“We have a game at Neumann,” Dr. Mirenda began.
“Walking down the corridor, we try to guess where a student has come from. And when we guess someone has come from one of our Catholic schools, we are almost always right. The respectful nod, the silence, the stopping at the chapel door. Our students are poised; they graduate with a sense of wholeness.”
Of course, wholeness means much more than campus etiquette. Dr. Mirenda shared with us the story of a lifelong Catholic student she had recently counseled. The young woman had been rejected from a program she had worked towards since the third grade. “We were able to speak right from the start about having faith. About how things happen for a reason, but we have to stay engaged in making good things continue to happen for us, for seeing God’s plan and seeing what we have to do to fall in line with it.”
“It’s about accepting defeat without bitterness.” Dr. Mirenda explained the student’s upbringing in Catholic schools helped her move on in a constructive manner.
Dr. Mirenda knows firsthand, having attended AOPS Schools herself. She described how students like her gain an important emotional, intellectual, and spiritual grounding from a Catholic environment.
“Even if [a student] is not Catholic, I think it has tremendous influence on that young person, deepening their spirituality. That is a gift — it’s combining the utilitarian dimension of going to school with a deeper moral and ethical formation as a result.”
That formation certainly begins at home. But Dr. Mirenda was quick to point out that today’s parents may be less available than they once were. “Parents have to deal with serious challenges in their lives: finances, and having to work more than they’d like to. All of that pressures families to release more easily their responsibility to educate. And when one thinks of the hours and days one spends in school, in contrast with the time you spend with family, the school becomes critical to that ongoing moral development.”
So, what can educators at AOPS Schools do to engage students as whole persons? Dr. Mirenda offers two pieces of advice. First, she challenges teachers to get creative with students’ assignments. “Inspire them to interact with a parent, or with a good neighbor,” she said as part of an effort to help families “participate and engage directly with the educational experience.”
Second, she asks administrators to support teaching staff. “For [teachers] to continue their own education in Catholic teaching and theology, it needs to be accompanied by a commitment on part of the leadership to continually encourage, inspire and mentor those teachers.”
Ultimately, Dr. Mirenda points out, every person in the community has a role to play in developing our students as multi-dimensional human beings. Parents, teachers, and even legislators must all work towards creating an environment where students can answer the most fundamental question of daily life: “What is right?”