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La Salle introduces new religion program

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

By Mike Dyer

ST. MARGARET MARY DEANERY — With the introduction of the De La Salle Signum Fidei Institute (DLSFI), La Salle High School is sharpening its focus to emphasize several unique aspects of the school, including a dedication to forming leaders of faith, helping students be strong in mind, body and spirit and a call to serve others.

Each year seniors attend a three-day Kairos retreat, meeting in small groups to discuss issues they face in their lives. According to school officials, the experience is transformative, but students have mentioned that they wished they could have had the positive Kairos experience earlier in their high school years, well before they are one step from graduation.

De La Salle Signum Fidei Institute
The first De La Salle Signum Fidei Institute student leaders. (Courtesy photo)

The brochures for the Signum Fidei (Latin for sign of faith) Institute describe the situation this way: “As Lasallian educators, we have often asked ourselves, ‘how can we help each student follow through on his Kairos experience to continue on a meaningful, lifelong spiritual journey?’”
That sentiment led to a discussion three years ago between the director of campus ministry, the director of student activities and the web communications director. The result was a proposal for the Signum Fidei Institute, a required course for students that will be phased in over the next three years. It will start with the freshmen class for the 2010-11 academic year. There are four themes to the program — family, community, friends and the world — that will be emphasized throughout the students’ high school years.
There are eight foundations to the program that will be of benefit to the school and enhance student life. These include improvement in a student’s GPA, attendance at events and number of service hours accumulated. Students will compete in various ways, with points tallied throughout the year. The winning foundation will have their names engraved on the special De La Salle Cup.
La Salle has always emphasized students’ call to serve, whether it’s through canned food drives or other volunteer projects. The new program enhances that effort, says Steve Dalton, director of the Signum Fidei Institute.
Dalton said the goal is to allow La Salle students to have significant meaning during their high school years and be equipped with the tools to succeed in life and become leaders in their respective communities when they graduate.
“The response from the whole La Salle community has been extremely positive,” Dalton said. “The faculty has stepped up in a big way. Many of our faculty members applied to be one of the eight foundation directors.”
Dalton said he was very glad to see the affirmative response students gave in May; almost a fourth of the juniors applied for a senior leadership role. The students have committed to meet six times over the summer and possibly give up to a free bell every other day during the school year to help run the program in its inaugural year.
“The Signum Fidei program excited me with its emphasis on brotherhood, not only in the different grade levels but throughout the whole school,” said senior Mike Chadwick, Signum Fidei student body president.
“We initially planned to only accept nine students (one class president and eight foundation leaders), but based on the overwhelming interest, we revised the plan and decided to accept two leaders per foundation for a total of 17,” Dalton said.
During this upcoming school year, the Signum Fidei Institute will help students learn to apply their skills, knowledge and experience to be servant leaders. They will learn to identify needs in the community and work with others in a realistic setting, Dalton said.
“I believe our biggest strength and the characteristic that sets us apart from other schools is our commitment to service,” Dalton said. “We believe Signum Fidei is going to help us take this one step further.”
Dalton said more than 100 La Salle alumni have shown interest in the program and expressed a willingness to help the students. In addition, Dalton said the Signum Fidei Institute will help identify students who are struggling and offer them the support and encouragement they need to be successful at the school.

Three categories of faith will continually be emphasized throughout the program, including the mind (Scriptures, Ten Commandments), hand (helping people and faith in action) and the heart (a bigger picture of faith).
Chris Winiarksi, director of campus ministry, said Christ showed us that the context of faith is played out in one’s relationships and the Signum Fidei Institute will help students build healthy, faith-centered relationships with their peers and teachers.
Also contributing to building these relationships is the school’s new Kairos retreat model that creates a service program involving all the members of the La Salle community. The Kairos retreat will be moved to the second semester of a student’s junior year. Following the culmination of the last Kairos (likely in the spring), the juniors will be placed with their Kairos groups in small faith-sharing communities, otherwise known as their project teams.

“Within the context and structure of the DLSFI curriculum and the new retreat model, students will practice spiritual and experiential self-introspection regularly and will learn to turn their faith outward, developing their God-given gifts and talents to lead in the service of others,” Winiarksi said.

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