retriever mix.
Barbara Deane, principal, had been interested in the benefits of dogs to soothe anxiety while encouraging student participation for a number of years, but had never had the opportunity to have a dog on staff. Two months ago the right dog showed up with the right credentials.
Shelley Henn, second grade teacher, heard about “Puppies for Parole”—a program for rescue dogs trained by prison inmates. With the responsibility of having a dog to share their limited space, the prisoners taught their four-legged cellmates to be adaptable, attentive, and—most importantly—patient. Once Shelley visited Holy Cross’ prospective pup, she know it was meant to be. Addy was bundled into her car and arrived for work in the classroom the very next day.
According to Ms. Deane, “Addy is available for hugs, ball-toss games at recess, and especially reading.” The classroom includes a reading chair which Addy sits near when she's ready to work. When she needs a break, instead of heading for the teachers’ lounge, she simply lies down on the floor. When she does, the kids respect her need for rest, just as Addy respects their eagerness and enthusiasm when they sit by her side with a book—and sometimes her fur—in hand.
Even reading-adverse middle school students line up to read with Addy. Though the typically self-conscious kids will do anything to keep from reading in public—a responsibility they’re occasionally asked to fulfill at Mass—they seem more open to the idea when they get a chance to practice with Addy.
“Another terrific side effect of having a reading dog,” Ms. Deane chuckles, “is that we're having a lot of requests for books about dogs!”
When first time efforts equate to big time success, kids jump up and down. Parents cry. Teachers feel a deep sense of satisfaction in work well done.
This past April, seven science projects from Holy Cross School were accepted to compete in the Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Festival. Not every entry makes the cut. Those that do are typically entered by teachers from schools that have—for years—participated in the festival and support their students’ efforts with hefty science-focused budgets, and resources provided by families with sizable means. However, sometimes the little schools win and students with first-time entries receive accolades they never expected.
Not only did five of the seven entries from Holy Cross win Silver awards (two students shared a bronze), two young ladies, Yulissa Cabrera and Viviana Calderon—partners on their physics and astronomy project—won gold, and a purple rosette ribbon. The purple rosette award automatically qualified them in the Broadcom MASTERS®, an international science and engineering competition sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation. This alone is a tremendous honor. The competition is open to sixth, seventh and eighth graders around the world and only the top ten percent of science fair projects are selected. After learning of their win, Yulissa and Viviana were elated. Wendy McKellar, their teacher, was profoundly proud.
Yet the biggest winner was hope itself. By stepping up to the challenge, preparing an application, refining their project once the preliminary application was accepted, and entering their idea as one of thousands, the young students realized they can accomplish great things if they want it hard enough and then go after what they want. According to McKellar, “Putting together science projects takes a lot of energy. Yet the kids themselves owned their efforts, they owned their learning. When they realized the responsibility was all theirs, they took charge of the work. I was simply the guide on the side.”
McKellar concludes by reflecting on her students, “They are so sweet, so humble. Their families—though not necessarily able to support their children through financial funding—provided something even more essential. They believed in their children’s future, that education is a pillar of that future, and that where you come from is not where you’re going.” Yet where they come from—Holy Cross—a school grounded in love of family, school, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the best to come from they could have hoped for.
As we prepare for our School Bell Breakfast, Bright Futures Fund’s annual end-of-school fundraiser, I want to share my appreciation for all of you in support of all we do for Kansas City kids. When I walk through the halls of the schools we support I see smiles a mile-wide, I witness bouncy enthusiasm in youngsters talking about their school day, I meet teachers sighing with satisfaction. Walking those halls always confirms for me that together we’re doing God’s work.
As the Director of Stewardship and Development for Bright Futures Fund, I am fortunate to be in the position to help connect opportunities to need. Yet our work is only possible through you, our steadfast donors, volunteers and champions for children. Your commitment creates the foundation for everything Bright Futures Fund is able to achieve.
Over the months ahead, I invite you to join me in an ongoing conversation about how we are connecting to the children at Holy Cross and Our Lady of Hope. I’ll share stories of connecting through compassion, educational innovations, mentors, and as always, the Gospel. This monthly blog is one example. Let’s stay connected. Let’s share the stories that continue to warm our hearts.
Looking forward to continuing our mission to introduce faith in learning,