Sacred Heart capstone project helps students learn empathy
By John Stegeman
The Catholic Telegraph
Several months ago as part of a cross-curricular project, Emily Owen, an English teacher at Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Fairfield, asked her students why they felt so many in the United States lived in homelessness or poverty. Their No. 1 answer?
“So I said, ‘Ok, we’re doing a project,'” Owen said.
That project grew into the eighth graders’ capstone project. In conjunction with religion teacher Debbie Otero, the students wrote research papers on themes of social justice relating to Catholic teaching. In addition, students made trifold displays, some complete with video presentations via tablets, that were shown to parents and others during a June 3 event at the school, the Second Annual Sacred Heart Eighth Grade Capstone Project.
The students stood by their presentations, answering questions on everything from the Holocaust to the Jonestown cult to sweatshops and more. Superintendent of Catholic Schools Jim Rigg and Archdiocese of Cincinnati Director of the Social Action office Tony Stieritz were both in attendance at the event.
Otero and Owen said the project really opened the students’ eyes to the plight of others.
“Their responses were beautiful,” Owen said. “They said now when they see the homeless they won’t judge them. They’ll feel empathy and compassion.”
Several students echoed that sentiment, saying they learned more than expected.
Noah Patten, 14, will attend Fairfield High School next year. His project focused on sweatshops, placed where children not much younger than him are often exploited.
“I keep this in mind when I talk about these workers,” he said. That really struck home with me. They’re just kids… This turned into much more than just a school project.”
Mark Brugger, 14, will attend Stephen T. Badin high school next year. His project was on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“This should be studied in school, to tell people they have human rights,” he said. “We studied the Holocaust and other terrible things in our reading class. Then in religion class we focused on Catholic social justice teachings, like the rights and responsibilities of the human person… Our papers tied into this.”
Gabby Warren, who will attend St. Ursula Academy next year, examined how faith, when misplaced, can be a danger or a benefit to the poor and vulnerable.
“It can turn very quickly from religion to cults,” she said. “You saw it more from the religious eye. You can help the poor and vulnerable by turning them towards the church, turning them towards faith. That can turn them away from finding cults as an answer.”
Warren added that the project, while daunting was a unique blend of religion and writing courses.
“We never really had something that interconnected the classes except for this, the capstone,” she said. “This is huge, it took forever. Obviously writing connects with other things, but this is the first time we had teachers from other rooms saying, ‘This will connect to this.'”
Otero and Owen said the eighth graders took their project to heart. As their class gift, a traditional eighth grade offering that is sometimes playground or sports equipment, they plan on helping fund a doctor who serves in Haiti.
“This is why you teach at a Catholic school and this is why you go to a Catholic school,” Owen said.
Posted June 23, 2015
This story is a www.TheCatholicTelegraph.com web exclusive.