divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”
within our local communities and around the world has never been so
great as it is today. Whether educationally, economically, digitally,
or in access to information, communications and services, the rich
and powerful are leaving the majority of their fellow human beings
behind. The problem is enormous and seemingly insurmountable –
unless we start small and in our own backyard.
Since 1993, Nativity Jesuit Middle School has been educating Hispanic
youth for Christian leadership and service on Milwaukee’s near
south side. Nativity forms 53 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade
boys into leaders for tomorrow by showing them what service is today.
In its unique, nearly year-round program, Nativity helps low-income
students from mostly first-generation Latino families experience
generosity of thousands of volunteers and benefactors. They benefit
from an extended school day, evening study halls to master their
and a five-week residential summer camp with academic classes six
mornings a week in northern Wisconsin.
Although families pay tuition, Nativity depends nearly totally
on private fundraising to operate annually. But writing a check,
is not sufficient for Nativity to continue. We rely on hundreds
of local college students, adults and local organizations to model
back to the community” can mean.
Next May, Nativity’s first class, which entered in 1996, will
graduate from colleges and universities across the state. Fully 100
percent of Nativity’s
graduates of the past four years are still in high school and
nearly all of them are still being mentored by the adults who began
in their freshman year. The pipeline is being filled. Soon Nativity’s
long-range goal of turning out a steady stream of college-educated
leaders will begin. But that will accomplish only part of Nativity’s
mission. How do we teach for service?
Part of teaching is modeling. By college graduation, “Juan” or “Miguel” will
have personally known scores of citizens who have spent countless
hours coaching him in sports and after-school activities, tutoring
evening study halls, accompanying him at summer camp or walking
with him as his
mentor throughout his high school years.
Yet Nativity believes its students learn not only from the example
of others, but also by doing what others model for them. Therefore,
the middle school years, Nativity students do service work
here in the community at day care centers and senior citizens’ residences,
serve meals to street people and clean up the neighborhood. If our students
are to serve others, we cannot wait until they graduate from college
and then say, “Go serve.” They must learn it by
serving all along the way.
Service should be included in everyone’s schedule, busy
as we are. Already our students are finding out that serving
grow in compassion and understanding and puts academic learning
into a much more practical context. And, many students find that
good to be helpful to others, that they can indeed make a
difference in small but significant ways in their world. Now that
Service is leadership. Service is learning. Service can begin
to close gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” but
it has to be modeled by someone and then practiced by all. Education
means “to lead out.” We all need role models,
but then we must follow their lead. Such steps will begin
to bridge the gap
separates too many of us. Imagine the distance we could
travel if we all did our part.
Bill Johnson, S.J.
President, Nativity Jesuit Middle School