The Christmas Toy Drive

Yesterday I took part in an event that I know I will always remember…the delivery of a dumpster full of toys to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. The toys came from the generous donations from the families of my school, St. Michael School in Independence, Ohio.

How did we get the idea of having a toy drive for Rainbow Hospital? Well, we did it because St. Michael School is a family! One of our students, PJ, has had many surgeries to help him. He has a condition called Craniosynostosis which means his skull does not develop to fit his growing brain. He has had 16 surgeries on his skull to help him. He is a special child…he is a Blue Angel…he is family!

PJ’s family wanted to do something special to help the children who may not be receiving gifts this Christmas season. They know the realities of how the holiday season is for children in the hospital, which is where St. Michael School stepped in. We started PJ’s Rainbow Christmas Toy Drive!

When this started, I’ll admit that my homeroom started off kind of slowly. I was promoting the drive and encouraging my students to give. It was still slow but then all of a sudden it took off! My homeroom started giving…and giving…and even more giving! Entering into the last few days we were at 87 gifts donated by my homeroom! The last day, even more came in! We ended with over 110 gift for the toy drive! I couldn’t have been happier! My students stepped up and overwhelmed me with their compassion and generosity!

Now, this was just my homeroom. Every homeroom was just as generous! The school carried their donations down and we filled up a dumpster full of toys! It was a beautiful sight! It was a sight of our community gathering, donating, and showing the true meaning of the Christmas season!

At the end of day, PJ and his family headed down to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital to empty the dumpster. I was unsure if I wanted to go, but in the end I decided to go, and I will be forever grateful for my decision! I followed a dumpster from St. Michael School all the way to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. It was a dumpster full of joy!

As we waited to empty the dumpster, we were unable to put the dumpster down on the ground, which caused some issue. For some reason, I said just lift me up and I will be the one in the dumpster to empty it. It was me in the dumpster full of the generosity of St. Michael School. It was emotional and joyous! We emptied the dumpster…box after box of toys, books, games, and crafts! We filled up Rainbow’s library! We showed the true St. Michael School spirit…giving to others without questioning what we will receive in return! We give because it’s what we do!

So many amazing moments happened…me not wanting to go, but ending up being the one to unload the gifts…PJ’s neurosurgeon just happened to walk by for an awesome photo opportunity…seeing the faces of the UH Rainbow’s staff as they were overwhelmed by our donations! It was just what I needed heading into Christmas break!

I will never forget having PJ and his brothers join me in the dumpster to help get the items out. I knew of PJ, but I never really met him until yesterday since he is only in 1st grade. After yesterday, I feel like I have known him for a long time!

Yesterday was extremely special. Yesterday was St. Michael School at its finest! Yesterday was a day that I will always remember! I want to thank PJ’s family for letting me be a part of such a special event!


Making Connections

Well, today I did something that I haven’t done before. I was challenged by my students to take on a task that they see as very important…and that is to play Fortnite! I know that this game has been around and that it is an activity that students see as a release from the stress of school and their daily pressures. It also is a way for students to connect outside of school…and that’s where today’s adventure begins.

Today was the first day of drama club auditions and I am supervising a room full of 6th and 7th graders who are showing great dedication to this show already! While they are waiting for auditions students are playing various games on and off of their devices. Students who are playing Fortnite kept asking me if I have ever played the game and I told them that I haven’t…but that soon was going to change. A student handed me his phone and said “Here you go!” and I was on my way to playing Fortnite!

Well, I soon ended up falling from the sky…landing in some random place…jumping onto a plane and flying around…chopping down trees…and losing. Honestly though, it was a win. Students saw me differently. They saw me doing the Fortnite dances. They saw me taking on something that I haven’t ever done before. That’s the win! That’s where I come out ahead…students seeing teachers take risks…being silly…being real!

Fortnite isn’t for me…but it is a silly game that I enjoy putting myself out there to play! I may not be good at it, but I did have fun. I am looking forward to working with this group of students on this drama club production! Maybe we will have some Fortnite dances in our choreography!

School Theme…Let Your Light Shine!

As we continue into our school year, our school theme of “Let Your Light Shine” is bright throughout the school community. We are growing our light in many ways. We are trying new methods of teaching…we are welcoming new students and teachers into our school with open arms…we are finding new friends…but most importantly, we are shining God’s light to everyone we see!

“Let Your Light Shine” shows that we are working together to make our school and community an open and inviting environment for all! We cannot be an environment that excludes. We are all God’s children and we need to treat each other as such. God’s light needs to shine brightly from within each of us. The darkness in this world can only be overcome by the light that we show.

I have 16 students in my homeroom and each student shines their light in a different way. There are artists, singers, dancers, athletes, readers, crafters, engineers, and so many other gifts that God has given to them. This has been an inspiration for me. These students, in the short time that I have had them, have reignited my passion for education. We have been in class for 1.5 quarters and I have seen such growth in these students. They have truly brought a new light into my educational career.

