I want to help students find what will get them out of bed each day. I want every person to find what will make him or her “have good thoughts that shine out of their face like sunbeams,” as Roald Dahl said. I have fallen in love with the student-centered model of learning. Getting to know each student or client, hearing from his or her own mouth, and learning what I could do to best support him or her. I want to help every student find what they are passionate about.
I serve at La Salle Middle School, which is not a Lasallian Catholic school like many other ministries in the LV program, but is instead uniquely a faith-inspired charter school. Some of these kids are tough, and make it so challenging to love them because they refuse to let you in. They had to grow up so fast that they have no idea how to be a kid anymore. My first day I asked one particular student what her name was, and I got the response of “Shut up, don’t talk to me.” What a warm welcome. I soon learned her name, and I soon learned that she is like that to everyone, every day. I remember middle school being hard, but some days it’s just as hard as an adult.
I spent my senior year of college knowing I was going to join Lasallian Volunteers. I was ready to change, to learn, to grow. But undoubtedly, it was a huge adjustment for me. I quickly learned in the first five minutes of the school day that these middle school students are not afraid to talk back and do not like to listen or follow directions, especially given by a new person. With the issues and behaviors combined with adjusting to this new place, I forgot what I was really here for. I came to serve the students that don’t get enough attention. I came to listen to the students and learn from them as much as they could learn from me.
After the first day of school, my emotions changed drastically from excited, nervous, anxious to, “how did I end up here?” Throughout the first month of school, the students continued to not listen to me, give me attitude, and make days extremely hard. It’s still a learning process.
But I believe all of this is making me stronger. I believe there’s good in everyone. And I believe everyone is worthy of love. I’ve heard that kindness can sometimes be seen as a weakness, but I refuse to give it up. I still say hello to the student that gives me the cold shoulder every single day, even when I know she won’t say it back. I’ll still greet the student I sent out of class yesterday with a smile and a wave. The girls whose fight I broke up now sit with me for lunch. The days that have caused me the most second-hand trauma have also been the most impactful. I look to the Thomas Merton prayer each day:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
When things get rough, and I am most in need of a sign, something small and awesome always happens. “When is the next time you’re going to visit?” “Where were you yesterday?” “Are you going to read with me tomorrow, Ms. Jo-Ann?”
In a matter of no time, many of the students have opened up to me and we have created amazing relationships. Like them, I have started to rely on our routine and look forward to it every day. Remaining agile with reality, providing consistency with my actions and attitudes, and never letting my own feelings get in the way of a student’s growth, have made this first half of my year of service all the more worthwhile.
Jo-Ann Mullooly is a first-year LV serving at La Salle Middle School in St. Louis, MO and is a 2016 graduate of Manhattan College.