Francis’ religion teacher stresses the importance of social justice | Schools


St. Francis High School instructor Maddie LaForge teaches a social justice course for juniors, but she and her students aren’t always in class.

LaForge and her students volunteered at the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank on Dec. 6, donating their time and effort to help the nonprofit with its packaging work. Without the support of St. Francis’ service-learning coordinator, LaForge said, projects like this — and other large-scale volunteer experiences — wouldn’t be possible.

“The care and attention given to the service-learning program shows that it is a vital part of our school’s mission and identity,” said LaForge, who also teaches nuns. “As a religion teacher, I work closely with our campus minister, who coordinates with the Second Harvest food bank. Our campus minister arranges the schedule, helps us complete the registration process with Second Harvest, and arranges transportation for our students to be off campus for the school day.

LaForge social justice students heard about Second Harvest, the San Jose Bay Area’s largest food bank, and food insecurity before they volunteered. Together they discussed how the service opportunity was linked to social injustices in the region, including poverty and economic inequality.

LaForge believes that volunteering is a great way for St. Francis students to engage in hands-on learning.

“It’s so healthy for students to get up, out of the classroom and into the community. It is hard work but also very meaningful,” she said. “Students see the impact they have with every box of food they pack and they feel they are making a difference in someone’s life. Our students are happy to leave campus and do something different, and have shared that they find service work very rewarding.

Empower students

In LaForge’s experience with teenagers, they are hardworking, driven, and caring, even if they sometimes get a bad reputation for being apathetic or disengaged. She hopes that educators, mentors and other adults in young people’s lives will empower them to use their gifts with confidence and joy.

LaForge and his students also view their volunteer experience through the lens of their Catholic faith, particularly how learning about injustice moves them to act in the direction of love, charity, and justice. The class uses a “see, assess, act” model of Catholic social teaching, in which students learn to pay attention to instances of injustice in the world, assess issues of injustice through analysis critical social and faith-based reflection, and to reflect on how they are called to act to create a more just and hopeful world.

“As Holy Cross School, our social justice course is an integral part of our religious studies curriculum,” she said. “The Catholic religion embodies a rich tradition of faith that does justice.”

Aspects of Catholic social teaching include human dignity and human rights, solidarity, care for creation, and a preferential option for the vulnerable. At the junior level, which LaForge teaches, St. Francis offers two semester-long religious studies courses: Social Justice and Moral Issues. With engaged and motivated students, LaForge addresses the moral issues of the day.

“We bear witness to the injustices in our world. We assess the injustices around us using critical social analysis and faith-based reflection, and we do our best to listen to where and how we are called to make a difference,” she said. “Volunteering in our service-learning classes is one way our students embody the gospel call to care for our neighbors in a meaningful and practical way.”

Summer learning

LaForge plans to accompany St. Francis students to Puerto Rico next summer on a week-long immersion trip. St. Francis will also send 11 groups of students and educators on week-long trips across the United States, including Texas, Louisiana, South Dakota and Appalachia.

“Our Immersion in Service program provides opportunities for students to learn and grow individually and in the community, and allows us to do more service work on a larger scale,” LaForge said. “These trips are not just about volunteer hours. Students are shaped by the communities they serve, and this leaves a lasting impact on the people they become.


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