Mike Clark

Site: St. Stephen’s Academy – Kansas City MO

College: Manhattan College

What do you do?

I teach fourth grade at St. Stephen’s Academy, a small elementary school located in Kansas City, MO. The majority of the school’s student population is Hispanic, with most qualifying as “low-income”. Although our numbers are small, my students are eager to learn, enthusiastic, and dynamic. I teach each subject with the exception of Art and Physical Education. Also, I run an after school tutoring program along with my friend and fellow community member Kelly Lazarowski, who teaches third grade.

Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?

I chose to become a Lasallian Volunteer because I was interested in doing something post-college that was bigger than me. I needed to do something that would not only make me happy but make a difference as well. Also, I knew that I wanted to teach. The Lasallian Volunteers provided me with an opportunity to both teach and make a difference in the lives of those who are most in need. City schools like St. Stephen’s Academy are often overlooked, but they need great teachers. Thus far, every one of my hopes about the program has been realized. I feel as if I have made a major impact on the lives of my students, but I also feel as if I have grown immensely as I have learned to live outside of my own comfort zone. While living simply in a community with Christian Brothers may not be how everyone would like to spend their mid-20s, I could not be happier about the decision that I have made. Not only has being a part of the Volunteers provided me with a job, but they have provided me with the opportunity to view myself under the microscope and have some time to reflect on the important issues of my identity and my future.

What is the most important “thing,” do you think, that your students/clients/guests need from you? What do you do to try to provide this?

The most important “thing” that my students need from me is for me to be my best. As someone that has been (accurately) labeled as “overly competitive”, I am thrilled to have found a forum where my competitiveness is not a detriment, but an invaluable tool. Every day, I challenge myself to be better than I was the day before. These kids deserve that. Every morning when I wake up, I am motivated to top myself. As a first year teacher, I know that I don’t have all the answers. However, using the excuse of inexperience would not be fair to these eight students that need me to be on at all times. The way that I improve myself and hone my craft is by taking as much as I can from the resources around me. I have three teachers in my immediate family that have been working in schools for over fifty years combined. Two of my colleagues have been teaching forever and are notorious for their ability to reach students. I even bug Kelly – who I consider to be an absolutely spectacular teacher – a lot about her ideas on teaching. Whether it’s beginning every class by going around the room and mentioning what we are celebrating (thanks Bro. Ray!) or observing a co-workers discipline model, I have used the resources around me to make me better.

Which of the core values (Faith, Community, Service) are most important to you? Why?

I believe the Community value of the Lasallian Volunteers has been most important to me. Living amongst a community has opened my eyes to a lot of things about me that I had never before detected. In just a month and a half in my community, I have been humbled and proud, sometimes on the same day. I have gained a lot of self-awareness and I feel as if I have developed and changed for the better. Brother Jim and Brother Dale have challenged me to look at life differently than I ever have before. Their dedication to the core values of Faith, Service, and Community and their prodding of me to leave my comfort zone has been inspiring to me.

While I made many lifelong friends during the Lasallian Volunteer Orientation in Romeoville, IL, I genuinely wouldn’t want to be going through this experience with anyone more than Kelly Lazarowski. She has been an absolutely ideal community member, making me laugh on a daily basis. While she is a very caring person who would jump through hoops for a friend, Kelly isn’t afraid to call me out on my ridiculousness and occasional lameness. I am extraordinarily pleased that, at the end of the day, I have made a fantastic friend.

What would you say to one of your students/mothers/clients/guests who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?

I would begin by sitting back and listening, letting this person speak their peace. If it is a concerned parent, I would explain the positives I have seen in their child, but also explain the importance of rules and discipline in order to keep the classroom a safe place for everyone inside. If a student were having troubles at home or with a friend and came to me, I would explain to them that I am always going to be willing to listen to their concerns and try to work towards a solution as quickly and effectively as possible.

What might you say to your Principal, Supervisor, etc, who appeared negative about the recent behavior of the person just above who had recently confided in you?

I would fill in the Principal to make sure he was aware of all the facts before jumping to conclusions. I would encourage a joint meeting between me, him, and the third party to see if situations can be worked out.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

I would explain to them how much living with the Brothers has inspired me and tell them about the fascinating lives these men lead.

Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?

Not only does the LV program provide you with job security – so clutch, especially in these trying economic times – and give you the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping those that are less fortunate, but you really do meet some of the most amazing people ever. You really have to try in order to not connect with most of the people in this program.

Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?

Here in the LV Program, we’re doing the Lord’s work. We’re making a difference in the lives of children that have been counted out and ignored, due to either socioeconomic class or heritage. The LV Program gives opportunities to those that have been born into their current situation and are struggling through no fault of their own. Nobody joins the LV Program because of the salary and the luxurious life of the volunteer. We’re not asking you to volunteer your time. We have that covered. All you have to do is feel. All you have to do is open up your heart and realize how much people depend on the Lasallian Volunteers. In order for us to keep doing what we’re doing, a contribution to the program would be invaluable and extraordinarily generous.

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