For several years, a group of individuals in Regina, Saskatchewan shared in a dream of founding a school inspired by the unconditional care of Mother Teresa to the poor. Informed by the NativityMiguel Schools in the United States, they discussed an educational design for this school and were 100% committed to building the instructional team and securing the necessary resources. In the fall of 2011, Mother Teresa Middle School (MTMS) opened its doors to its pioneering class of 6th graders. Three years later, these students are now 9th graders enrolled in several private and public high schools across Regina; most students are flourishing in this transition to secondary school, and all students, even those that may be struggling, continue to be supported by the school’s ethos of care through the school’s Graduate Support Program.
In excellent schools, the principal and a committed team of teachers expend a great deal of time on curriculum, instruction, and assessment: 1) developing curriculum from entry through exit with a realistic and rigorous framework for learning that prepares students for success in the next level of education; 2) executing on instruction that addresses deficits in learning, engages students in their learning, and applies learning to conceptual situations; and 3) utilizing assessment to better understand both the assets and deficits of each student. With the forward-thinking planning and positive interaction of their instructional team and the aspiration to be better each day, it is clear that MTMS embodies what it takes to be an excellent school.
Yet, what truly solidifies their drive to be an excellent school is their remarkable ethos of care. While personal care for the students is witnessed in obvious ways such as a school-coordinated transportation program that gets students, even graduates, to school regardless of circumstances at home and a laundry room with extra pants and shirts and showers with various hair and body products that are available to students, this ethos of care is rooted in components throughout the school:
Care through Root Beliefs: The Root Beliefs are reinforced each day through visible representation and interactions with leaders, teachers, and peers. These Root Beliefs are integrated into reflections, essays, lessons, and assemblies and become the foundation for the habits that will shape the personal and academic growth of the students.
Care through Self-Reflection: Students are asked to think about their personal assets and how they will contribute to their school, family, and broader community. These reflections are 1)documented in pictures that line that hallway at MTMS such as a series based on the story The Dot by Peter Reynolds in which each student holds the one dot or dots that represent their start to creating his/her “masterpiece,” and 2) documented through other means such as a book of pictures illustrating and essays describing the Best Part of Me.
Care through Conversations: The systems and procedures at MTMS are well structured to ensure that students know what is expected of them at each moment of every day. For example, the start of each school day includes a silent reading period followed by a student led assembly each morning. While these systems reinforce student learning and development, they also provide opportunity for side conversations to check in on individual reading progress and personal behavioral goals.
Care through Opportunity: One of the graduates said that MTMS means opportunity to her and she remembers fondly the two trips that she and her classmates took to a camp near Calgary. In addition to summer experiences, the extended day program is full of opportunity to connect students with already established interests such as robotics, sports and dance or to open students to new interests such as mandolin or knitting.
Care through Ideas: The ideas that students express at MTMS are valued. For example, a Makers Fair is held each year that generates student ideas on certain issues. Last year, students applied learned concepts to develop and present ideas that would help children in Haiti. Students feel, believe and know that their ideas have worth and are being considered by others. In another example, an end-of-unit project in Math was developed based on one student’s idea: applying perimeter and area formulas to 3-D Minecraft-like objects.
Care through Achievement: Throughout the school building there is visible recognition of accomplishments: How far has each student run toward a marathon? How many books have been read as each student climbs the Mountain of Reading? Which students are “stars” in attendance? The data wall in the principal’s office, which shows growth in reading and math for each student, informs discussions with teachers and motivates students to grow and become proficient.
Care through Care for Others: Inspired by the care that they have received, students take the initiative to extend similar gestures of care to others. This year the students planned a Gingerbread House Decorating Party and raised $2,391 for Good Samaritan School to fund the construction of a school building serving orphaned children in India. Last year, students gathered crab apples to cook a jelly that was sold in various places with all proceeds, over $1,250, helping Transition House, a non-profit organization in Regina that helps families heal together and rebuild their lives free of domestic violence. Students also befriend and work on meaningful art projects with special needs students.
Care through a Network: Throughout their three years at MTMS, each student builds a networking folder. In addition to business cards and letters from visitors and other people that students meet, certificates for babysitting and First Aid/CPR, Career Mindmaps, Career Tour Reflections and a Transferable Skills Checklist are included to explore various careers. More importantly, students understand that they belong and are connected in a web of support and that they rely other people and are depended on as well. When it came time to present the funds to Transition House, one student took the initiative to call a printer that he had met and asked if an oversized check could be produced. The answer was “Yes!” This only reinforces that there is a caring network that believes in these students, that picks them up when they stumble and moves them forward when they ask for assistance.
The beauty of this ethos of care that drives the educational design at MTMS is that the entire school community is engaged. Board members, school leaders, faculty and staff, students and families enter into an intentional relationship with one another and make a commitment to one another. All persons are known by name, the dignity of each person is respected, and all persons are an integral to the mission. For students whose home life reflects this care, MTMS affirms and reinforces the primary support system and students thrive beyond what they may have ever envisioned for themselves. For students for whom this structure of care is new, MTMS begins the process to build the habits that will serve these students well in the future.