At Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, everything we do springs forth from a foundation of love–love for each other; love of knowledge, service, and God; and love for the world. For the past twenty years we were blessed to have a colleague, Kevin Duffy, who would often remind us, “We are not educating the girls for college; we are educating them for heaven.”
This articulates a value that we all share: we are not teaching individual subjects alone; we are always teaching, according to our mission, inspiring students “to lead and serve, through lives of purpose that integrate faith, intellect, community, social action, and personal growth.” As we think about how to form our students “in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church,” we are guided by the call of our foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, to “Repay our God love for love, heart for heart.”
Our love and faith are made manifest through the Social Action program, with twelve Wednesdays a year devoted to social justice and service. The program’s mission states, “Through preparation, action, and reflection, Social Action cultivates critical consciousness of issues of justice, inculcates a life-long commitment to service, and develops students’ potential for leadership in building and maintaining just partnerships.”
These are lofty goals for a high school, and yet through our focus on solidarity and seeing God in those we serve, we have crafted a model that works. We introduce students to real world challenges and offer them the space to apply and reflect on what they are learning.
This year’s Social Action theme is “Profiling Peacebuilders.” For our Wednesday on “Peacemaking and Poverty,” we brought in a speaker who had worked directly with Mother Teresa. Then the students spent most of the day doing service with one of our partner organizations in the greater D.C. area. When they returned to campus, they worked in their student-led reflection groups, engage in an online poverty simulation, in which participants are asked to make the choices of those living in poverty, and reflecting in their journals. Beyond the Social Action day itself, some students participated in a county-wide interfaith coalition advocating for affordable housing and after school programs. This is one example of how through Social Action, students are able to connect Catholic social teaching to what they are experiencing in the classroom, seeing in their communities, and hearing on the news.
Our goal is to inspire and encourage students to transform themselves and the world around them. One student recently described the impact of the program stating, “Social Action forces people to think bigger, to relate to global issues, and encounter injustices that put many of our own daily struggles to shame. Most importantly, Social Action requires that we identify ourselves as agents of change in not only our immediate community, but also the global community.”
Our students are positing in their own way what Maya Angelou once wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Through Social Action, we empower students to be their best selves. We are educating them for heaven.
Lauren Brownlee is Director of Social Action and U.S. History Teacher at Stone Ridge School of Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland.
Get Catholic Social Teaching learning activities, such as the CST Timeline Activity, the Biblical Justice Challenge, and more at WeAreSaltAndLight.org