Bringing the Holy Land to New JerseyBy Kim Pozniak
At Morris Catholic High School in New Jersey, a colorful peace mural that graces the front of the gym is a vivid reminder to all 640 students of an activity that is part of the school's Global Solidarity Week. In those 5 days, students learn about more than calculus, world languages and chemistry.
"Global Solidarity Week is a week when we want our students to learn about what it means to be a citizen of this world," explains Judy Popovich, assistant principal of academics. "We need to think more globally and be aware of what's going on, and we need to advocate for people in other countries."
"We are trying to help students and the entire community understand where we are in this intermeshed fabric of humanity, so that everybody is connected, and everyone needs to be aware of what's going on in the world," adds Jeanne Gradone, the school's principal. "It's an awareness initiative and, hopefully, a call to action."
The Global Solidarity Week program at Morris Catholic is an extension of a recent trip to the Holy Land that Popovich and Gradone took with Catholic Relief Services. They witnessed the poverty in the region and the Catholic Church's peacebuilding efforts there. The trip was part of a CRS pilot program to help young people in Catholic high schools understand—through teacher experiences—issues faced by people in other countries, and to learn how advocate for justice and peace.
"We're a little bit removed from the poorest of the poor, and it's a hard to talk about global solidarity when you're in the middle of the suburbs in New Jersey," Gradone explains. "But when you visit a refugee camp, for example, and you meet people, it puts a life to it."
Every Class Teaches Global Solidarity
Morris Catholic High is one of three schools to launch the program, and its Global Solidarity Week is part of a larger effort to incorporate the tenets of Catholic social teaching—some of which include the promotion of peace—into the schoolwide curriculum. One activity during the week is to bring students together to build a peace mural.
Students Learn We're All Interconnected
Global Solidarity Week is part of a broader Catholic Relief Services program that reaches out to Catholic high schools across the United States to help faculty, staff and students live in solidarity with poor and vulnerable people around the world. During the week, students talk about peace and justice issues in all of their classes—from calculus to chemistry.
During a recent Global Solidarity Week, art teachers Arlene Sullivan and Todd Eisinger created the mural on a large sheet of paper, divided it into smaller squares and asked each student to design a square. The students then unveiled the mural for Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, of the Diocese of Paterson, who held Mass at the school on the second day of the program.
The school's goal for the week was to incorporate the principal and assistant principals' experiences of their trip to the Holy Land into all classes. "The students are learning about global solidarity, with particular regard to the Holy Land, in every single class," says Dr. Popovich. "For example, in calculus class, students learn about the rate of growth in Israeli settlements. Even though it's a math class, the students learn a little bit about what's going on there."
One of the most popular activities with students was advocacy training, in which students learned how to approach their elected officials and advocate for peace in the Middle East.
"We all talked about scenarios in which we would talk to senators or the governor, and how we would do it," says Amelia Nolan, a senior. "We also talked about how it's important for us to get involved in our government and what their priorities should be. It was about the problems in the Middle East and how we wanted them peacefully resolved."
The school is planning to have students meet with their elected officials to discuss the issue they're pushing: peace in the Holy Land.
"It's kind of nerve-racking," Amelia adds, with a smile. "But hopefully the training will help."
Commitment to Catholic Social Teaching
Dr. Gradone says she firmly believes her job as principal is more than just making sure the children get a well-rounded academic education.
"A principal at a Catholic school really has a sacred trust," she says. "It's a covenant relationship with parents…. They expect us to complement the work that they're doing in their homes so that our students will make a difference in the world. It's where they end up as people when they graduate. And that's made me very committed to the work of Catholic social teaching."
At Morris Catholic, an education in global issues and student engagement in the work of CRS doesn't stop at Global Solidarity Week. Each Lent, students participate in Operation Rice Bowl, CRS' Lenten program that raises about $6 million annually to fund projects that alleviate hunger and poverty overseas and in the United States. The students also participated in 101 Days of Prayer for Peace in Sudan, a campaign supporting a referendum to allow the people of southern Sudan to vote whether they wished to remain part of greater Sudan or form a new country for secession. The secession referendum was held in January and—against all predictions—was completed peacefully.
Reflecting on her trip to the Holy Land, Dr. Popovich explains the importance of putting a face to what the students are learning and adds that the students have been very receptive.
"They really seem to be interested in what we're trying to teach them about global solidarity," she says. "They really like it when we can tell them specific stories about people we've met, so we've tried to incorporate that. We really are trying to focus on making our students global citizens."