In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” The San Francisco New Orleans District is featured. The ministry is De Marillac Academy and the Lasallian Volunteers are Kacie Kusinski, 15-17 and Abbey Sorensen, 16-17. Kacie graduated in 2015 from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota and Abbey graduated from University of Rhode Island in 2016.
WHAT IS DE MARILLAC ACADEMY?
Established in 2001, De Marillac Academy provides a tuition-free education that focuses on academic excellence in a values-based environment. Co-sponsored by the Daughters of Charity and De La Salle Christian Brothers, De Marillac offers a Catholic, private school education to low-income students from all faith and cultural backgrounds in the Tenderloin and other similar neighborhoods. De Marillac’s educational model is rooted in the Nativity Miguel school movement, which began in New York City over 40 years ago in response to the poor state of urban public schools, the high cost of private education, and the lack of local schools in many inner-city neighborhoods. In 2001, De Marillac opened with a class of nineteen 6th graders. Today, De Marillac Academy serves 119 fourth through eighth grade students, 231 alumni, and over 230 families in the school and their unique wrap around clinical and family support program.
WHAT SERVICE IS THE SERVICE THAT KACIE AND ABBEY PROVIDE AT DE MARILLAC ACADEMY?
Kacie serves in 4th grade and 5th grade. She teaches 4th grade Science, Physical Education, and Health. She also teaches 5th grade Social Studies. Abbey serves as the 5th grade Religion, PE and Health teacher, as well as student support, assisting in 5th grade Language Arts and Math. Kacie and Abbey also coached the 5th and 6th grade girls’ volleyball team this past fall.
HOW DID ABBEY AND KACIE BECOME LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Kacie and Abbey are both education majors which made teaching natural for them. They were looking for something that would inspire them and serving at DMA fit the bill post college. Kacie says, “When I was graduating college, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew the Lasallian mission aligned with my own personal teaching beliefs. I had been a student in a Lasallian classroom and I wanted to experience the mission from the opposite side: as a teacher, instead of a student. I wanted to take all I had gained from being educated by the Brothers and use it to inspire others learning in a Lasallian classroom.” Abbey agrees when she says, “I decided to volunteer because I wanted to teach and impact a community through education, but I was not ready for the responsibility of my own classroom yet. I was looking for an opportunity to gain confidence in the classroom while being supported by people who wanted to help me grow in my vocation.”
WHAT DO THE STUDENTS AT DE MARILLAC ACADEMY NEED FROM ABBEY AND KACIE TO BE SUCCESSFUL?
Our volunteers are compassionate young people who are tireless in their quest to meet their students and clients where they are at in their lives. Kacie and Abbey are no exception. Abbey says, “In addition to receiving support, students also learn how to advocate for themselves in order to receive that extra help and support. There is no judgment or shame about needing support at DMA- it is simply each student receiving what they need to succeed and be the best student that they can be.” Kacie says, “De Marillac is such a special place because at DMA every child is treated equally, with the respect and human dignity they deserve, despite their financial situation or their learning differences. At DMA, everyone works together to set our students up for success not just at DMA, but also in life. I set my students up for success by loving them, supporting them, and getting to know each of them individually. Because I know each of my students on a personal and educational level, I know their strengths and their areas where they might need some more support or growth. This allows me to work alongside my colleagues to give our students the support they need to succeed.”
WHAT HAVE THESE VOLUNTEERS LEARNED MOST FROM THEIR STUDENTS?
Both volunteers are quick to talk about how much they have been given during their years of service, from the support from their community, LV Staff, and their fellow teachers. However, where they felt the most love and care was from the students themselves. Kacie says, “I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from them is about grace. Day after day my students show me grace, compassion, and understanding, so much so that I’ve learned to give myself grace too. I am constantly reminding my students that it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to struggle as long as you keep going and persevere; my students have taught me to take my own advice and be forgiving with myself. Being a new teacher is difficult, but my students have helped me remember that we are all children of God and we all already have God’s grace and mercy; He loves us despite our flaws and our mistakes, the same way I care for my students and the same way they care for me.” Abbey agrees with Kacie when she says, “They have helped me to grow immensely in my vocation of teaching, and they stuck with me through it all- the successes as well as the epic failures in the classroom that come along with my first year of teaching! But beyond my teaching, my students have taught me the important lesson of not stressing the small stuff, because in the end that’s not what matters.”
HOW HAS LIVING AND WORKING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS AND FR. ROB IMPACTED KACIE AND ABBEY?
Not surprisingly, both volunteers had positive things to say about all the religious in their lives. Abbey says, “I enjoy the opportunity to debrief my day with them, and hear about theirs as well. Many of the Brothers’ stories lead to tales about their past, and where their vocation has taken them over the years.” Kacie agrees when she says, “Not many other volunteer programs offer that type of community living, which has made me so much more grateful that I’ve had this experience. Living with the Brothers means laughing through daily dinners, growing together in faith and prayer, and serving alongside them. But it also means having a houseful of teaching experience to give you advice after a tough day, adventuring in the city on community outings, and having someone who cares enough to check on you when you take a sick day from work. Community means constantly having someone to look out for you, take care of you, and challenge you to grow.”
WHAT WOULD ABBEY AND KACIE SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS DISCERNING A YEAR SPENT WITH THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Both volunteers highly encourage other young people to give a year of service after college. Abbey says, “Through this program, you have the opportunity to grow while being supported by a site, living community, LV staff and cohort that all want you to succeed. Overall, this year was a great challenge for me, but I have grown so much because of it and am so grateful for having to opportunity to serve as a Lasallian Volunteer.” Kacie echoes her community member by saying, “Anyone who has an interest in education and a passion for service should definitely apply to be a Lasallian Volunteer because the experiences you have as an LV are so transformative, and the LV program provides you with so many people and resources to guide and support you every step of the way.”