Schools across the archdiocese reach out in faith during Advent
by Jessica Langdon
Service opportunities teach students meaning of Christmas
OLATHE — Shopping for toys during a school day was so unusual, it made five-year-old Ben Kueter giggle.
Still, the kindergartner at St. Paul School in Olathe took the mission he and his classmates completed during a field trip to Walmart very seriously.
“We’re shopping for charity,” Ben explained.
They tackled extra chores to earn money to send shoe boxes full of toys, hygiene products and more to children in parts of the world where holiday celebrations aren’t as bountiful as a Christmas in Kansas.
Kindergartner J.J. Dice loved selecting toy cars to send to another boy his age.
“It’s pretty fun,” agreed kindergartner Dan Allen.
Each grade at St. Paul has taken on its own Advent service project.
For their parts, the kindergartners and eighth-graders filled shoe boxes with gifts to send through a program called Operation Christmas Child, which is part of the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
Students from both grades tucked prayers they wrote inside the shoe boxes destined for children in other countries.
St. Paul’s PTO this year envisioned new opportunities for students to not merely shop for Christmas presents — but to truly give to others in need.
Projects ranged from sending international gifts to reaching out to others right in the students’ own community.
“I love that our kids are getting new opportunities for service projects,” said Crystal Steinlage, mother of kindergartner Madison.
“As parents, we do our part to give money, food, or clothing items to different charities, but that is hard for our children to understand because they don’t see where it all goes or how it benefits other people,” she said.
These projects open their eyes to all of it.
Lessons in love
Teachers of each grade selected a project to engage students in the school’s December virtues of thankfulness and contentment.
“One of the most important virtues we can instill in our children is the virtue of charity,” said principal Tonia Helm. “Our goal is that by the time they graduate from St. Paul, service will have become such an important part of their lives they would actively seek out opportunities to serve those in need on their own.”
Teachers weaved the projects into lesson plans.
First-graders are learning geography and economics as they study life in Haiti.
For less than $20 through the Food for the Poor program, they could send a fruit tree or feed a Haitian family for a month. If they collected $90, they could even give a family a goat!
The eighth-graders figured out real- life algebra equations for their shopping trip, factoring in sales taxes and shipping costs to determine how much they could spend, much to science and math teacher Janelle Hartegan’s delight.
“Some eighth-graders went over their budget and had to decide what to take out,” said Steinlage. “A true life lesson —staying within our means when it comes to money, especially since this generation believes our debit or credit cards can buy anything!”
One shopper found the students’ project so heartwarming, he kicked in an extra $2, so kindergarten teacher Pam Herrick sent a group of boys to pick out more cars.
Madison Steinlage and fellow kindergartner Sofia Gometz practiced the art of compromise, agreeing to give a doll dressed in blue when one girl preferred pink and the other purple.
The students also bought necessities like socks, carefully choosing for others things they would want for themselves.
Hartegan told eighth-graders those basic gifts will likely be the most appreciated.
“They probably don’t really get much of a Christmas present,” said eighth-grader Karisa Goss. “So now they have something to be happy about, to be excited about.”
All the grades were excited about the gifts they are giving to others this Advent.
By giving, they’re also receiving.
“What better way to start off the Advent and Christmas seasons than by preparing our children’s hearts for giving opportunities,” said Crystal Steinlage.
Corpus Christi students send warm wishes to Montana
LAWRENCE — Students at Corpus Christi School here know a winter coat is something Mom or Dad will provide, but they’re learning not every family can afford that basic necessity.
So they took it into their own hands to make sure each elementary and middle school child at St. Charles Mission School in Pryor, Mont., has a coat to ward off the winter’s chill in this community with an extremely high poverty rate.
Corpus Christi’s teachers’ service committee organized the “Wrapped in God’s Warmth” project.
The school set up a tree and decorated it with coat-shaped tags, each with the first name, gender, grade and size of a child in Montana. Corpus Christi families selected tags from the tree and shopped for new coats for those children.
“For our students to have the realization that the Christmas wish for the children in Montana is to have a coat and that is what they are asking for — and for our kids to help provide that for another child — is the true spirit of Christmas,” said Corpus Christi principal Mary Mattern.
The school collected 111 coats — and not just any coats.
“We asked our children to pick a coat that they would want to wear,” said Mattern.
Naturally, several Jayhawk jackets appeared among the collection.
Haskell Indian Nations University will drive the coats — along with gifts from Haskell and the Lawrence community — in a U-Haul to Montana.
PRAIRIE VILLAGE — St. Ann School here decked its halls with 105 giant red bags this December.
Students contributed new games, stuffed animals, clothes and gift cards to fill them — all to make dreams come true for children and teenagers in foster care in the Kansas City area.
“It is with great joy that our St. Ann’s kids, their parents and teachers share their own blessings with those who are struggling,” said principal Becky Akright.
St. Ann classrooms and families have been “adopting” children through the Red Bag Program for 29 years.
“Just this week, two students told me shopping for their adopted child is the best part of their Christmas preparation,” Akright said. “It is truly a continuous and loving example of living our faith.”
Learning, loving and living
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Families at Christ the King School here are taking the archdiocesan initiative, “Faith: Love It. Learn It. Live It.,” to heart, making it their Advent theme.
“We’re trying to relearn some of the basics of our faith so we can better love it and come to live it more,” said principal Cathy Fithian.
They reviewed all the basic prayers, from the Our Father and Hail Mary to the prayer for vocations and many others. Copies went home so families could pray together.
The second week, families prayed the rosary.
The third week focuses on the Ten Commandments and what they mean in life.
The school sent home devotional items and a calendar for the prayers and activities. Students are also reading “Letters from God” over the intercom each morning.
“It’s really important for me that they focus on keeping Jesus in their lives every day, knowing that he’s here for them, especially during Advent,” said Fithian.
A season to give
Here is just a sampling of schools’ Advent projects and preparations:
• Students at St. Gregory School in Marysville are donating soap, toothpaste, baby wipes and other necessities to a new social service agency called Families First of Marshall County, which promotes self-sustainability through education and direct assistance.
• St. Joseph School in Olpe joins parishioners in an Advent tradition of collecting baby necessities for Birthright in Emporia.
• Second-graders at Christ the King School in Topeka are filling baby bottles with spare change to donate to Birthright of Topeka.
• An Advent wreath stands in the foyer of Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, and every classroom has one, with candles burning during morning prayers.
“Through prayer, Mass and reconciliation we are focusing on preparing our hearts and souls to welcome Christ more fully at Christmas this year!” said Suzanne O’Neil, with the theology/campus ministry department.