Imagine sitting in a Starbucks, working on a project or quietly conversing with a colleague. Now consider that Starbucks located on the second floor of a Kansas City Catholic school, Our Lady of Hope and the project-workers are 7th graders who have learned “soft talk” when teasing out collaborative efforts. This is exactly the environment Our Lady of Hope Middle School teacher Dena Campbell envisioned for her classroom. And according to Dena, the idea is working. Success is partly due to her commitment and partly to the kids themselves. “They want this,” she confirms.
Dena spent the past summer scouring free Craig’s List ads, gathering together the table tops, chairs and white boards necessary to turn rows of desks into a coffee-shop style setting. Not only is the concept a stretch (in a good way!) for her students, it’s a stretch for Dena herself. She admits she likes her classroom set up in rows with everyone alphabetized by name. However, she also knows that for students to be ready for the 21st Century, they need 21st Century Skills. Three of them are collaboration, cooperation and creativity—concepts not encouraged through row-sitting.
Through the innovative classroom arrangement, the students themselves are finding imaginative pathways to confidence. They self-select their sitting groups. Though a youngster can’t be “kicked out” of a group, they can choose to opt out. However, if they do, and aren’t invited into another group, they’re still held responsible for a project’s completion. Their option is to work on it alone. Some do. Others realize they need to develop the skills Dena has identified as vital to their success—collaboration, cooperation and creativity.
Has the new approach made a difference in student’s performance, Dena is asked. She answers that yes, they’re getting through more of their reading material. Yet the biggest difference she notices isn’t as quantifiable. “They help each other, they seem to care more about each other,” she reflects. “And they’re willing to work through the challenges life will present them.” One of those challenges will always be that when you’re sitting around a table together, it’s good to figure out how to get along with the person sitting next to you.
Our Lady of Hope third grade teacher and track coach Kristin Goers, doesn’t have to say much when asked about her experiences at the school and how they have impacted her life, and the life of the kids she’s known over the years. Her face, lighting up in a smile, says it all. “There are so many experiences,” she explains. “I feel so fortunate. Being a coach is a big part of my life.” So is being a teacher. Kristin has taught at Our Lady of Hope for her entire, 12-year teaching career.
Kristin’s memories stretch back to her own school days when she was running track herself. And she recalls with obvious pride the youngsters she herself has coached over the years. She stays in touch with many of them, following their academic success while applauding their life decisions.
One young man (a fifth grader when she met him), Navardo, has an especially heartwarming story with an ending that is shaping up to be happy. The self-conscious youngster walked into her classroom after moving to the country from Jamaica. “His home life was challenging,” Kristin shared. Perhaps because she sensed he needed a friend, she became one. She also became his coach, though the coaching detoured through a football team.
Recognizing football as a sport with more likelihood for injury, Kristin encouraged him to pass. Navardo insisted, played in his first game and promptly broke his leg. Once it healed—with Kristin helping him get to and from home on his crutches—he joined the track team, and stayed there. “I get to form different relationships with the kids I coach,” she explained. As a coach her relationships often have more impact, more influence for good, for doing God’s work. She realizes how fortunate she is.
Navardo, after completing high school at Rockhurst, is now at Johnson County Community College on his way to a bright future. Kristin Goers couldn’t be more pleased.
by Diana Welsh-Struby, Chair, Bright Futures Fund
As I enjoy these early days of the fall season, I’m delighted—as always—to visit the schools Bright Futures supports and witness the fresh young faces of our diverse student populations. Yet I’m also reminded of all the faces that walked our halls in year’s past. We have such a deep, multi-generational tradition in our Catholic schools. Our beloved alumni are our most blessed legacy. As one of these alumni, I feel compelled to offer a few words of reflection.
We need to keep our connections strong. We need to honor where we’ve been; we need to remember, recognize and revere those who made it possible to be the loving communities of education, faith and hope that we are today.
Saint Stephens, Our Lady of Peace, Assumption, Saint Anthony, Saint Michaels and Holy Rosary were all—at one time—grand traditions of Catholic education. Today that tradition continues at Holy Cross. We are fortunate indeed to have Barbara Deane serve as the school’s principal.
As much as life has changed over the years, the abiding belief in the value of a Catholic education has remained at the core of so much good in our complicated world. Over the years Catholics such as ourselves have come from all over the world to settle in neighborhoods around Kansas City. At one time the area where Holy Cross is now located was a proud Italian community brimming with proud Italian families. The roots of many of today’s Catholic families—such as the Cosentino and Barreca families—first prayed and went to school and came together as community in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood. Yes, we all come from somewhere and as we assimilate, we also seek to maintain the culture that deeply defines us.
We must work hard to maintain our Catholic culture and traditions. As the new school year gets underway, I encourage all of us to remember the grand traditions of years gone by and to thank those who led the way to the beloved Church we are today.
"Please let me know if you’d like to join an informal group of alumni who attended Our Lady of Hope or one of the other loving, caring Catholic Schools that nurtured our community for so many years."
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,