St. Joseph students taught, perform works of mercy
It was a “pay it forward” gesture. Sixth grade students at St. Joseph School, Petersburg, wrote thank you letters to cafeteria manager Lynn Mann for her kindness and dedication. That sparked Mann to write to Channel 12, a TV station covering the greater Richmond area, about how SJS students are worthy of recognition for the weekly Acts of Kindness series shown during the local news.
Reporter Anthony Antoine and his cameraman Dan Heffner went to the school Wednesday, March 24 to interview students and Mann. In evaluating nominations for Acts of Kindness, Antoine said he looks for “a unique way someone gives back to the community, and this really fit that bill.”
SJS educates 134 students from pre-K to eighth grade. In an effort to shape students as good citizens and disciples, they are taught to live their faith through community service and interactions with others.
“First and foremost,” said middle school social studies and religion teacher Matthew Eviston, “the school calls students to be in a relationship with one another, to view others as Christ sees them and to seek out and perform the works of mercy to one another.”
Community service projects have included making blankets for nursing home residents, assembling blessing bags for the homeless and making dog treats for an animal shelter. Students collected food for a local food pantry and baby items for a pregnancy crisis center.
Students treat others with virtues like kindness, temperance and respect — traits learned and re-enforced through the school’s Peacemaker program, which features a different virtue each month, said Principal Sarah Owens.
When the virtue of kindness was emphasized, sixth graders wrote thank you notes to Mann for the care she gives to students.
Due to COVID restrictions, she must assemble school lunches in separate packages for each student. Because she knows each pupil, she knows which condiments to include or how to arrange food so it doesn’t touch for a student. She allows students to make the menu. Before distributing the meals, which average 60 to 65 each day, Mann draws a heart or smiley face on each container to let them know she is thinking of them.
When she saw an Acts of Kindness segment focused on how the pandemic has changed people’s lives, she thought of her students who have persevered despite COVID restrictions.
“It just hit me that day,” she said. “If anybody deserves the Acts of Kindness, it is my students. They have shown kindness to one another, to all of us, through this pandemic.”
Eviston described SJS students as energetic, joyful and “fruitful in the spirit.”
Citing examples of how students portray different virtues in their everyday interactions, sixth grader Ashton Ford noticed a student helping up a peer who fell on the ground. Isaiah Breeland, also sixth grade, said the value of temperance taught him to be “brave stand and up for other people.”
Shanon Taylor, sixth grade, addressed perseverance when she said, “I always am trying to be my best at everything.“ She added that at the beginning of the year, she and a friend talked to a girl new to the school, and “she felt better.”
For some, like sixth grader Matthew Britt and second grader Coraline Owens, helping others is a key reason they like attending SJS.
“We get to donate to the poor, and it makes them have a better life. That’s what makes it fun for me,” Owens said.
Similarly, Britt said, “It makes me feel good that the school can help people.”