Last month, Ms. Erin Maguire-Osting, campus minister at DeSales High School, accompanied 16 students on their junior retreat. As juniors, DeSales students take Catholic Moral Teaching and Catholic Social Teaching as part of the theology curriculum. To supplement the learning in the classroom, students complete 16 hours of service at a social justice agency and attend a retreat through CrossRoads Ministries.
While on this retreat, students visited several social service agencies to spend time with the individuals the agency serves. During the September 2019 retreat, students spent the morning at the Catholic Charities English as a second language school. Students were divided into three areas. Some students volunteered in the preschool room, while the remaining students were split into two classrooms. In the advanced class, each student sat at a table with three to four adults who were there to learn and practice their English speaking skills. In the beginner's classroom, students were paired one-on-one with adult students who were learning the basics of the English language.
"The thing I love about this retreat is that I get to see our students in action. Normally, our students are doing their service hours on their own, and I only get to see the hours after they log them in our system," said Ms. Maguire-Osting. Upon leaving the agency, students remarked, "I need to tell Ms. Trigg about how much I used my Spanish," and "Is that the kind of stuff we can do for our Spanish hours? That was fun."
Later in the day, the students reflected on how their time at the social service agencies enabled them to break down any stereotypes they had before interacting with the people they met. This type of sharing and processing is what truly takes a student's experience from service to service-learning.
Service-learning is about the use of their skills and gaining lessons from experience. As a school, we want our students to use what they have learned through real-world application of service. The service experience on retreat allows students to do this.
For the junior retreat, students used their knowledge and became teachers. This type of interaction gives students confidence in their abilities and real-world applications for their skills. (Shout out to Ms. Lewis, who I know loves these types of STEM integrations in our programs!)
As a catholic school, we want our students' service-learning to go further. We also want it to be an opportunity to live out their faith and gain lessons based on Catholic values. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to "love thy neighbor." Jesus shows us time and time again that taking action to work with people who are marginalized is how we should love our neighbors. These service experiences show students who their neighbor is and how to reach out to form relationships in the example of Jesus.
Our service hour tracking system, MobileServe, shows that the DeSales junior class has reported nearly 300 hours of service with an economic impact of $6,886 since May. While stats like this show the "impact" our students have in our community, it doesn't show what Ms. Maguire-Osting finds most valuable as a Catholic educator. "Stats can't show how our students took the skills they learned in their classes and applied them during those hours of service. Stats can't show what life skills our students gained from completing those hours of service, whether it be social skills, like learning how to interact with adults you don't know or job skills like learning how to be on time and take direction from a person in charge. Stats can't show us our students' growth in empathy, compassion, and faith that they gain through service," said Ms. Maguire-Osting.
At DeSales, our mission is to shape students into moral, ethical, and responsible leaders. It is through real-world experience in the community that their character is built for a lifetime.