Students at St. Joseph School in Santa Ana share life with residents of French Park Care Center

By Dr. Brad Snyder, Principal, St. Joseph School     3/18/2019

As an educator, you’re always trying to move the learning environment beyond the walls of the classroom to engage students. Experiences can turn a story in a religion book into perspective-changing events. I believe that’s what happened when our 8th grade students visited the French Park Care Center. 

The students were rowdy in the hall. They were loud and the pent-up energy from the last weeks’ rains practically had them bouncing off walls. I stepped out and gave them a quick talk to calm them down.  

“Today is not about you,” I said. “Today is about making someone else’s life better. It’s not about being cool, or shy, but being ‘more’ than you think you can for someone else.” It was more than I meant to say when I stepped in front of them, but maybe the Holy Spirit was at work. 

I was not able to go with them. I kept wondering how it went throughout my morning. I was not worried about their behavior, but I did wonder if they could truly “be in the moment” for someone else in what would not be the most cheerful of places. 

I spoke to students when they returned.  

“It was stepping into another world,” said Natalia. Natalia had composed a piece for the piano and played it for the residents. “I made a connection,” she said. A woman in a wheelchair told her, “If I could walk, I would have danced.” It turns out that she was a dancer when she was young and the music created an instant connection, bridging the years that separated them.  

Marvelle, who sang for the gathered residents, explained how hearing the stories of the residents from the caretakers made her uncomfortable at first. Some couldn’t breathe on their own. Others had no one visit them. It wasn’t easy to see someone else suffering. They all noted how caring the staff was for residents and how that touched them. By watching and listening to the staff they learned, “how to take care of one another.” The staff showed them how simple interactions mean so much, like coloring and simply talking.  

Sarahy explained, “I made so many friends there. They just got so excited and happy when we asked them how their day was.” The students realized they made a difference. Even when communication wasn’t always easy because many residents spoke only Korean or Japanese, our students found a way. Natalia used sign language and when the conversation went beyond her ability to understand, she found another resident to translate for them. When I asked them if they would go again, they didn’t hesitate; the whole class responded with a resounding “Yes!”   

You never know how a learning experience will go when you put students in a new situation. You explain, you plan, you hope and you even pray. And sometimes, the Holy Spirit takes over and makes it something more than you could have imagined.