2024 Archbishop’s Catholic Schools Dinner
Date: Tuesday, March 5
Time: 4 p.m. Mass with Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines; 5 p.m. cocktail reception; 6 p.m. dinner and program
Location: Baird Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
Purpose: Funds from the Catholic Schools Dinner directly benefit the GIFTS (Grant Initiatives for Today’s Students) program, which allows local schools to fund important projects and programs. In the past five years, more than $1 million has been given in grants.
RSVP Deadline: Feb. 20
More Information: Buy tickets online at archmil.regfox.com/schoolsdinner2024 or contact Paige Rohr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-769-3451
Catholic identity is something that St. Frances Cabrini School in West Bend has been focusing on more and more in recent years. As Principal William Waech puts it: “As a Catholic school, we’re supposed to be different. We want to make sure there’s Catholicism woven into everything we’re doing.”
So, when Waech and his staff decided to implement a school-wide behavioral management system, they knew that a secular strategy would not adequately address their needs.
Enter GPS — “God’s Positioning System” — St. Frances Cabrini’s very own program for developing “holy habits” in the classroom, in the home and in the hearts of each of its 208 students.
“It’s a form of positive behavior expectations used throughout every area in our school,” explained Cheyanne Broeckel, physical education teacher and athletic director at the school.
Tracy Lehnerz, an English Language Arts teacher at St. Frances Cabrini’s middle school, described it as “a common language throughout the building.”
“It’s a tool to help us create a safe, welcoming, respectful environment for all of our students,” she said. “I can say the same thing to a kindergartener and also an eighth grader, and both understand the expectation.”
GPS was made possible by the school’s 2022 GIFTS Grant from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The GIFTS Grant funded the purchase of the Education in Virtue curriculum created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, which provided the basis for GPS.
“Our GPS matrix hits on five important virtues, (which) also happen to (form) the acronym of HEART, our school icon,” said Broeckel. Those virtues are humility, self-control, perseverance, responsibility and respect (the “e”, “a” and “t” in the acronym are borrowed from self-control, perseverance and respect). “Our team came up with the wording based on the idea that we should behave and act in certain ways to make our hearts like Christ’s.”
The GPS matrix is posted throughout the school and taught in classrooms according to grade level. Kindergarten teacher Emily Graper said she begins the year by going through the matrix as a whole, and then discussing each specific virtue and what it looks like in practice.
“The students also learn about a saint (who) lived a life of virtue, and we spend the week practicing and reteaching throughout,” she said. “When I witness students practicing the expectation and showing an understanding of the virtue, I reward the class with a GPS slip.”
The classroom matrices “serve as a great visual reminder for students of what is expected of them in all areas of our building,” said Lehnerz. “A quick reference to the classroom matrix is able to get a student ‘back on track’ when they are not meeting behavioral expectations.” Matrices are also sent home to parents.
Broeckel said she finds the GPS behavior expectations especially crucial in her classroom, since it is a physical environment.
“Having my students see the connection between them and then repeating the matrix year after year also creates a special culture in my gym and our school,” she said. “At the start of the year, we discuss what our matrix looks like in the gym. Each day and lesson, I remind students what we are striving for. Sometimes the lesson really challenges our perseverance. The students then know their goal for the day.”
As much as she wants her students to learn physical education skills, it’s those HEART virtues that she puts above everything else, Broeckel said.
“If my kids can be a part of a virtue/character-driven culture, their participation and confidence in sport skills increases and their enjoyment with each other in games increases.”
The virtues and expectations are reviewed and practiced all year, Graper said. “Every Monday during our school assembly, all the GPS tickets are collected and one is picked to win the knight helmet for the week.”
When Waech graduated from college, his uncle gave him a knight’s helmet handcrafted by a blacksmith. St. Frances Cabrini School’s mascot just so happens to be a knight — so he has put his knight’s helmet to a noble purpose as a traveling incentive for the students.
“The kids are all about having that knight helmet in their room,” he said.
In St. Frances Cabrini’s middle school, students in fifth through eighth grade are divided into four “houses” and earn GPS slips for their houses rather than for their classroom. “My seventh graders last year worked particularly hard to earn GPS slips,” said Lehnerz. “I never thought that GPS slips and a knight helmet would motivate seventh graders the way it did. It was quite remarkable. I’ve really noticed students rising to the occasion.”
Elementary and middle school are crucial times to model and instill these virtues, said Waech. It’s an opportunity that educators more and more are missing out on.
“When you look at the world today, there’s clearly a lack of these types of things being taught,” he said. “I think it’s important to immerse the kids in it while they’re here. The whole goal is to look at your eighth-grade graduate and how you want them to act in high school when they’re not under your care anymore.”
“We have an important job as Catholic school teachers. We not only want to make our students into good citizens, but we also want to make them saints,” said Lehnerz. “When we talk about behaviors as tied to virtues, students learn and grow in their faith as well. St. Gregory of Nyssa said, ‘The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.’ What a joy it is to be on that journey with our students.”