We have to continue to let our light shine. We cannot stop letting it shine because of challenges that we may encounter. We need to have our lights shine brighter during these difficult moments. We each face challenges throughout our lives, but we need to find ways to let our light shine through any crack in that challenge and find a motivation to move forward.

This year has already prepared me for a bright future. All I hope is that I am leading my students towards their bright future. Can’t wait to see how bright my students will shine at the end of this school year! Let your light shine, Blue Angels!

Preparing for the School Year

The upcoming school year is rapidly approaching and it is a bittersweet moment. Spending time with family and friends, working on my new house, enjoying time with my new wife, and enjoying time exploring my new neighborhood…these are all moments that will be reduced as I begin this new school year. Yes, I will miss those moments, yet I’m excited for the upcoming possibilities that this school year holds. It’s going to be a year of innovation, growth, socialization, and self-discovery. It’s a year all about students!

When students enter into my classroom, excuse me, when students enter into THEIR classroom, it will be a place for them to be who they are. It will be a place where they can grow in their social skills, grow in their knowledge, and grow in their faith. I do not want my classroom to be a place where students feel unwelcome or out of place. Our classroom will be a community.

Preparing a classroom is not easy, yet at the same time it is exciting. This summer our school did a little remodeling. The classroom was painted and new carpet was laid. It’s a much different look now! With all these changes, there is more to do to prepare for the upcoming year. There is more cleaning, moving of desks and cabinets, and hanging posters up on the wall, but this is a representation of our upcoming year…it’s a fresh start!

Every student comes into a classroom with a past. Every student has their story. I cannot let those stories impact how I see a student. Every student that enters into the classroom is a new story and this school year is a new chapter for them. The past will not define my perception of a student. This upcoming year is like the new paint and carpet in my classroom for each student…it’s a fresh start.

I’m excited for this upcoming year! Next week students will enter into their classroom, some will be eager and others may be nervous, but each student will be there to grow as an individual or a community. We will grow together and we will share laughs and failures and we will become a better community. We will see our faith grow individually and in each other. We our going to SHINE!

NCEA Day 2…The Presentation

So, today I did something that I never thought I would do…present at a national conference! Sure…it wasn’t the entire convention I was presenting to, but it was still letting my voice be heard to teachers from across the country. I was overwhelmed, excited, nervous, and all those other words to describe my anxiousness. All that matters though is that I did it. I took a risk and faced it head on. I did something that was different for me and I did it well.

Yes, I said I did it well. Do I know that for sure? No…but I felt like I did well. My perception from observing the audience was that they were receptive of what I was saying…and sometimes that is what matters most. I will never know the true outcome of my presentation, but if it helped one person, that is what matters. I was placed in Junior Ballroom B at the Duke Energy Convention Center for some reason. I spoke from the heart…I told the great story that is St. Michael School…I shared my Joy of the Gospel with the people that attended my session. That’s what I set out to do. I wanted people to walk away from my session energized in a way that will make them want to bring their passion of the Word of God to the families in their school community. Now it’s up to the Spirit to lead them to deliver that joy to the families.

Leading up to the presentation, I was nervous. Why? Why was I so nervous telling the story of a place that I hold so dear to my heart? Here’s the answer…there’s a lot pressure sharing the long, wonderful story that is St. Michael School. I have only been at the school for 3 years, but I can tell that the families and teachers have a deep care and love for the school community. Placing myself in front of educators from around the country to tell this story was overwhelming, but a great honor as well. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to tell the great things that St. Michael School does to educate both our students and school community.

The main thing I did throughout this whole process was to let the Spirit lead me. I had to trust that I was being placed where I needed to be, and I truly feel that I was led to where I needed to be. I was where the Spirit placed me to give the spark to someone or some place…who that was or where that was I may never know. All I do know is that I was able to share my Joy of the Gospel and Joy of St. Michael School to those in attendance at NCEA 2018!

NCEA 2018 Day One…Spirituality and Mission

Today was the first day of the National Catholic Educational Association Convention and Expo in Cincinnati. I went into today with having a basic idea of which sessions I wanted to attend, but as I went further into the day I let the Spirit lead me into the sessions I needed to be in. Yes, the sessions I needed to be in…not the sessions I wanted to be in. Sometimes we need to let ourselves go and let the Spirit place us where we need to be.

Even before sessions began, the Convention began with Mass. Today’s Mass was special as it was presided by His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. In simpler terms, he oversees all Catholic education for the Vatican. The main theme for the Mass was “Who are we seeking?” We are seeking the Lord, Jesus Christ. We need to seek Him everywhere.

