Beth Jerome, eighth grade teacher and assistant principal at Holy Cross Catholic School, believes deeply in her faith. She believes faith and education are essential to student success and stability. At the core of this stability is community, Mrs. Jerome shares with heartfelt certainty, and is best found, nurtured and supported through a Catholic education, one that continues into a faith-based high school.
Eighth grade is the last grade for Holy Cross students; they begin high school in ninth. As the eighth grade teacher Mrs. Jerome knows her kids have a choice to make—do they continue in a Catholic school or transfer to the public system. “Though many of my students have attended Holy Cross for most of their education,” explains Mrs. Jerome, “It’s a battle to keep them in the Catholic system. It’s often more cost effective to simply switch to a public school. However, parents believe their student has a solid base in faith formation from grade school and so the decision has to be made.”
Mrs. Jerome knows that choices kids will face in high school can be overwhelming. “Yet through faith,” Ms. Jerome shares, “These choices will be easier to navigate.” The obstacles to enrolling in a Catholic high school however, are significant. Fortunately, Mrs. Jerome is committed to chipping away at them, one obstacle at a time.
One of her commitments is to educate parents. “Many of our parents are unfamiliar with the application system in high school,” explains Ms. Jerome. “I provide Catholic high school options. I help them understand financial aid is available. And I encourage them to learn about application deadlines and meet them.”
"Catholic education has impacted my life in many ways. One of the ways that it has impacted my life by helping me to appreciate all of the gifts that God has given me. No matter how small or big those things are in life, we should appreciate everything. This year has really impacted my way of seeing all the advantages this school has given me and my family. I really appreciate how everyone here has supported me by providing many benefits that no other school would have given me. All my teachers have had a great impact on me with my Catholic education and have helped me become a better person. This school helped me to learn to appreciate many other things that I wouldn't have learned somewhere else. I am truly grateful that my parents made my education a priority, and sent me to a Catholic school."
Ms. Jerome also works with her students, lining up opportunities for kids to shadow at Catholic schools around Kansas City. In addition, she has initiated high school placement test preparation on a weekly basis. And every day in eighth grade she drills her kids on the work and study ethic they’ll need for a higher education. Clearly, she understands students face a mountain of challenges—such as how do kids from Kansas City’s northeast neighborhoods get to outlying schools. Mrs. Jerome points out, “Transportation is a huge issue for our families as many of our parents work long days.” Yet she believes her students truly want the opportunity. They want to continue shaping their future in a school grounded in faith and spirit.
One of Ms. Jerome’s students, Yulissa Cabrera, confirms this belief with eloquence. “No matter how small or big the gifts God has given me, we should appreciate everything.” (Read Yulissa’s full quote at above.) Ms. Jerome agrees. And she will do everything in her power to assure the gifts God gives to Yulissa are given to every student who seeks them.
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Bunnies in the classroom, eggshells on earth, and Dia de los Muertos all represent a pathway to God; they all offer an opportunity for Jennifer Cecena, our Lady of Hope middle school religion teacher, to talk about faith. Ms. Cecena is deeply committed to conveying the magnitude of faith to the young lives she has the responsibility of shaping. In addition, Ms. Cecena says with emotion, “I love talking about God.” She firmly believes her students do as well.
Having a safe place where God is part of the conversation provides her students a sense of security. And through these conversations youngsters and teachers become family. Ms. Cecena explains that many of her students have—though loving—hectic, irregular home lives. Parents often work multiple jobs; they work nights and weekends. “When they’re with us at school the kids have routine and routine provides great reassurance,” Ms. Cecena continues. “We’re always present. And by working in smaller groups we get to know each other.”
And they get to talk about God, Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe, topics not discussed in the public school system. “We tell them God is loving. God is forgiving,” Ms. Cecena explains. God is always present, even through death and tragedy, an assurance Ms. Cecena recently authenticated using the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos as the lesson.
Since August Ms. Cecena’s students worked on a family enrichment project, constructing shrines to a departed family member or loved one to be displayed at the school as part of the annual celebration with origins in Mexico. When the project was finished in late October, 70 alters were displayed through the halls of the school.
Though the project in itself was important, the true value came from the fact that it involved the help of parents or older family members who shared the memories. “Through this project everyone put lives on pause for a few minutes to think about loved ones lost,” shared Ms. Cecena. “By talking about death, students were able to talk about heaven, to know heaven is real.” One young man lost a brother to a drive-by shooting. Clearly, creating an alter did not erase the pain, yet it did provide an opportunity to add some light (through a candle) to his loss. It allowed emotions that were dark and scary to be transformed into something reassuring. “Creating the alters became part of the healing,” Ms. Cecena reflects.
And what do eggshells have to do with faith? “I tell my student’s we are eggshells on earth,” Ms. Cecena concludes “The spirit is what’s inside. And though eggshells can crack, the spirit can never break. It simply flows.” Faith will always flow, Ms. Cecena believes, including her own. Faith in God, herself as a teacher, and most importantly, the students she teaches.