It’s never too early to teach children to think beyond themselves and develop a sense of civic responsibility.
By doing so, teachers and parents ensure that kids learn to share, discover the effects their actions have on other people, and internalize thoughtfulness as a key value, says Principal Brad Snyder of St. Joseph School, a Catholic preK-8th grade school in Santa Ana.
“We talk about Catholic social justice and we start at the beginning with 4-year-olds,” Snyder says. “We do it through our religion classes and the stories we tell from the Bible about the good Samaritan and how we take care of our neighbors.”
A sense of social responsibility furthers the Catholic belief that the other person is as valuable as I am and deserves respect as an individual and someone who is loved by God, he says. The concept that each of us has much to give to those in need relates directly to the Church’s teaching about the importance of community service.
In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus speaks with a lawyer who wants to know how he can get into heaven. Jesus asks him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with your entire mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus agrees and answers, “Do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied and argues the point: “And who is my neighbor?”
As we read the passage we might be forgiven for rolling our eyes at the lawyer’s obvious attempt to find a way out of such a demand. That’s not the case at St. Joseph, where students learn about the concept of the ‘dear neighbor,’ Snyder explains. “We start understanding that we are all one body – that begins as soon as the children start going to Mass with us once a week, beginning when they are preschoolers.”
Because St. Joseph’s students come from very diverse, impoverished backgrounds, Snyder says it’s important that they learn how important it is for them to be there for each other, looking beyond themselves to be the change they want to see in their community.
“These have been our values, generation after generation, in the 104 years St. Joseph has operated,” he adds. “These values come from Pope Francis and from Bishop Vann. We know that we can make a difference on a major scale when we give to the appeal for earthquake victims in Italy, for example.”
Beginning in the 7th grade, St Joseph students are required to volunteer their time in service to the community, Snyder explains. Teachers create after-school and weekend opportunities for parents to take their children to volunteer at food banks and at beach cleanups.
In addition to driving their kids to these events, parents can help instill social responsibility in their children by partnering with the school in the education process, Snyder says, knowing they are an important part of the school community and have a voice in its activities.
“By making them an active part of the school and giving away some of our decision-making authority, we create community. The parents have ownership of the values we teach,” he notes. “Respect, effort, love–we tell the children that those are the qualities of a real Dragon.” (The dragon is St. Joseph’s school mascot.) “Parents share that same language and choose to go along with the values we teach.”