This is sort of why I let the Spirit lead me to the sessions I attended. I was seeking the Lord where I needed to find him. I found him in 2 sessions that dealt with Spirituality and Mission in schools. Why was I pulled to these sessions? What was I to find in these 2 sessions? I believe I found my reasons…I need to be stronger in developing mission and faith formation for myself and my school community.

Session 1 was great. I spent the session thinking and reflecting on my own reason of why I am a part of a Catholic school. It strengthened my calling of being a Catholic educator….yet I also found new ways, simple ways, to bring faith formation to myself and my colleagues, which will only lead itself to developing a greater faith formation for our students. It’s where I needed to be.

Session 2 was a last second decision. I was about to walk into a session, yet I stepped out and went next door only to be pulled into a session on developing spirituality and faith formation. Very similar to the first session, yet it was more interactive. More opportunities to share and build with other Catholic educators. This was more of what I needed, especially since it built off my first session. I found several connections and ways that I feel will benefit my school community well. I’m excited to share what I gained in these 2 sessions.

Again, I didn’t really have a plan, but I did feel I needed to be in these sessions. Sometimes we need to let go of our plan and let the Spirit lead us to His plan.

Our keynote address was by His Eminence and then Bishop Caggiano. Their discussions were on the Joy of the Gospel and Catholic education. This was a bit overwhelming for me since my presentation tomorrow is Taking the Joy of the Gospel from the Classroom to the Home! How am I supposed to follow up a Cardinal and a Bishop on this topic? I will try my best, but all I can do is let the Spirit lead me. The Spirit will guide me in what I need to say and share. The Spirit does wonderful things for us. We just need to place our trust and focus on letting the Spirit place us where we need to be.

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I will be presenting. I will be sharing the story of St. Michael School and how we take the Joy of the Gospel from our classrooms to our families. We have areas we can grow and I feel we are on the right path. I’m excited for tomorrow, yet I’m also nervous. I know that I will share from the heart and that I have amazing support behind me. Please keep me in your prayers.

God bless!

My One Word for 2018…Family!

Family. Family can be defined as a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. Yes, that is a very basic definition of family, but what characteristics do I see in a family? I see family as a group of people who care for each other; who want to see each other grow and be better each day; to learn from each other; support each other; to laugh with each other; to have fun; and most importantly, want to be with each other.

Now, why would I choose the word family as my One Word for 2018? Well, there are may reasons. First of all, I am blessed to be a part of a loving supportive family. My family has guided me throughout my entire life and I am so fortunate to have my mom, dad, and sister to be there for me everyday. I am also blessed to have a great brother-in-law and 3 nephews to make me a stronger person. They are so instrumental in me being who I am today!

Secondly, my life with be changing on July 7 when I begin my own family. I will be getting married on July 7 and I am beyond excited to begin my new life and family with my amazing fiancee! She is so supportive, loving, and caring that I don’t know where I’d be without her! My family life is going to change on July 7, but it also means it is going to be even stronger because of all the support I have and will continue to receive from my current family!

Thirdly, I want my students to feel as if we are a family. My classroom will be supportive, caring, wanting each other to grow better each day, having fun, laughing, and wanting to be there. Every student should want to come to school not because they have to, but because they want to be with their classmates. I want students to take risks together and challenge each other to be the best they possibly can be, both academically and spiritually.

I want my students to look at their faith with open eyes and hearts to find ways that they can guide others in their faith. I want students to take their strengthened and renewed faith and take it home with them to their families. I want my classroom to extend from the school building into their homes. I cannot let the opportunities to grow the faith of my students to slide by. I need to see my students and classroom as a family more. I need to guide and facilitate ways for my students to want to support each other even more.

While my classroom is not the definition of parents and children living together in a household, I feel we are and can be an even stronger “family” by the characteristics I feel a family has. I am excited for my future family, but I’m also excited to take the second half of the school year and 2018 to grow my classroom into more of a “family”.

Expecting the Unexpected

As the days go by in the classroom, educators must recognize that students need breaks. Students need to be given opportunities to sit with each other to grow, learn, and be children. Being a fifth grade teacher, I am constantly reminded that my students are still children. They need to have moments to stop and be reminded that they are still children. We need to be silly…we need to laugh…we need to dance…we need to sing. How do we do this as educators? Well, we expect the unexpected!

Educators setup lesson plans…we setup guidelines…we setup classrooms that we feel will be the best environment for learning. Yet, we do all this and sometimes the best lessons come from those unexpected moments of stopping and building on a question from a student that leads you to something new…something that takes the lesson in a new direction…to a learning moment that involves having students grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

These unexpected moments are when you change direction and take that risk to go away from YOUR plan and into THEIR plan. The key to all this is that it is YOUR plan…if it is YOUR plan where does the say of students come in? THEIR plan are filled with unexpected moments. They know what they need. We need to recognize what they need. Plans are made to change. Plans are made to be filled with opportunities to let students be children.

