Catholic schools united by a common mission

Written by Mary Beth Peabody

South Jersey Catholic Schools are united by a common mission: to educate and inspire young minds spiritually, academically and in service to others. While each school has a distinct culture and personality, there are opportunities for students join forces and share resources, demonstrating the power of shared goals and values.

CCHS and JPII girls talk leadership and self-esteem

Camden Catholic High School’s motto is “College Starts Here.” To help students prepare for college and a 21st century career, the school has created the Leadership Academy, a collection of courses, retreats and programs designed to help students reach their potential.

St. John Paul II Girl Power participants display some of the items collected for Catholic Charities in support of local refugees. Left to right: students Emily Heck, Angelina Rosario, Olivia Carns, Anaya Griffin, Ava Pilling, Gina Hurd, Naioma Burke, Chi Chi Otith, and moderator Christine Willard.

Nine miles south, a group of sixth grade girls are finding their voices in “Girl Power: Developing the Leader in You,” a new elective at Saint John Paul II in Stratford. A recent session of Girl Power brought the two groups together, with Camden Catholic seniors Maura Gallagher and Sarah Robbins as guest speakers.

“The high school girls are just at that next level, said Christine Willard, advancement director at Saint John Paul II and moderator of Girl Power. “[Our] girls look up to them, but they can also imagine being where the older girls are.”

Camden Catholic advancement director Kate Bieg agrees. ”It’s a great model for middle schoolers to see and think, ‘Wow, that could be me in a few years.’” Bieg and Willard coordinated to bring the two schools together.

Gallagher and Robbins are not new to the world of sixth grade girls. They lead Irish Synergy, a leadership seminar for middle school girls sponsored by Camden Catholic each October as part of the Leadership Academy. They also remember sixth grade.

“I would have loved a program like this,” said Robbins, referring to her own middle school years. She acknowledged that many “unfortunate events” can happen during those years, adding to girls’ insecurity. Robbins believes sixth grade is the perfect time to help girls develop a sense of empowerment and awareness of their own abilities.

The high school duo began with a formal presentation and asked the girls what leadership means to them. Through that discussion and Gallagher’s personal story, the sixth graders began to share their views and feelings, shifting from presentation to conversation.

The combined group talked about self-esteem and how it adds to being a leader.

They shared common stories about being told they couldn’t do certain things or play certain games because they were girls – and not being taught to believe otherwise. In the context of faith, they explored skills and concepts designed to avoid stereotypes and build confidence.

“You have to be confident to shed the light of Christ,” said Robbins.

“Hopefully, the girls saw that… [and] appreciate all God has given to us,” added Gallagher.

Faith is integral to Girl Power. By design, the course combines leadership with service. At the outset, the girls chose refugees as their area of focus and invited a speaker from Catholic Charities to help them understand the challenges refugees face. The girls then created work groups to plan their project, made posters, spoke in every classroom to solicit school-wide support, and have been collecting and sorting donations for refugee families in South Jersey.

Early February will mark the start of a new quarter and the end of the inaugural session of Girl Power. The eight girls who pioneered the elective have a lot to show for their time in the class, not the least of which are several laundry baskets filled with toiletries, blankets and kitchen items for local refugees. As they give those items away, they will store new-found resolve: “Don’t be afraid of what others think,” and “don’t be told it can’t be done.”

CAB Returns

Musicians, singers, actors and artists will have a chance to gather at Saint Mary, East Vineland for the second annual CAB (Creative Arts and Beyond) Fair on May 16.

Hosted by Saint Mary’s, the fair debuted in 2016, giving South Jersey Catholic school students a chance to showcase their talents and receive feedback and encouragement from professionals.

Saint Mary’s art teachers, Grace Hoffner and Loren Train, developed the CAB program last year in an effort to promote enrichment programs throughout South Jersey Catholic schools.

In its first year, students from Assumption in Galloway, Saint John Paul II in Stratford, Saint Michael the Archangel in Clayton and Saint Anthony of Padua in Camden accepted Saint Mary’s invitation and joined the host school to dance, sing, perform monologues and show scenes, and display original artwork

“Last year’s event was such a great success that other schools jumped on board to a part of a CAB Collaborative Committee in order to share in the planning,” said Hoffner, adding that Saint Joseph High School, Hammonton and Saint Michael are slated to be part of the committee. “We are anxious to have more of the diocesan schools join this coming May.”

Read in Catholic Star Herald