Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 1, 2004
High school lives up to its name
The justice message of Archbishop Oscar Romero is woven throughout this high school's life
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Students and staff at Archbishop Oscar Romero's High School are trying to live up to the legacy of their school's namesake by building a learning community of faith that focuses on social justice issues and human relationships.
Faith and social justice are important aspects in the daily life of the school, just like they were in the life of the martyred archbishop.
Romero served as archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until his death on March 24, 1980. During his tenure, he spoke against military oppression and called on the army to stop the killing. Right wing death squads killed him for his principled stance while he celebrated Mass.
Honour this social activist
In 2001, Edmonton Catholic Schools decided to name one of its new schools in the archbishop's honour. Romero School opened in September in the Callingwood area with 400 Grade 10 and 11 students and a staff of 32. Its student population is expected to increase significantly when Grade 12 is added next year.
Assistant principal Dan Donnelly said the school's goal is to create a culture based on the archbishop's teaching.
"We certainly have a namesake in Archbishop Romero that we feel gives us a good start in promoting the type of school we want," he said in a recent interview.
"So right off the bat we talk about justice and developing a community based on Archbishop Romero's life," Donnelly says. "And justice basically just means treating everyone fairly and trying to create a climate where people feel comfortable and excited and safe. But creating that community takes time and that's why we say we are going to plant the seeds that one day will grow."
The effort to create a culture based on Romero's life has many other variants. In addition to teaching and celebrating the archbishop's life regularly, the school also created a prayer based on Romero's teachings and converted one of the archbishop's famous quotes - "We plant the seeds that one day will grow" -into the school motto. The motto is now scripted in the school's entrance for all to see.
Romero's garden contains 400 tulips that students and staff planted in memory of the victims of the military regime the archbishop spoke against.
There are also portraits of the archbishop in the school. Recently, an artist was commissioned to do a set of stained glass windows in the library depicting the life and times of Romero. The school is holding an all-day social justice conference on Dec. 15 and is preparing to mark the archbishop's death on March 24.
The permeation of the faith is also important at Romero School. Every day from Monday to Thursday, they begin with a morning reflection prepared and read out by students. A Teacher Advisory Group, known as TAG team, helps students prepare the prayers. The students read the prayers over the intercom so every class can take part.
Prayers for the poor
On Fridays they say the school's prayer, which was written by school chaplain Brian Ferguson. "This school prayer permeates a lot of what Archbishop Romero is talking about: justice and watching out for the poor," Donnelly explained. "And the poor are not just people who are poor in money, but we've talked about how the poor could mean students who are poor in spirit or who are lonely."
And as Archbishop Romero did in his life, the school tries its best to walk the talk. The school has a social justice club that raises money and goods for local charities and development projects abroad. Recently, the 15-member club did a clothing drive for an inner city charity. Its goal was to clothe 15 people, but ended up collecting enough to clothe about 190 people. The club is also planning to raise money to provide hot lunches in inner city schools and to fund a water-well in a developing country.
Grade 10 student Kelsey Purches, a social justice club member, believes the club is honouring Romero's memory by lending a helping hand to those in need. "He was a really nice person who stood for justice for everyone, especially the needy," she said. "He showed us how to be leaders."
"He was a really good role model for all of us," agreed student Christine Holinka. "We can all learn from him."
Romero is not just a role model for the students "but for everyone who enters our doors, including staff and parents," said teacher Deborah Shinkaruk-Hobbs, the head of the school's religion department. "His message of compassion, fairness and justice for everyone is universal."
Teachers model faith
In addition to daily prayer, Shinkaruk-Hobbs said the most visible way in which teachers pass on the faith is by modeling it. Teachers try to be fair and just and participate in all activities with the students, she said. "If you don't model it, you are not teaching it."
Ferguson, the chaplain, agrees. "The Catholic faith is what we live," he said. "It's having compassion for our students, having empathy for our students and also trying to instill Oscar Romero's message of justice for all people."
And students are receptive to the archbishop's message, the chaplain said, noting that even sports events have a social justice component. In many cases, the ticket to a sports event is a can of food for the food bank or a piece of clothing for a needy family.
Currently, teachers and students are working on an environment project that involves collecting bottles twice a week to raise money toward environmental projects within the school and abroad. They are also working on an Advent project to help a new single mom. The project involves filling a baby crib with anything from diapers to bottles - everything a new mom would need.
Archbishop Oscar Romero High School is located in the Callingwood community right beside the Jamie Platz YMCA and the Callingwood arenas in southwest Edmonton.
Donnelly and principal Mike Carby were involved in its design. "We sat in with the architect, we sat in with visioning committees and had a big say in how we wanted the school to look," he recalled.
"I think it's a wonderful looking school. It's not a huge building, but it's very compact in that everything is fairly close together. We want a lot of collaboration between students and we want a lot of collaboration going on with the teachers; so we built that into it."
Oscar Romero School offers many programs to serve the needs of the community, including music, art, second languages (French and Spanish), drama, broad CTS offerings (technology, food studies, woodworking, welding, automotives), as well as a strong academic program to challenge the gifted and to promote success for all students. The school does not have a football team, but runs a comprehensive selection of school teams, including volleyball, basketball, swimming, golf, soccer, badminton, curling, track, as well as varied other activities such as jazz band, drama club, a social justice club, a fashion club and a leadership team .
"This is a very pretty school, the perfect size. I like it a lot but what I like the most is our teachers," said Purches, the Grade 10 student. "Our teachers are like Archbishop Romero; they stand up for us."
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