Faith in Action
Evangelization and service are hallmarks of Catholic faith and discipleship. Jesus’ example inspires the Saint John community to participate in service-oriented outreach and evangelization. Seeking to form servant leaders in the Catholic Church and greater society, Saint John School in 2014-2015 initiated a unique program —Faith in Action– that constantly ripples throughout and builds the school community, promoting Catholic Identity and evangelization through increasing awareness, empathy, and outreach.
The Faith in Action program also differs from traditional models of service by occurring mostly during school hours and being clearly connected to Scripture and Church teachings throughout a three-year cycle focused on the Works of Mercy, the Beatitudes, and Catholic Social Teaching. While the religious instruction remains the same, the projects continually vary according to students’ interests and current needs. Empowered with paths to break out of their comfort zones, channeling their energy for good, students also progress in the “4 Cs of 21st century learning”: critical thinking, communicating, collaborating, and creativity. The benefits flow not just to students and staff and to those they serve, but also to students’ families who become inspired to join in, and to observers in the community– truly far-reaching evangelization.
Faith in Action develops gratitude, stewardship, and leadership throughout the school, positively changing the lives of every student and community member. Through project-based learning, students expand their understanding of the Catholic faith and their ability and passion to carry out Jesus’ mission of service as they seek always to be Christ’s ambassadors to each other and the world. The leadership and responsibility gained by students through the Faith in Action and Faith Families programs have grown beyond their faith lives into their daily lives as well.
Examples of Service
Although Saint John School had sponsored service projects for decades, the students’ roles had always been as participants, not as creators or coordinators. Now all K-8 students are stepping up in responsibility and buy-in through religious instruction, hands-on field trips, and a chance to run their own class service venture. Lower grades promote the school’s customary avenues of service, such as baking cookies for prisoners, making cards for the military, hosting a Thanksgiving food drive, and collecting for CRS Rice Bowl and Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.
Middle schoolers rotate in small groups through a trimester-long specialty class in which they design their own ministry. Since the program began in the 2014-2015 school year, students have planned multi-school, service-oriented retreats; organized a hygiene item drive to create kits; and held toy drives for Ronald McDonald House and special needs children whom they met and played with. Every eighth grader has served a meal at St. Vincent de Paul Village in downtown San Diego. Others investigated food waste at school lunch, educated the community on ways to reduce it, and arranged to donate unwanted items to the parish Food Pantry. Students cleaned up, placed flowers, and prayed for the living and dead at a mission cemetery; entertained and honored World War II veterans and also partnered with seniors for an entire school year at a nursing home; gleaned more than 300 pounds of lemons from an orchard to donate to the Pantry; sewed a blanket for a sick child; mulched hundreds of tree seedlings at a community farm; helped to revive the school garden; tutored younger students at school; collected signatures on petitions and lobbied for an end to hunger throughout the world at two Congressional candidates’ offices; collected donations for coffee to build a library in Burundi, Africa; and sponsored scholarships for students in Mexico through the Corazon program.
All students support other parish outreach, such as Christmas baskets, senior luncheons, and the St. Vincent de Paul Friends of the Poor Walk, not just by taking part but also by making original videos and posters, doing skits at assemblies, speaking at Mass, and holding up signs in parking lots. Students collect and transport food items for the parish Food Pantry on a weekly basis. On the first Wednesday of each month, Spirit and Stewardship Day, the entire school community is encouraged to bring donations of food.
Older students model servant leadership as they advance academic and social skills through leading younger students in Faith Families, named for saints known for charitable work, and visiting classrooms weekly to announce service opportunities. The decision to establish Faith Families after having a buddy system for many years was based partly upon a perceived need for increased leadership among older students and partly upon a desire to unite the school more closely and more frequently. Every eighth grader leads his or her own Faith Family, which consists of about a dozen students from kindergarten to eighth grade, and teaches them about the year’s spiritual theme and also their family patron saint. The Gospel call to serve and grow in compassion, generosity, and holiness is infused into every aspect of school, cultivating each student as a faith-filled witness whose first impulse is to help others in need.
Middle school students are required to perform outside service of at least 3 hours per year. Students volunteering over 20 hours of service earn the Generous Servant Award.