Rachel Swartz: Miss Swartz Has Seen God

During community prayer recently, we were asked the question, “Where do you see God in your life?” Being kind of quiet about my religion, I did not really spring up to share my answer. But to be honest, the first thought that came to mind was, ‘in my students.’ I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. There is a reason I am teaching these specific 9th graders this year, there’s a reason I’m working at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis of all places, and there’s a reason I’m a Lasallian Volunteer. In everything, God has a reason to put you there. And I think my reason was to be teaching them…

The students we serve at Cristo Rey are from low income backgrounds and face significant challenges in and outside of school. A majority of students come to us below grade level, and our school is designed with a rigorous academic schedule in order to shrink that learning gap and prepare them for college. At first, I had to get used to the school’s unique grading system and various policies such as high trust and positive behavior support. We believe in open communication with students about both their behavior and academic habits, having a conversation with him/her to learn what is really going on. The school has helped shape me into a thoughtful and patient educator, who works with students to ensure their success in life.

When I say my students amaze me, I truly mean it with every ounce of my being. My students are amazing. In getting to know them, I have just been blown away by their stories. During my first few months of teaching alone, three students personally told me that their parent was just deported, while others shared various struggles from bullying to parent alcoholism to deaths in the family either in their writing or in a conversation with me. And yet, they come to school every day with a smile on their face and the urgency to learn. In class they get fired up when discussing social justice issues, demanding equality for all and asking complex questions sometimes a textbook cannot even answer. They show sympathy for those suffering or treated unfairly, and brainstorm solutions to solve worldly problems (sometimes better resolutions than today’s finest politicians, I might add). While during the school day they come running to me with a funny story, or a quick compliment for me, or the silly question, always eager to share more of themselves. The drive they have for success coupled with their coping skills for difficult situations at just fourteen truly astounds me. That, to me, is God’s manifestation.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned teaching at Cristo Rey is the importance of the bond a teacher creates with her students, that trust factor. I cannot believe students have felt so comfortable with me to share personal issues, and I never ever imagined my students to be so sweet. If I ever tell the students I will be absent for an LV retreat they scream in unison, “Nooooo, Ms. Swartz!!! Don’t leave us!” It cracks me up, but I guess it goes to show how attached we are to each other. I have tried to create a space where students feel comfortable with me and try to focus on the positives in life, no matter what is going on outside of school. I want my class to be a safe and friendly environment for them. As a student once said, “I love having your class at the end of the day because I always leave school happy.”

My mom says being a good Catholic doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pray every day or go to mass once a week, but live out what Jesus taught us. She believes that I am doing his work through my service year as an LV. I often go around telling people that being a volunteer at Cristo Rey is my “dream job.” I never thought I could be this happy and love my job this much! I am thankful every day, and I know it’s God’s doing. I never thought my students could teach me so much about gratitude or positivity or resilience. These kids have opened my eyes; I see God.

Rachel Swartz, 12-13, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Minneapolis, MN

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