By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Every year, beginning the last Monday in January, Catholic schools nationwide celebrate their strengths: students, teachers, families, academics, faith and service. Teachers plan activities for their students that integrate the year’s theme with learning and fun.
St. Patrick’s School in Kansas City planned the entire week around this year’s theme – Catholic Schools: Faith, Academics, Service. According to Principal Julie Hess, the teachers met to plan integrating the theme. The faculty is comprised of collaborative teaching groups, and each group chose different days for their particular activities.
Using the concept of school families, where eighth graders serve as “heads of families” and one student from each of the lower grades become family members, the groups of “teachers” and “students” went across grades, she said.
On Jan. 30, Faith-based Academics Day, groups of fifth through eighth graders taught Kindergarten through fourth graders about different aspects of Catholicism. Through “faith exploration stations” in different classrooms, the students explored Christian music though the ages, the sacraments, the rosary, the Vatican, historic church architecture, Noah’s Ark and played Pilgrimage Jeopardy. The topics were all researched by the older students, with the help of their teachers, and presented to the younger students along with an activity designed to make the learning experience memorable.
That morning, about a dozen younger students gathered in the Science classroom and listened attentively as Linhthu Nguyen, Vincent Palmentere, Anuradha Jayakody, Will Benson, Anna Palmentere and Vu Nguyen spoke about the Vatican and artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, with photos and highlights shown on the wall via a PowerPoint presentation.
St. Peter’s Basilica, the church that is the image of the Vatican, was fortified and repaired by Pope St. Leo IV, who dedicated and blessed the church in 854 A.D. Some experts consider 854 A.D., to be the founding date of the modern Vatican, the older students said. The Leonine Walls still encompass part of Vatican City, an independent city-state in Rome, the capital of Italy. The Vatican is the heart of the Catholic Church.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, a 16th century artist, was hired to paint murals on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, adjacent to St. Peter’s. He painted 300 scenes from the Book of Genesis, a work that took him 40 years to complete. In order to paint the ceiling, the artist designed and constructed his own scaffolding and lay on his back while working, the presenters said.
A short quiz followed the presentation.
Q. What is the name of the church in Vatican City?
A. (After some confusion and whispering among the younger students, hands began waving furiously.) “St. Peter’s.”
Q. Who knows the name of our pope?
A. “Benedictine!” (The answer was considered close enough.)
Several older students then brought out large yellow trash bags, in which holes had been cut for arms and heads. The trash bags were to serve as paint smocks as the younger students were going to paint a la Michelangelo.
At one end of the classroom three tables had been dragged closer together, and the older kids had taped pieces of paper to the tables’ undersides. The younger students were to lie beneath the tables and paint pictures from familiar Bible stories. Most chose Noah’s Ark.
When the paintings were dry, they were hung on the ceiling in the hallway outside the science room.
After lunch, a group of younger students sat quietly in Mrs. Kelly’s kindergarten classroom to listen to Aiden Decker, Taylor O’Sullivan, Arcadia Mejia, Jessica Nguyen, Mark Grant and Jimmy Nguyen talk about church architecture and historic churches.
The older students showed “their class” the venerable game of “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”
Following a PowerPoint presentation on some historic cathedrals, including Westminster Cathedral in London and St. Peter’s in Rome, their quiz stumped several of the younger kids.
Q. What is on the very top of a church?
A. (Several hands clasped to form the church and) the “steeple.”
Q. What is the first book of the Bible?
A. (It took a few minutes and hints, but finally someone called out) “Genesis!”
Q. Who were the first two people to live on the earth?
A. Adam and the First Lady?
Q. There are three keys to giving in the Church. When your parents put their envelopes in the basket at Mass, what are they giving?
Hands waved, then silence for a moment. One of the older students hinted that the answer was three words that began with “T.”
A. “Time,” called out one boy. Another thought for a minute before he answered, “Talent.” The third answer was a bit more difficult. Finally, “I know, I know,” accompanied a waving arm. “Tips!” Well, not exactly, said an eighth grader. What do pirates want? “Treasure!”
They all trooped to the cafeteria to build their own cathedrals out of graham crackers, candy and frosting. With the older kids offering assistance, the edible churches took shape on paper plates.
“Oh, no,” a boy called, wailing and laughing at the same time. His church roof, top heavy with licorice ropes, had collapsed into the church and the whole graham cracker structure fell onto the paper plate. “Can I eat it now?” he asked, smiling winningly at Mrs. Kelly. “No, you take it home and eat it,” she answered.
Hess said both the older and the younger kids learned something from the day. They learned how to research and present their topics, how to explore something old, like the Catholic faith, and learn something new about it, in a fun way. The older kids also learned how to get better organized and stay on track while presenting their research to the younger group. The younger kids learned from the older, not only new things about their faith, but also how to work together cooperatively.
Some of the activities for the remainder of Catholic Schools Week include service to the parish, especially cleaning in the church and the food pantry, and creating valentines for parish elderly and shut-ins. An all school Mass on Feb. 1 is planned, to be concelebrated by Father Justin Hoye, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, and three visiting priests, including Father Patrick Tobin. On Feb. 2, students will provide service to the community at St. James Place and Harvesters, and by making cards for residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor. There will also be a Dragon Parade to celebrate the Asian New Year (Year of the Dragon).
The week concludes with volleyball games between the eighth graders, staff and parents.
Students, teachers and staff members in the 42 Catholic schools in the 27-county region of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph all plan to celebrate Catholic Schools Week.