Last year, when I was accepted to be a Lasallian Volunteer, I was beyond ecstatic. I found out that I was assigned to teach middle school boys at a Lasallian Catholic school in Concord, California. I was so thrilled to begin my faith journey in a new state at a school that was so different than what I grew up in. Going into my experience, I had no idea that a Catholic school would change the way I viewed education and my pedagogy. Even though Lasallian Volunteers is a two year program, working at this school has triggered a lifelong desire to be a part of the worldwide Lasallian Community.
Since becoming an educator at De La Salle Academy, my relationship with “The Man,” aka God, has grown so much stronger. Each morning, during our assembly hour, we have Prayer and Reflection as a whole school. We focus on our faith and what is going on in the Catholic world today. During that time I can see how deeply rooted my students are in their faith. The devotion they have to God easily surpasses anything I had when I was their age. I think, ‘What capacity could my faith be at now if I went to a Catholic school growing up?’ I do not teach Religion, but it is comforting to know that I can connect the curriculum to our faith, if I wanted to. For example, one day in Math the boys donated a loan, through Kiva, to three different people in need. I asked them how this particular lesson spoke to them as Lasallians. We say Grace before meals, celebrate Mass, and have prayer ceremonies together throughout the year. At our staff meetings we begin with prayer. Having a constant reminder throughout the day that our work is attached to our faith is so nice, because I used to just think about God right before bed. Now I see Him more frequently, and for that, I am grateful. I see Him when the boys smile or sing, when they’re hard at work, or when they express how blessed they feel to be a part of this school. Seeing God each day at DLSA reminds me of the compassion I have been shown this past year.
Myth: Students from low-income families cannot attend Catholic schools because they cannot afford it. Fact: San Miguel schools are real, and a true blessing to low-income families. Okay, I can see how the fact could be seen as an opinion, but once you know how affordable these schools are for low-income families, how can they not be? If you are unaware of what a San Miguel school is, I will enlighten you. A San Miguel school is a Catholic school that specifically admits students from low-income families. Can’t afford a Catholic education? No problem; tuition is affordable. What’s even more exciting is that (at least at my school) if you complete the four years at the middle school, and are accepted into the high school, there is the opportunity for you to receive a full scholarship there. Wow. How can I NOT want to be a part of that? It is incredible to see where my students have come from and the transformation they have made since being accepted into DLSA. The school they had attended before doesn’t compare to what opportunities DLSA has given them. From the help of multiple benefactors and philanthropists, my students have been able to go on a week-long trip to Yosemite, they have a full scholarship to the Youth Center across the street where they can get involved in sports, and have had the opportunity to tour Saint Mary’s College, which is also a Lasallian school that has inspired them to pursue a college degree. The list goes on. I have seen what donations have done to improve the lives of the disadvantaged youth. My students have had experiences they would have never dreamed of if it weren’t for the San Miguel model of De La Salle Academy.
The love I have for my students is so real. It really helps having 16 students to a classroom, so that I get to know each one of them a lot easier. Because our school is so small (48 students), our staff of nine has a strong relationship with the boys we serve. We eat lunch with them, supervise their breaks, and support them for an extra hour and half each day; supplementary to the regular school day to help them get their homework completed. What I appreciate most about this school is that we focus on the morals and values of each student, not just their grades. While the grades determine if get the boys get into the high school, we want to make sure that each gentleman of ours is becoming a man of Integrity, Faith, and Scholarship. To be honest, I didn’t even know what integrity was until I got to this school. (Insert embarrassed, sweating emoji here.) On each report card our students’ receive, they are additionally graded on behavior and effort. A boy could be receiving straight A’s in all of his classes, and we’ll still give him a low score for his effort if we think he could do better. He could be receiving straight A’s in all of his classes and still not make Honor Roll if he has bad behavior. Yeah, we take it seriously here. But it is all out of love. While we want our boys’ academics to improve, so must their character. We want our students to enter our school ready to learn, and to leave their time with us ready to serve. Our boys notice how much we pay attention to their actions, and they actually appreciate it. They even call each other out if they realize a brother of theirs has made an error: “You’re not being a man of integrity!” Our gentlemen know that we love them and that we are here for them.
Because of DLSA my faith has grown, I have realized the importance of values in the classroom, and I have seen what a San Miguel model can do for a group of low-income boys that may never before had a chance to make it to the high school. I have come to love the setup of a single-gendered school because I can see how much more focused it makes my students, and how they have come to live by the companionship of “Brotherhood.” I hope to continue teaching in a Lasallian school post Lasallian Volunteers, but whether I do or not, I will make sure to carry what I have learned with me, wherever I go. This experience of serving in a Lasallian ministry has not only changed my boys for the better, it has changed me for the better as well.
Abby Michels is a 1st year LV serving at De La Salle Academy in Concord, California and is a 2015 graduate of Lewis University.