Catholic schools around the country are celebrating Catholic Schools Week under the theme: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. Students at Notre Dame High School in Burlington, Iowa, will serve in nursing homes.
The week of service will be the highlight of the year for the school, said religion teacher Nita Carlson.
The week kicked off on Monday morning with a prayer and games. A visit to local nursing homes was scheduled for later in the day. There, the students were to sing with residents and help them make Valentine’s Day cards. The students will wear different shirts each day of the week to match the theme of the activity, which offers a break from their usual school uniforms.
“Students will get a chance to write about what they like about Notre Dame,” Carlson told the Burlington Hawk Eye, “and the fifth-graders will even get a chance to record those essays on the local Catholic radio station.”
Catholic Schools Week has been around for decades, Carlson said. This year’s theme focuses on spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education.
“Educationally, we have much in common with the public schools,” Carlson said, “but our faith base sets us apart.” Indeed, many schools include service learning or volunteering as part of their educational plan.
How does a faith base set apart Catholic and other religious schools? One way is through the schools’ sources of authority. “Underwriting these various frameworks of moral understanding were different sources of moral authority that provided the standards for ethical action,” write Ryan S. Olson and James Davison Hunter, editors of The Content of Their Character, which summarizes field research in school culture and character formation in a broad range of educational settings—including Catholic schools.
It is not merely the “Catholic school effect” that Catholic schools provide a better education than the surrounding public schools. These schools have sources on which to draw—scriptures, traditions, and saints—by which to invite students to service. This is what can and sometimes does set Catholic schools like Notre Dame High School apart from their peers.
Educators in Catholic schools looking to do similar work can look to Notre Dame’s Philosophy of Education, which states: “The Burlington Notre Dame School System exists because we believe that God has a central place in the education of our children.” When students serve in a nursing home, it is an expression of their mission to “respect each person as a reflection of the glory of God.”