Family Circles connect St. Joseph students with community

| Julie Pfitzinger | February 2, 2011 | 0 Comments

Eighth-grader Rachel Collins, center, helps kindergartner Clara Donahue, left, and first-grader Jenna Wood of St. Joseph School in Rosemount put the finishing touch on a fleece baby blanket that will be donated to the Rosemount Community Center, as part of the school’s Family Circles program. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

With a student population of 207, St. Joseph School in Rosemount is already a close-knit community. But the regularly scheduled all-class sessions known as Family Circles have served to further strengthen connections among students of all ages at the kindergarten through eighth-grade school.

There are 14 Family Circles, with one or two students from every grade per group, which meet on seven Friday afternoons throughout the school year. There is a staff moderator for each Family Circle, but it is the eighth-graders who serve as the group leaders.

“We really wanted to foster leadership among the eighth-graders,” said Tom Joseph, principal. “It’s an opportunity to build bonds between the older kids and the younger kids. I tell the eighth-grade students that the younger ones really look up to them, so this gives them a chance to set an example.”

Reinforcing values

Each session is not only based on a social justice teaching, but also incorporates one of the monthly “community values” promoted by the city of Rosemount. In addition, a different name of Jesus is introduced and discussed during each session. Stories and activities help to reinforce the lessons and at the end of the day, there is a little recreation time outdoors or in the school gym.

In January, the social justice theme was solidarity, paired with the community value of acceptance and tolerance; the featured name of Jesus was Messiah.

In the Family Circle groups, students read and discussed a story called “A Different Rite” about two young girls, one Roman Catholic and one Eastern Catholic, and their experiences visiting the other’s church.

Every student had the opportunity to write a short prayer about unity — each Family Circle has its own prayer jar. While some students colored icon pictures of St. Attracta, others gathered in a small circle on the floor, tying colorful fleece baby blankets scheduled to be dropped off at the Rosemount Community Center.

Family Circles have been a fixture at the school for the past five years and are somewhat similar to a Lenten program that Joseph observed at St. Peter’s in North St. Paul when he was part of a school site visit team.

“We did a parent survey last spring and we learned that the Family Circles are one of the things parents said was the best part of our school,” he said.

It is Joseph, known as “Mr. J.” to the students, who assembles the groups every August, taking care to mix not only ages and genders (while keeping siblings apart), but to also balance personality types.

“By the time kids are in first or second grade, I know who the introverts and extroverts are, so I keep that in mind,” he said. The same group remains together all year, but the groups are switched at the beginning of each new school year.

Eighth-grader Rachael Collins worked with her group on a fleece blanket, perched on the floor right beside kindergartners, first-graders and fourth-graders.

“I like the interaction with the little kids,” said Collins, who has sisters in fifth and third grades at the school. “It’s fun to lead the lessons and have the kids answer my questions.”

Proud of the family

Each week prior to a Family Circle gathering, the eighth-graders receive a copy of the stories, questions and other guidelines.

“We go over everything in class on Wednesdays, but I usually look it over one more time at home,” she said.

Ian Hubbard, who is in fourth grade, said he really likes being part of his Family Circle.

“You can learn some stuff for religion and I like the stories, too,” he said, describing his group leader, eighth-grader Isaac Adams, as “really cool.”

During the school Marathon for Non-Public Education last fall, the students walked around the school campus in their Family Circle groups. Joseph said he has also heard from parents who say their kids will point out members of their Family Circle at church on Sunday.

“I think it’s been a real plus for our school,” he said. “We have a very strong community here.”

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Category: Catholic Schools Week