COLORADO SPRINGS. When someone older interacts with youth, one never knows the life-changing potential that interaction might have. Teens often serve as role models and inspiration for younger students, which is why the students at St. Mary’s High School reach out to parochial school students through several different programs.
These programs include special school year events, like Read Across America Day and judging science fairs; regular ongoing activities, like after-school tutoring; and summer camps, including STEM camp and sports camps. Together these opportunities allow the younger students to see the academic side of St. Mary’s, as well as the sports and fun side of the school.
Marjie Weldele, principal at Divine Redeemer School, and Sheila Whalen, principal at St. Peter School in Monument, both enjoy having their alumni and other St. Mary’s students on their campuses.
“I think there is a sense of awe that the younger students have when they see these older students,” Whalen said. “When a high school student takes the time to acknowledge and speak with a younger student, they are just full of joy. These interactions keep the connections between all of our students; it is like having family members back in town for a day!”
Given the proximity of the Divine Redeemer and St. Mary’s campuses, Weldele said the schools have an active relationship that is beneficial to the students from both schools.
“St. Mary’s has run a program for several years where seniors who are interested in teaching can come over to DR instead of a study hall to be a teacher’s aide,” Weldele said. “This is greatly beneficial to us here and gives the student valuable experience to help them discern if teaching is the direction they want to pursue. Our students love the extra attention and enthusiasm of the SMHS students as well.”
In early March, St. Mary’s students went to area parochial schools, including Divine Redeemer, Corpus Christi, Pauline, St. Paul, and St. Peter, to read to the students as part of Read Across America Day. The event was sponsored by the National Honor Society, but students who are not members were also encouraged to participate. Robyn Cross, director of student life at St. Mary’s, said events like Read Across America Day not only validate the younger students, but also validate St. Mary’s students as the younger kids look up to them, despite whatever struggles the high-schoolers might have.
“It’s important for those older kids to have the chance to step back and remember what it was like when they were younger,” Cross said.
St. Mary’s students agree. Senior Hannah LaMack read to students at Divine Redeemer on Read Across America Day. For her, interacting with the younger students was a reminder to not take life so seriously.
“It’s a chance to gain a child-like view,” LaMack said. “We’re so focused on the future and college, and interacting with the younger students brings us back and gives us a chance to have fun and be silly. It’s a reminder to keep a positive outlook.”
Sophomore Joseph Sabish, who read at St. Peter, said interacting with the younger students was a humbling experience.
“It was overwhelming in some ways,” he said. “When we were finished reading, the kids all started hugging us, and these were kids we’d known for maybe five minutes. I didn’t expect that kind of reaction.”
Senior Sarah Hwang, who read at St. Paul’s for Read Across America Day, remembers being in awe of St. Mary’s students during her years at Corpus Christi. While during those years St. Mary’s students didn’t interact as much with parochial schools as they do now, the interaction that Hwang had with them led her to choose St. Mary’s for high school.
“I remember seeing the St. Mary’s students at All-Schools Masses and I looked up to them,” she said. “When I saw and interacted with St. Mary’s students, I saw them as role models and thought that one day that could be me.”
(Amy G. Partain is communications associate for St. Mary’s High School.)