By Katie Culver, English Teacher at Assumption High School
I am a product of Catholic education: grade school, high school, and college. I have also been teaching in Catholic schools for nearly 6 years. I am perpetually grateful for this education, and the opportunity to be a part of this experience for my students. When I think about all the things that I have gained from the role this unique type of education has played in my life it’s easy to reflect on lessons, values, and experiences that have shaped who I am. As I have grown into the person I am now- a teacher, mother, wife – one of the ideals that constantly rises to the surface for me is community.
If you are a member of the Catholic church, there is no doubt that you have heard the word community over and over again. We hear it in our parishes and schools all of the time. We are encouraged to be a part of the community, to support the community, and to contribute to the community. But when we unpack the actual term there are likely many different ways to describe community.
I asked several of my students at Assumption to tell me what community means to them and I received a variety of answers. One student said community is, “people coming together that live near each other to just be able to work together as a team.” Some definitions I particularly loved were: “A group of people having commonalities in some way and building bonds because of these similarities in location, passions, or experiences” and, “A group of people brought together by some circumstance who see each other a lot and care for each other.” Another said, it “is a group of people with a common goal, interest or background that helps them achieve unity.” Another said it is simply, “people being unified.”
I love the recurring themes of unity, bonding, and relationship in those definitions. When I think about community I cannot separate it from what I have learned from the church, and specifically my Catholic education. To me, community means being a part of something that is bigger than oneself that provides a sense of belonging and purpose. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of many different communities in my life, but more and more I find myself enjoying the experience of creating and being in community in more uncommon places.
Whether we are introverted or extroverted there is a natural movement toward relationships, and even the creation of communities. Our human nature is, at its very core, relational. I know that my own ability to create, and even recognize community is due in large part to my Catholic education and I would even go so far as to say that this skill has served me as well as any other single thing I learned in school. And what is most remarkable to me about this, is that it is not necessarily something that is a part of a curriculum. It is experiential and ingrained into this culture.
Since the value of community is so ingrained it becomes second nature to create community, real community, in places where that isn’t necessarily the expectation. This makes me think of the AP English class that I am currently teaching. While there is naturally a sense of community in class as everyone is there for a similar purpose, I have found this particular class to have naturally formed its own unique and deeper community than might be anticipated in a typical English class. This is a class that sits in a circle so that we can better communicate with one another, this is a class that held its own Thanksgiving meal together during which everyone expressed being thankful for the time we share together, this is class is full of good conversation, but also of laughter. This class has stories that are all its own.
When I talk to these students and other students I have found that the experience of this type of real and genuine community that goes beyond just the common goal of completing the course is happening consistently for them. I hear stories of sadness when a class is over, of students and teachers writing thank you letters to one another, of sharing food while affirming one another, of classes that set aside time every Monday to share events from the weekend, and stories of helping one another with their problems. And that tells me that this value of creating real and deep relationships with others, the essence of community, is something my students are learning in the way that I did. I have no doubt that this will continue to serve them extremely well in whatever their future holds for them.