Everything Notre Dame Prep does is driven by the mission to empower its students to become women who will transform the world. The faculty and staff can only hope each girl will choose a way that is rooted in the Gospel values of love, peace, and justice; values deeply embedded in the foundation of NDP. To that end, NDP continually seeks new and creative ways to nurture those roots and to encourage the girls to help build a more loving, just, and peaceful world. In support of that concept, NDP established a new club for 7th graders called the Shalom Club, one of an international network of Shalom Clubs, started by the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND’S), and dedicated to fostering peace, love, and justice throughout the world. Through the club, the girls’ eyes are opened to the conditions of the greater world, parts of which bear little resemblance to the relatively safe, secure world in which the girls live. Each week, the girls become more and more aware of the needs of the world, both locally and globally. Through discussion, reflection, and action they discover ways in which they can be agents of peace and social justice. The action component is particularly compelling because it exposes the girls to people and places they might not otherwise encounter. It is a baby step towards understanding that the world, with the one small exception of themselves, is made up of all sorts of Other People whose life journeys and circumstances are far different from their own. And yet…
Last week, 20 or so members of the Shalom Club, accompanied by teacher/moderators, Mrs. Mary Margaret McClurg and Ms. Kate Gerwin, boarded a school bus at NDP, left their beautiful campus, and drove to a very different part of the world. They only drove a few miles, from the county to the city, but in many ways they might as well have been a thousand miles away. As the bus maneuvered southward into the city and then eastward towards its destination, it passed block after block of boarded up, abandoned houses and graffiti stained buildings. A few blocks east of Greenmount Avenue they turned onto Somerset Street, a little oasis in an otherwise blighted area. They had arrived at their destination: Caroline Center (CC), another SSND sponsored institution but one very different from NDP. Caroline Center is a job-training center that educates un- and underemployed women in Baltimore City in careers with opportunities for advancement. Most of the women are African American single mothers and, actually, most are employed in some capacity. In fact, many of them have 2 or 3 jobs, working at night, attending school during the day. Most of the CC women take the bus to school and work. All need daycare. Very few, if any, have healthcare. Nearly all were born and raised in the city, within a couple of square miles of CC. Nearly all have seen hard times and experienced personal tragedy. And in a few minutes, the women of CC and the 7th graders of NDP were going to meet.
But first, the Americorps volunteers who worked at CC had an exercise for the NDP girls. Randomly, they distributed a single index card to each young girl. On it was her “new identity.” She had no choice in the matter and the girls could not share their new identity with each other. Some were quite pleased with their status. Others were leery. Some were a little concerned. Suddenly they were divided into the Haves and Have-Nots. It was the luck of the draw. Through a series of scenarios read aloud, the Americorps volunteers asked the girls to take a step forward every time they – according to their new identity – were able to take advantage of certain opportunities, had certain levels of education, could afford certain things, never felt discriminated against, didn’t have a disability, and so on. By the end of the exercise, some girls had stepped way forward. Some were stuck in the middle. And some were left way behind which, according to them, “Made them feel awkward and excluded.” Then they had a discussion about what circumstances and things can keep someone from moving forward in life. The girls of NDP are quite smart and their answers were very astute. With that, they moved into the next room where they would meet some of the CC women. The meeting was to be an informal question and answer session where they would simply get to know each other. Now, based on the fact that the Shalom Club has done much to raise the collective consciousness of the girls about a variety of issues and based on the Americorps exercise they had just completed, I expected the NDP girls to ask questions about living in the city, what it’s like to be a working mom, even questions about poverty and hardship. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The discussion went something like this:
7th Grader: What’s your favorite color?
CC Woman 1: Hot pink…
7th Grader: Me too!
2nd 7th Grader: Do you like your uniform?
CC Woman 2: I do. Do you like yours?
2nd 7th grader: I do! It’s so comfortable! It’s the same color as yours!
3rd 7th Grader: What’s your favorite food?
CC Woman 3: Anything chocolate…
3rd 7th Grader: I loooove cheese curls!
Other girls laugh
3rd 7th grader: I can’t help it. I really do.
4th 7th grader: How many kids do you have?
CC Woman 4: I have a 3-year old and a 1-year old…
Entire 7th grade class: Awwww, that’s so cute!
Lots of laughter
7th Graders: What music do you listen to? What’s your favorite subject? What do you do for fun? Do you like to do homework?….
Yes. They were simply getting to know each other. Not as Other. Not as the Haves and Have Nots. But as Meaghan and Shanita, Taylor and Nikita, Susie and Tinay. And in getting to know each other they discovered that they had far more in common than not. And that, after all, is the first step towards a more loving, just, and peaceful world.
What kind of service project did you do when you were at NDP? What lessons would you like your daughter to learn about the greater world? Send your answers and comments to Bluenote.