I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Human Touch and a Real 180

To say I didn't know what to expect for last period on Friday after coming back from a lively pep rally would be an understatement. Who thought holding class after a pep rally would be a good idea?!

Let me be blunt - the morning had been a little s*****, as a few of the 8th graders were really pulling out the shenanigans. I even had to send two of them to our dean. Let's just not get into those details. The 7th graders, meanwhile, had mostly redeemed my hope in humanity, as many completed the class activity (which included reading or listening to a story about recognizing what is most important and then following up with a written/artistic choice reflection) appropriately and thoughtfully. But, again, the morning had been a far cry from perfect (or even pretty good).

The 6th graders managed to enter the classroom relatively calmly - it was a miracle! But then the real miracle happened - one I didn't know I needed until that exact moment. One girl said, "Miss Foyle, it's national hug day." Now, I don't believe this was actually true, but she proceeded to come up and give me a hug. And then so did 3/4 of the rest of the class. I was stunned and almost in tears (of joy). I realized that I never really hug my middle school students...but maybe that's just what we need more of. It's so basic - human touch. Yet, can we really ever get enough?

Maybe some of them were being silly, but some of them just wanted to give me and each other a hug. And afterwards? They sat down and listened to directions. (Miracle again!) We proceeded to have a really good class - many kids shared their Old Testament figure basketball team intros project, the students played an extended version of Silent Ball as a brain break, and then we reviewed the test they had just taken. At the end of class, they cheered when I told them I'd be playing in the faculty versus student basketball game that night, and it just all brought a smile to my face. What I had gone into worrying would be a wasted class turned out to be our best one of the week. God is amazing!

Fast forward to basketball warm-ups. The students were filling up the stage and finding their seats while we, the teachers, were warming up on their side of the court. A few of the 7th grade boys started yelling, "Miss Foyle, shoot a 3!" At that point I politely declined. I knew I could possibly make one, but I was honestly afraid of shooting an air ball right then and there. But then the 4th graders told me I could do it, and I had no choice but to square up and shoot a 3. When it went in, the kids went nuts, and the joy and fun of it all eased me into a rhythm of making 4 baskets (not 3's) in a row. (Some of the parents thought I had played in high school - ha ha, no.) While I did not end up making a shots in the game (because I did not even take a shot - oops), I helped make a few plays, and I had the most fun cheering on my coworkers. We ended up beating the kids. It was a great night.

It's amazing how a day that starts out rather poorly can turn around for the better. I'm still smiling at the "national hug day" and support at the game. I love my students. What a great way to kick off Catholic Schools Week!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Catholic Schools Week is on the Horizon

As we prepare for the beginning of Catholic Schools Week, I wanted to share a reflection I wrote that will be shared with my grad school classmates next week:

I still remember the phone call from ACE (the Alliance for Catholic Education): "We're sending you to Phoenix. You'll be teaching fourth grade at SJV." 

Arizona? I'd never really been west of the Mississippi...and now I was going to live with five complete strangers and teach my own classroom full of nineteen 9- and 10-year olds? Oh help. Little did I know, help was already on the way, and it would come in the form of some amazing women in white habits...

Once my mom got over the idea that both of her daughters were about to make big moves across the country (me further than my sister), she started doing a little research into our schools (as my sister had accepted a position with ACE as well). "Do you realize your school is Holy Cross and Salesian?" she asked me a couple of weeks later. Priests from Notre Dame AND sisters from the same religious order that ran my high school? As if I needed another reminder of how good God is.

I first came to learn and fall in love with the Salesians and their incredible founder, St. John Bosco, during my time at St. Pete Catholic High School. John Bosco loved young people, and he cared in a special way for the orphans and the poor. He believed in helping young people learn various trades, and he used magic and joy to keep the children off the streets of Italy. John Bosco entrusted the children to Mary, Help of Christians, and, as students at a Salesian school, no prayer of ours was complete without the invocation of Our Lady at its end. And every January 31st (John Bosco's feast day), we would hold a special Mass and field day - yes, it was outside because Florida is still warm in January - to celebrate the amazing work of the Salesians.

Between high school and the ACE program, the Salesians came in and out of my life through various summer camp and service opportunities. And then, by God's miraculous hand, I found my first year teacher self under the supervision of a Salesian principal at my ACE school. During my three years at St. John Vianney, my understanding of John Bosco and my desire to educate the students in my community grew deeper and stronger each day, especially through our morning prayer, where the entire school gathered together in the church without fail every day. Sr. Ignacia, my principal, was a constant reminder of how, like St. John Bosco, we need to put ourselves in Mary's care. And, when Andre Bessette became the first saint for the Holy Cross order in 2010, Sr. Ignacia did not hold back from giving our pastor a hard time about how the Salesians had quite a few more saints than Holy Cross. (Always playful, always joy-filled.) I came to realize through my time at ACE that even though I was thousands of miles from my physical home (and missing it terribly), the Salesians had a special way of creating a spiritual home for everyone with whom they work and to whom they minister. I wanted more than anything to be just like them.

Even now, I still often wear a medal I received at a Salesian provincial leadership retreat in high school, which states, "It is enough that you are young for me to love you" (St. John Bosco). When days get rough and my middle school students have pushed all my buttons, I hold that medal around my neck and repeat his words. This simple phrase reminds me of the incredible work with which we are entrusted as Catholic school educators and leaders: we are forming Saints. Some days this just requires a little more patience than other days...

And so, during this wildly hectic yet amazing week, when we celebrate all Catholic schools in America (and the feast of John Bosco), let us model his example and offer up this simple prayer for ourselves and our students to our mother: Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Zeal. Zeal. Zeal.

