December: San Miguel School

Our December Ministry of the Month highlights San Miguel School in Washington, D.C. Olivia Brophy is a second-year LV and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California (SMC) in Moraga. Kamila (Mila) Kuchta is a first-year LV and a 2020 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona. 

What is San Miguel School?

Olivia Brophy

San Miguel School is a Lasallian middle school, dedicated to transforming lives for academically underserved and economically disadvantaged boys in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Based on the virtues of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, the Miguel model of education provides the academic, spiritual and social training necessary for positive character development, personal resiliency and responsible citizenship. Students enter San Miguel as at-risk boys and graduate as Miguel Men, equipped for future success in high school, college and beyond.

Why did Olivia and Mila decide to become Lasallian Volunteers?

Olivia decided to become a Lasallian Volunteer because she didn’t want to be done with the Lasallian world after graduating from college. “I entered SMC at a really vulnerable time and discovered a network that supported/encouraged me to reach my highest potential despite the obstacles that I faced. In a way, I wanted to find a way to put the type of support and energy I had received back out into the world.”

Mila Kuchta

Mila decided to become a Lasallian Volunteer because she has always been drawn to service and wanted to continue to learn more about the Lasallian mission. “After having second thoughts about my student teaching experience, the LV program seemed like the perfect fit for me. Rather than jumping straight into my career as a teacher and living in Minnesota for the rest of my life, the LV program provides me with the support I need as a first-year teacher and challenges me to live somewhere completely different.”

Which of the core values (faith, service, community) is most important to Olivia? To Mila? Why?

For Olivia, service is the most important core value. “Through service, I’ve found faith and community,” Mila agrees. “Service is the most important Lasallian core value to me because it is what drives our volunteer experience. I see community and faith as added bonuses, whereas service is ultimately what we signed up for.”

What are the most challenging obstacles that Olivia and Mila’s students face? How does San Miguel School and its own outreach empower its students to overcome these obstacles?

For Olivia, it’s hard to choose one obstacle because she believes there are so many that intersect both in general and at the level of each individual student/family. “If I had to summarize, I would say that the educational disenfranchisement of boys in this country has long-lasting effects that affect the individual, the community and our society as a whole. When students feel like they can’t be successful because they haven’t had anyone who believes in their potential or knows how to support them, they often feel trapped in a game that they can’t win. By committing to meeting our students where they’re at and honoring where they’re coming from (in every sense of that phrase), San Miguel seeks to empower our students to overcome the structural barriers they face in this country.”

This is something Mila is still working on. “If I’m being honest, I still have a lot to learn about the challenges my students face. It has been quite difficult to get to know the students virtually and especially as a new teacher. However, I can see how dedicated the staff is to empowering our students, who would have most likely fallen behind in public schools. San Miguel students are held to high expectations and provided with opportunities for intellectual as well as spiritual growth.”

What are the most important things Olivia and Mila’s students need from them?

For Olivia, the word that comes to mind is consistency. “They need someone who is going to show up for them and be present with them through thick and thin, especially in this uncertain time we’re living in right now.”

“I think that the most important thing my students need from me is to be seen, heard and understood,” shared Mila. “Middle school students are way too often overlooked, ignored or dismissed, especially boys, and even more so Latinx/Latino youth. Moreover, it is particularly important that I tend to my students’ needs with our current virtual/hybrid model of learning.”

What are some ways you have engaged with your students during COVID-19?

Last spring, Olivia started a teacher Instagram where she could have video meetings with students, share polls/questions, and post their work in a forum where their classmates could see and support them. “I hope to use that platform in one of my English Language Arts (ELA) projects this year, where students will create their own social media campaign based off of research they conduct on a social justice topic!”

“Most lessons are asynchronous and delivered virtually, either four or five days a week, with the exception of one synchronous (Google Meets) session a week,” said Mila. “It almost doesn’t feel like I’m a real teacher because we’re not in the classroom, however, I still strive to make my lessons as engaging and interactive as possible. Whether it’s a prerecorded lesson, live session or an individual meeting, I act just as I would in the classroom.”

What would Olivia and Mila say to a college senior who was discerning a volunteer year?

Olivia believes there’s never been a way to guarantee how an experience like this will turn out, and that’s even more true now. “Take time to seriously think about what a volunteer year might change about your life and be prepared to really give yourself (and your plans!) over to being transformed by the LV experience. Honesty with yourself is key in discerning this kind of experience!”

Mila says there are many reasons she would encourage a college senior to join the LV program. “Whether it’s the experience itself, amount of support offered, formation opportunities, living in a new place, etc., I’d say that if you’re passionate about service, community, and/or faith, do it!”

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