Guest columnist: Dawn Flesland
Music teacher John Faith has always made sure that Veteran’s Day is observed with reverence at St. Thomas School. Mr. Faith, a veteran himself, works with our local Veterans of Foreign Wars officers to invite the Color Guard and Auxiliary to our school’s program. Students sing patriotic songs, assist with the flag folding ceremony, play “Taps,” and listen to the veterans’ presentations. We ask students to invite a veteran to lunch, and those special guests are introduced and honored.
Why is this so important? At our Catholic schools, we are creating faithful citizens!
Learning about citizenship begins with our preschool students in the Diocese of Duluth Catholic schools. If you examine our social studies curriculum outcomes, found on the diocesan website, you will see that each grade level examines different topics. Social studies in the preschool classroom begins with the children simply learning about who and what the president does, working together in a community, and showing acceptance, respect, and justice. The early elementary years focus on the important family and citizen values of trust, respect, responsibility, fairness, and caring. Patriotic symbols such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, the American flag, the Statue of Liberty, the bald eagle, the Liberty Bell, and holidays are examined.
Our youngest elementary students study the rules and laws and government structures. Our later elementary students study and participate in community service projects, examine laws, and read government documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. As they mature, middle school children study our Minnesota government and how it connects us to the rest of the world. Students then move on to the roots of our great country — digging deep into our rich history, era by era.
By the time our students reach eighth grade, they are ready to study more in-depth the civic values, skills, rights, and responsibilities of becoming citizens.
Catholic schools prepare students to become patriotic citizens, but that is not all! Our students have the privilege not only to learn patriotism and the great history of our country but to view all of that information through a Catholic lens. Faithful citizenship calls us to be involved in civic engagement in all ages and stages of life — students included! So what does that look like in a classroom? Here are some examples:
We use the corporal works of mercy as a way to examine ourselves, families, communities, and beyond. Students can look and find the “helpers” in a community. Students can also be shown the needs in a community and be led to help out where appropriate.
Students can discuss voting and election issues through our Catholic lens, carefully avoiding partisanship but helping students to understand and follow their Catholic values.
Our diocese asks schools to help promote advocacy among students. Children are encouraged to send letters to their state legislators about issues close to their hearts. This past May, our St. Thomas School students wrote to our local representative and were very pleased to receive letters back from our District 3 Representative Rob Ecklund. His letters were confirmation to the students that legislative advocacy works and that their voices could be heard in government.
This November, as voting season arrives, don’t forget to teach your child about faithful citizenship. Meanwhile, in our Catholic Schools, we will be doing our best to promote faithful citizenship!
Dawn Flesland is principal of St. Thomas School in International Falls.