I needed this weekend more than I knew.

But ACE knew.

I just got back from an incredible reflection-, friend-, and faith-filled weekend retreat in Florida. There were so many poignant talks, amazing interactions, and thought-provoking ideas. There was a lot to take away, but there was one thing Fr. Lou told me in confession that really hit home above all else...

I explained how I've been in a rut with my seventh graders, to the point of really resenting a number of them. This whole weekend we are celebrating our work with Catholic education and what we work day in and out for with our kids...and yet, this was hanging over my head and weighing on my heart. Fr. Lou just looked at me, and he said that we are called to love everyone, regardless of whether they deserve that love in any given moment or not. For, that is what Jesus does with us every single day.

Wow. When I thought about it like that - how undeserving I am and how God still loves me SO much - how can I not go in every day and strive to show that love to them? I know it's not going to be like the flip of a switch in terms of change, and I know that some days I will continue to get frustrated, but I am going to try to keep this at the forefront and to ask in a special way that God help me with this.

Again, so many great talks, fun activities, and special time. Here are a few photos, including one with my parents (who I got to see on Sunday!)...

Thursday was a full moon...I wish I would have known, as that explains a LOT as to what happened on Thursday...

On Thursday night, ACE put us up in a hotel...and it came with a free cookie...and really comfy beds... :)

On Friday we visited an ACE Academy - and it lived the Salesian spirit, holding Don Bosco and Mary, Help of Christians up as models. The gentlemen of our group really enjoyed recess with the kids. 

The retreat center grounds were absolutely beautiful. When we had an hour of reflection at a time, I found so much peace in just looking out onto the lake. And the sunsets...holy cow!

We had time for recreation too - one night we played a combo of trivia (which the RLP 15 gentlemen won) and charade-a-phone (which the RLP 15 ladies won - woo hoo!)...and then next night everyone dazzled us with their karaoke skills...

But like all good things, on Sunday it was time to say "until next time"...

I was blessed to be able to spend a few hours with my parents during (for Mass and breakfast) and after retreat before I flew home. We spent some time on the Riverwalk, at lunch, and downtown. It was a beautiful day!

I am so very grateful for the many blessings I have been given and people I have the fortune to call family and friends, especially through ACE. I am renewed with zeal and love for my school community, and I look forward to helping make God known, loved, and served to my students each and every day.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016: In the Books / By the Books

We are officially one week in to 2017. Happy New Year!

But before I look ahead, I decided it was good to reflect ever so briefly on the books I read in 2016. In reviewing my list, I'll admit I was more than a little disappointed I only read 18 books...and then I realized that all of the articles and books I read for grad school are not included...so then I felt a little better (because all of that was QUITE A LOT).

So, here they are - Kelly's books of 2016 (The ones in bold are the ones that especially resonated with me, and a short description of these is provided below the list):

1. Pax (1/18/16)
2. 7 Women and What Makes Them Great (3/18/16)
3. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky (4/9/16)
4. When You Reach Me (4/16/16)
5. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - audiobook (5/7/16)
6. Room 24 (5/7/16)
7. Land of the Blue Flower (short story) (5/25/16)
8. The Way of Serenity: Finding Peace and Happiness in the Serenity Prayer (6/5/16)
9. All the Light We Cannot See (6/21/16)
10. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (7/28/16)
11. Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (8/1/16)
12. Eight Hundred Grapes (8/2/16)
13. Brooklyn (8/6/16)
14. Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena (8/9/16)
15. Mother Teresa: No Greater Love (10/9/16)
16. God, Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer (11/20/16)
17. A Man Called Ove (12/19/16)
18. Small Great Things (12/26/16)

Room 24 - Already reflected on this one - you can read my original blog post here.

The Way of Serenity... - And this one too - check my post out here.

All the Light We Cannot See - I picked this one up upon the recommendation of my mom and sister, and I finished it on my Dakotas road trip. It's a beautiful story of two young people growing up during (and before) WWII. (To say much more would probably be an injustice to the books and its potential readers, so I'll stop here.) It's got a lot of pages and seems daunting, but it's quite a fast read because it's hard to put down.

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - What struck me most about this books was the beautiful language (word choice, sentence fluency, etc) of the author. It tells the story of two young children, one who is Japanese (a girl) and one who is Chinese (a boy). It takes place during WWII in America, and, at that time, many Japanese Americans were being transported to work camps (out of fear of the Japanese due to Pearl Harbor). There is love, there is loss; there is sweet, and there is bittersweet. Do yourself a favor and read it. It's probably one of my all-time favorites...and I definitely cried while reading it more than once.

A Man Called Ove - This was one of my recent list additions; finished it on the plane home for the Christmas break. The author's writing style was phenomenal, and I feel that it allowed me to get a better look into the full range of human development from young teen to older adult - what life events shape someone's life? How do we really know someone if we don't know his/her story? Good old Ove...what a guy...

Small Great Things - This is Jodi Piccoult's latest novel, and, like all of her others that I've read, it was a real page-turner (and, as per usual, had a huge twist of plot near the end). At the heart of the story is a struggle of coming to terms with the role of race in America (especially in the judicial system) - what's taboo and what should be focused on instead. But, as Jodi Piccoult comes to show the reader, race does matter, and it needs to be talked about. 

So, there we have it. Books, books, books! I just can't get enough, especially of the really good ones - the ones that tug at your heartstrings, the ones that make you laugh and cry (sometimes at the same time), and the ones that make you think.

By the books, 2016 was pretty darn good. Onward and upward with 2017!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Getting It Together

Happy 2017! As we start the new year (resolutions and all), let us remember what really matters, those things that cannot be bought but, instead, bring us closer to one another: