When Students Teach by Michael Best

Two days removed from yet another act of evil to befall an innocent school, I sit on the K6 bus bound for my own school, Saint Francis International listening to my news podcast. Debate is ensuing over how to respond to more violence in our culture. However, what I hear is certainly not productive. One side questions the other’s humanity, they respond by questioning the other’s sanity. I’ve always believed that the simplest answer is always the best, but my stop has arrived. The pause button is hit, and the kids arrive. Further reflection will have to wait.

Recess!
“We as people of faith must learn to love and be joyful in the present moment, as children are.”

It is Friday, thus the day begins with 3rd grade math. The window presents an image of dark and gloomy clouds hanging low over our school community. What a parallel to our larger society. While I prepare on the fly to teach the lesson, another part of my mind thinks about my recess duty later today. Inside or out, and how to cover the four classes? Finally, it is time to teach. As is their habit, the class applauded when they hear it is I who will teach them today; the first act of joy. The lesson goes off without a hitch. They multiply thousands by sixes and sevens and compare which is greater with sublime swiftness. I say without a hitch, except for the one girl who outsmarted me, by finding a second “Math hack” to add to the one I already taught. Smiles are all around by now. The day continues.

Some classes went outside, some stayed in so I venture to first grade. As I sit down to supervise while the teacher leaves for a break, one boy decides to turn into a magnet. He will not get out of my face until I sing “Let it Go” from Frozen. Despite my not knowing the lyrics, and the 55 degree weather not being quite so fitting for that song, they demand I sing. So I sing what I know, an old simple bluegrass number. Eyes light up, and there are wide smiles regardless. I’m rewarded by three kids petting my hair, along with an airplane sticker and bear hug from one of the girls. In that moment, my thoughts from earlier that morning, begin to find answers.

The recently beatified Solanus Casey is clear about how life ought to be lived, “We must be faithful to the present moment.” The kids of SFIS know and live this reality. They do not see the anger and vitriol happening just outside the door, but choose to imbibe the joy happening here and now. The ability to get more out of math class, the soul brightened by song, or the simple joy getting to put a sticker on your teacher’s forehead. They can see the innate good in people, and in society arguably better than anyone.

How then can we solve the problems of this world? Simple; the Gospel of Matthew calls us to “Change and become like little children”. They are sacramental personifiers of that innocence, love, and joy which is God Himself. Which is why it hurts that much more when any violence befalls even a single child. We as people of faith must learn to love and be joyful in the present moment, as children are. It is the only way that we will efficaciously be the light for the world that we are called to be. May this be our prayer, and work this Lent.

Michael Best
Michael Best is in his 2nd year of service with Cap Corps. Last year he worked at SOME – So Others Might Eat, and currently works at St. Francis Int’l School in Student Support Services.
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A Different Kind of Service Year

Serving at Don Bosco Cristo Rey has been a unique year of service opportunity. Typically, when one thinks of a year of service, they envision direct contact with the poor and the homeless; working at a soup kitchen, working in a donations center, or another ministry akin to those. However, at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program, there is not that same feel. I am working in an office setting, wearing a shirt and tie every day. One must look deeper than the surface to see the service being done here. The students with whom I have had the pleasure of working with this year are extraordinary. Don Bosco is a low income high school, but our students do not let financial setbacks define who they are, but instead use it as a catalyst to take advantage of the college preparatory education presented to them at Don Bosco.

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Cap Corps Volunteer, John Sorice, and Ana Chapa, Director of the Corporate Work Study Program, with the statue of school patron, St. John Bosco.

Don Bosco is a part of a 30 school nationwide Cristo Rey network. Being a low income high school, students must demonstrate a financial need to attend. To offset the cost of tuition, students participate in the work study program, through which they work a corporate job 5 days a month. After first learning about the mission of Don Bosco, I did not really understand how high school students could work in the corporate world, or at what types of companies they would be working. However, not long after being here, I quickly realized that our students contribute real work to real law firms, government agencies, accounting firms, and many other businesses across the Washington D.C. metro area. In my position as a Program Assistant in the Corporate Work Study Office, I am constantly able to engage with the students. Seeing them in school, at work, and during their afterschool activities has given me a deep appreciation for what it means to be a member of the Don Bosco family. At a placement like Don Bosco, it is easy to be content with the plethora of paperwork and excel spreadsheets that need to be completed. At times, it can be difficult to see the service. However, there are so many opportunities to engage in the service at Don Bosco if you are open to taking advantages of the opportunities presented. Throughout the course of the year, I volunteered to chaperone the homecoming dance and prom. I volunteered as a baseball coach, and played in the school futbal league. These opportunities to engage with the students outside of the classroom and work environment helped me to develop a relationship with the students built on trust and mutual respect, which truly reflect the Salesian approach to education.

When making the decision to participate in a service program, you expect to make a difference in the lives of those you serve. However, my experience here at Don Bosco has felt a bit backwards. It is difficult to appreciate the impact you are having on young lives while volunteering, I am confident this is something I will be able to reflect upon once my service year is complete. However, what I feel on a daily basis is the positive impact that each one of my students is having on me. Despite their financial circumstances, their home lives, or the obstacles they face each day to succeed, the students of Don Bosco Cristo Rey come to school and work with an incredibly positive outlook on life. Their ability to thrive when people have told them they cannot has pushed me to be a better person, and to appreciate the gifts and talents I have been blessed with. I cannot imagine my year of service anywhere other than Don Bosco, and am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of a school tasked with a mission to change lives.

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John Sorice graduated from Villanova University and worked at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School as a Cap Corps Volunteer for the 2015-2016 Volunteer Year. He supported students directly in their roles at work, providing mentoring and guidance, as well as communication with supervisors. He was offered a position at the end of his service year and is currently on staff at the high school.