The last Sunday in January always begins a special week that Catholic school teachers find both exhilarating and exhausting: Catholic Schools Week. This week is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association, and this year Catholic Schools Week will be celebrated from Sunday, January 31 to February 6. As a teacher who has spent her entire career teaching in Catholic schools, I know how much we can celebrate!
Catholic Schools Week is unlike any other week of the year. Every year we schedule many activities that convey to our students the value of a Catholic education. Since this year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service,” these activities include service projects that will contribute to our church, our community, and our world. Every school celebrates Catholic Schools Week in different ways; here is what my school is planning to do.
We will kick off the week with a crazy hat or crazy sock day. With a strict uniform code at my school, you can imagine that this is a very popular day. Since this year is the Year of Mercy, we’ll combine this event with a sock drive to donate to a local pantry with which we have a close relationship. We also decided to move our very popular Birthday Bag program from the feast day of our patron saint to Catholic Schools Week. The sock drive and Birthday Bag program allow us to practice the corporal works of mercy in a fun way.
Our school celebrates a special Mass sometime during Catholic Schools Week for the entire school. The eighth graders also go to the cathedral to celebrate Mass. This Mass is a long-standing tradition in the Archdiocese of Omaha—I remember going to this Mass when I was in eighth grade. It reminds our students that we are part of a larger Church.
Since Catholic Schools Week falls close to the annual March for Life, we decided to hold a special prayer service during this week called “Celebrate Life.” Each student and teacher will be given a paper symbol to represent the month they were born in. For example, people with January birthdays will get a paper snowflake; February birthdays will get a red paper heart. Each student and teacher sits with those who have the same paper symbol. Our prayer service will include a short reflection for each month, followed by lighting a candle for life. The prayer service will close with an movie featuring the activities our students have taken part in during the first semester.
No celebration of Catholic Schools Week would be complete if we didn’t showcase our academics, so we have our seventh- and eighth-graders share their Science Fair and History Day projects. Our students can view and discuss the topics of their projects. It’s a great afternoon of learning for all. We also have a spelling bee for our fifth- through eighth-graders. The winner and runner-up go to the Archdiocesan spelling bee that will be held later in the week.
Every year, I also have my third-graders write a special letter to their parents. This is a thank-you letter in which the children express their gratitude to their parents for sending them to Catholic school. We brainstorm what we would like to put in the letters. Many times they include their favorite parts of our school—our delicious hot lunch program, our iPad cart, our nice teachers, or our fun playground. I also ask my students to add something that is special about our school. These include our weekly Mass, praying the Rosary, and the beautiful religious art around our building. I give my students a heads-up that this letter will probably result in getting a big hug from their parents. I believe parents find it nice to hear how much their child enjoys attending Catholic school.
Whether you are in a school or a parish, Catholic Schools Week is a reminder that the classroom is a community of knowledge, faith, and service. How might you celebrate this community in your classroom?