St. Julie Billiart knew that education was key to lifting children out of poverty and restoring hope and dignity, and it's still true today. Children who can read, write, do math, and learn problem-solving skills, have better job opportunities. They also have the tools, confidence and faith to help their families and their communities.
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have been teaching in schools all over the world for more than 200 years. While the classrooms, resources, routines, and uniforms vary between locations, the quality of the education and the enthusiasm of the students are constants.
Many of these schools have unique challenges. In the past students came to Notre Dame Secondary School in Mpese, Congo, so hungry they felt sick and couldn't concentrate on learning. The Sisters didn't have the long-term resources to feed the children on a regular basis. The solution? Now part of the students' education includes growing corn, which is later ground up and made into gruel. Every morning each student receives a cup of corn gruel. Learning in the classroom is easier when your stomach isn't growling.
Lining up for corn gruel in the Congo.
Closer to home in Sacramento, California, Cristo Rey High School has its own growing pains as administrators seek to fully outfit classrooms and provide equipment for the school's programs. Their wish list includes plenty of basics like science software, music stands and soccer balls. Students take it all in stride. "I think it makes us stronger, how we have to accomplish everything with less," says student Marcus Jones. Students also work one day a week at local businesses to help pay for their tuition. These work days develop skills and confidence for students who never dreamed their futures could be so big!
Students all work one day a week developing skills and confidence.
At Notre Dame Seishin School, in Hiroshima, Japan, students work hard in the classroom and in study groups, but also find that not all learning occurs in a classroom. While the school population is homogenous, in a diversity exercise the students experience the difficulties of navigating the streets in wheelchairs.
Learning about diversity in Japan: the students had fun with this exercise, but it packed a powerful lesson.
No matter where the school is, no matter whether resources include one book for four students or access to a large computer lab, Sisters of Notre Dame endeavor to teach young people what they need to know for life. It was true 200 years ago. It’s still true today.
By Karen Bil Ratzlaff