I spent this morning with fellow teachers guiding students in making ornaments for a Christmas movie themed tree. Students socialized with their buddies and created so many wonderful ornaments. Following their ornament making, we came back to our classroom and we could’ve moved onto a lesson, but the students deserved a break…so we watched VeggieTales and a story about Christmas. They sat quietly and enjoyed it…they were being children. It are these moments that make me appreciate the unexpected. Was this in my plan for the day? No. Did I need to do this? No. Was it the best thing for the students? Perhaps. Did it build a relationship between the students of this classroom? Absolutely. That’s what this is about. The unexpected moments building my classroom into a community. That’s so important to me!

Unexpected moments lead to expected results. I have found those results involve laughing, singing, smiles, and a stronger classroom. Letting students be children in unexpected moments brings joy to a classroom. I’m so grateful that I had this unexpected moment today!

Wonder…What I Wonder

I went to go see the movie Wonder with my family. First of all, it is a very powerful movie. I’ll admit that I started crying within the first few minutes of the movie. As I watched the movie though, I started to wonder a lot.

I’m a fifth grade teacher. All I could wonder is “how do my students feel?” and “what would my students do if an August Pullman entered into our classroom?” I would like to imagine that my students would welcome Auggie with open arms and excitement, but would they really do that…I don’t know.

This made me feel like I know I have more to do to make all my students feel welcome. Am I doing everything I can? Am I excluding any of my students? If I’m not, I know I need to. If I am excluding, then I am sorry. I do not mean to do these things.

What can I do to make my room more welcoming? First, I need to be present and welcoming. I need to welcome my students to their classroom. I need to take the time to listen to their stories. I need to gain an insight into their lives and experiences. I cannot let these opportunities to slide by.

My students are wonders. Each student has a certain connection to me. I need to build on these connections. I need to welcome these connections into my classroom. The wonders that are my students are wonders that make me a better teacher.

I also need to teach my students to be Summer’s and Jack’s. I need to teach students to stick up for those around them that need support and also how to learn from their mistakes.

I need to make my students wonder and grow. I cannot leave these great opportunities left untapped. I need my students the same way that my students need me. I am not here simply to give them information but rather I am here to help them see the greatness that lies inside them and each other. In the same way, my students help me see the greatness that lies in me and they show me ways to grow in my wonder.

I am so grateful for each of the wonders in my classroom. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to see them achieve their successes on their own and together. I am also grateful that they help me become a better person.

Be kind. Be great. Be you. I am a wonder.

Bearing Witness…”Wrap Up”

First of all, titling this post as “Wrap Up” kind of seems like the wrong title. So, let’s think of it more as “Send Forth”! We did not wrap up anything but we were called to be sent out to our schools and dioceses to bear witness to what we have learned. We are to carry, or bear, the realities that we have encountered and teach others how to not let these tragedies happen again.

We learned the history of anti-Semitism…we learned what the Church did during the Holocaust…we heard a story of a survivor…we witnessed the evidence of anti-Judaism…we know where society went wrong. We learned that anti-Semitism isn’t an isolated event. We were called to learn, grow, and be the change in society through our classrooms.

Bearing Witness was a program like I never encountered before. It shared sadness, tears, and questions…but we also shared happiness, laughter, and answers. There were moments from this experience that I know I will never forget from both ends of the emotional spectrum. Some parts were overwhelming, but some parts were full of silliness. How can this be?

The answer is people! The educators on this experience were honest, real, and passionate! They wanted to be here! They wanted to grow! This is one of the most important part of growth as an educator…you have to want it! These 42 educators wanted it!

I had heard that the Bearing Witness was intense and could be difficult to encounter…and what I heard was correct. What I didn’t hear though is that bonds would be made from educators from across the country..Los Angeles to Boston! I didn’t hear that there would be joy and excitement…and there was plenty of that! I imagined it would change my life because it would be difficult and overwhelming. And it did, but it changed me because I grew within my profession and as a person.

I now see myself wondering what I can do to model behavior that will create an ally environment. I’m looking within to see how I can best serve my students. I’m looking at all the educators I have grown with this past week and figuring out how we can collaborate to not let this program be isolated to our schools, but expanded into our society!

I want to thank the Anti-Defamation League, NCEA, the USCCB, and Georgetown University for their commitment to the Bearing Witness Program! Naomi, Seth, Naomi, Fr. McManus, Rabbi Sandmel and all those who made this happen…Thank You!

Bearing Witness has meant a lot to me. It was difficult for me to be away from my fiancée and loved ones for the week. I faced those challenges and they grew harder and harder everyday, yet with everyday hope grew knowing that I would see her and my loved ones soon. We have that hope. We need to share that hope. I need to grow stronger. I need to Bear Witness.