Seton Catholic Schools foodservice staff played an important role in meal distribution during the pandemic-related school shutdown, distributing 211,000 meals to school students, families and neighborhood children.
Since 2016, Seton Catholic Schools have established themselves in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as a vital link between parishes and their surrounding communities. Director of School Engagement, Paul Hohl, said, as they’ve continued to grow, “we are finding more and more that one of the biggest measurements of a successful school is its connection to the community that the families come from.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Seton Catholic Schools launched a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, providing on-site after-school care and programming for little to no cost at Prince of Peace Catholic School on the south side of Milwaukee and Northwest Catholic School on the north side. “It was huge, and we were lucky to get off to such a great start,” Hohl said. “They set up Community Learning Centers (CLCs) at two locations, making us officially the first non-Milwaukee Public School to partner with the organization.”
Before the pandemic, the programming extended from school dismissal until 6 p.m. The Boys and Girls Club brought their staff onsite and parents registered directly through the club. Because the organization is funded mainly from Department of Public Instruction grants and the fundraising from their development team, families were able to have childcare that they wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise, and students found a safe place to learn and have fun with their friends. The club offers a variety of high-interest activities to students, bringing in outside programs to teach things like art and computer programming that gave instruction on the basics of coding, as well as offering tutoring to anyone who needed it. Part of the time is dedicated to play, after which the Boys and Girls Club provided dinner for the kids.
When things shut down in March, they had to amend the services provided to adhere to protocols, so the program came back this year on a much smaller scale. They do have an eye on working together at more schools in future years, and are planning a summer program at the current sites. “It’s an amazing blessing and we look forward to a long future partnering with the Boys and Girls Club,” Hohl said. “All of our families have been thrilled with the care and service that the Club provides.”
In addition to the Boys and Girls Club, Seton has fostered a relationship with the School of Nursing at Marquette University, where student nurses go into the community to do their coursework. “It’s such an unexpected gift,” Hohl said. Once a week, the student nurses go into the classroom and conduct a lesson on a wide variety of topics. They talk to the students about things like friendship and proper hand washing, and they give eye tests and talk about healthy eating.“ Anything you can think of that would be good practical life advice,” Hohl said, “they do.”
When COVID-19 hit, the nursing students came back to the school virtually and their partnership increased to six schools. Prince of Peace, St. Rafael, Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Roman, St. Thomas Aquinas Academy and Catholic East have all been more than impressed with the impact that the student nurses have had on their students and hope to bring them back in person when it’s safe.
The need for student tutoring in the schools, proved to be a great match for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, a faith-based, non-profit organization founded by the Jesuits to help connect volunteers in their communities. Ignatian volunteers tutor students in reading and math. Before the pandemic, 10-20 volunteers supported students at St. Catherine and St. Rafael twice a week. During COVID, 25-30 volunteers came to the schools via Zoom, with the help of Marquette University’s School of Education students, providing one-on-one tutoring and additional service programs for students. Seton is continuing their collaboration with the Ignatian Volunteers next year, going back to the old model and adding two more schools to the partnership. “We’re in neighborhoods where this kind of support is so important.” Hohl said. Seton’s goal is to make their students and family feel helped and supported, so they experience community as something that’s tangible, not just a word on a mission statement.
Regular health screenings are important for every child and they prepare students for success in the classroom. Recently, Seton partnered with HEAR WI, which operates mobile auditory labs that provide free hearing screenings for students. Seton also works with SMILE, a group that sends dental vans to schools to do checkups and screenings for students. “What we’re trying to do is big, but we’re working hard on accomplishing it every day,” Hohl said. “We know it’s our duty to love one another, to care for one another.”
Students at Seton schools are expected to make an impact, and staff and administration do everything they can to model that for them daily .“It’s part of our religion program and our faith and formation. We take it very seriously,” Hohl said.
Service projects based on grade level and specific school needs are the cornerstone of every Seton school, and each student is expected to take part in making their community, family and school a better place. “Ownership is an important lesson to learn,” Hohl said. “Each one of us is nothing if not Christ’s hands and feet.”