by Cori Hilsgen
Sixth-grade students at All Saints Academy-St. Joseph campus have been busy learning about Catholic Social Teaching themes and committing to take action to practice those themes.
Sixth-grade teacher Susan Huls said at the beginning of the year, sixth-graders began learning more Catholic Social Teaching themes for the “calls to action” permeating the Scriptures. There are many sources for finding out what each theme states, but the students looked at the seven titles of Solidarity, Community and Participation, Option for the Poor, Care for God’s Creation, Rights and Responsibilities, Dignity of the Human Person and Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.
To create their action plans, the sixth-graders first did some mini-research to learn what each theme stressed. Then the class divided itself into two groups to devise action projects that were inspired by one or two of the themes.
One group decided to focus on Care for God’s Creation and Community and Participation. They originally wanted to do the Adopt-a-Highway program but ran into some roadblocks such as there being a minimum age requirement, the participants had to commit to a minimum of two years and there were very few available stretches of road close to St. Joseph. The students then revised their plan and decided to offer their time to clean up some city parks this spring.
Huls said it has been difficult with the cool, rainy weather, but students want to fulfill this commitment they made to take some action.
The second group decided to focus on the Option for the Poor, Rights and Responsibilities, and Community and Participation. They chose to work with Kids Fighting Hunger in Sauk Rapids. Students contacted the organization and scheduled their visit for April 11.
Kids Fighting Hunger packages food that is shipped all over the world and is only able to do so through donations. They ask that each person who visits the site to package food also helps contribute to the cost of the food. That amounts to a donation of $10 for each child and $20 for each adult.
The sixth-grade group decided they wanted to hold a bake sale to raise the money to pay for their participation in packaging the food. Huls said they worked hard to plan and organize, got together to bake a couple times one week, enlisted some adults and families in the school to contribute to their bake sale and then published their sale in the parish bulletin.
The bake sale was after the Catholic Schools Week Mass in January and another mini-sale was also the night of the all-school dance at the end of Catholic Schools Week.
“The parish and the All Saints Academy families responded so generously,” Huls said. “We were hoping to make $150, enough to cover our 10 students plus one adult (me). The total amount was $470.”
Because the parish members were so generous, the students invited any interested parishioners to join them April 11. No one contacted them, so they invited the fifth-graders to come with them (acting on the Community and Participation idea). On April 11, the sixth- and fifth-graders and their teachers visited the Kids Fighting Hunger facility in Sauk Rapids. The group spent 90 minutes learning about the organization’s mission, packing food, finding out where their packaged work would be delivered and even tasted a sample of the rice-veggie mix they worked on.
Several fifth-graders shared comments about their Kids Fighting Hunger experience.
“I would definitely do it again,” Austin Baird said. “It taught me about how we are very lucky for the life we have here and that we should be grateful.”
“I thought it was fun, and I was very surprised to find out how (many packages) we made,” Sylvie Bechtold said.
“I liked it,” Maleah Thielen said. “I hope we do it again. I liked that we got to make the food and that it was easy to make.”
“I thought it was amazing that 11 12-year-olds could do something to feed so many people,” Maria Glatzel said. “I think we should do it again. It was a great experience.”
“It was fun when we were packing the rice and I liked that we were helping people (who) don’t have food,” Wyatt Kutzera said.
“I wished we could have stayed longer,” Paul Rademacher said. “It was also fun tasting the food we made at the end.”
Huls said her colleague, Mary Cheryl Opatz at the St. Cloud campus, has been working with her sixth-graders on Catholic Social Teaching projects for several years. She and her students, and their wide variety of creative works, inspired Huls to also try the projects with her students. This is their first year trying to come up with action projects based on the Catholic Social Teachings.
She said the students really enjoyed the planning that included meeting in small groups, making contacts themselves and organizing the events (with some help from Huls). They learned a lot about how to make this work better and Huls plans to present it to her students next year also.
Huls said the students still need to decide what to do with the extra money remaining from the bake sales. They may donate it to an East Indian family they sponsor through Kathy and Dave Rennie’s WE SHARE program (a program which helps the Vijayapuram Diocese – the poorest Catholic Diocese in Kerala, India), the St. Joseph Food Shelf or to the St. Joseph monthly community meals.
She said All Saints Academy has always had a solid foundation getting students involved in giving through school-wide projects such as the Workathon, Advent collections for Shoebox Gifts and Lenten collections for Operation Rice Bowl, but this was different because it wasn’t driven by adults in the school, but rather by the sixth-grade students who were committing themselves to some action beyond collecting and donating money.