By Mary Isabel Casey
Every Catholic school has a mission that distinguishes it from other schools.
At The Mary Louis Academy (TMLA), Jamaica Estates, a college preparatory school for young women sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the mission is more than just a saying; it becomes your way of life.
The Congregation of St. Joseph (CSJ) mission of all inclusive love, unity and reconciliation enlivens and motivates the entire community. All of the activities that take place at TMLA are grounded in this philosophy with an additional emphasis on service.
One of the unique service opportunities at TMLA is the Service Homeroom Program, of which I am fortunate to be a member. The program, led by Allyson Gutierrez, is offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors. In this service program, over 150 students and six faculty members learn about social justice, health and environmental issues.
Throughout the school year, we sponsor countless initiatives to raise awareness and take action as advocates for positive change. One of our most recent initiatives has been promoting Fair Trade. By definition, fair trade is a practice that ensures goods are produced in an ethical and safe environment, assisting small farmers and entrepreneurs who do not exploit men, women and children. To educate the TMLA school community on this issue, the Service Homeroom Program sponsored a Fair Trade Christmas Bazaar and invited fair-trade vendors to sell their goods in our cafeteria. We encouraged the school community to make conscientious decisions while shopping and considering purchasing products from fair-trade companies.
Another initiative of the Service Homeroom Program is Delete Day (:D). We have designed a series of events and activities to encourage ethical and responsible use of the Internet. We invite students to update emails, learn about privacy settings, delete unknown friends and followers, and clean up social media posts that are dangerous or disrespectful.
On Delete Day, students go on their social networking accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – and remove statuses and pictures that are not representative of who they are as individuals. This initiative centers around Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “My life is my message,” and urges students to understand that their posts on social media reflect who they are. In 2013, members of the Service Homeroom Program expanded our efforts to educate local Catholic elementary students through a Delete Day training seminar. Many of the grammar schools have sponsored their own Delete Day events after attending this training seminar.
The initiatives of the Service Homeroom Program include a wide range of initiatives and activities. One highlight last year was when we participated as student delegates in the Commission on the Status of Women 57 at the U.N. The focus of that commission was an “end to violence in all forms against women and girls.”
During the year, we also participate in weekly trips to a soup kitchen, park cleanups, various fundraising walks, Veterans’ Day drive, Teens for Jeans, Rockaway cleanup after Hurricane Sandy, EAK Beautiful Me, P.S. I Love You Day, screening of “Girl Rising” and Earth Day H.O.P.E. concert. Following our mission of helping others, service homerooms have influenced the school to adopt TOMS shoes as our senior uniform shoe; for each pair we purchase, one pair is given to a child in need.
My experiences with the Service Homeroom Program have been rewarding and vital to my empowerment and maturity as a young woman of dignity. My participation has enabled me to develop leadership skills, work cohesively in group settings and address large audiences. I have been exposed to situations and people that I would not have otherwise known; for that I am grateful.
I will carry with me for the rest of my life the knowledge I have attained and the values I have formed as a result of the program. In contemporary society, it is easy to lose one’s voice in the shuffle, especially as a young woman; however, the Service Homeroom Program and The Mary Louis Academy have taught me how powerful my voice is and that I can speak out against injustices and be heard.
Choosing a high school offers elementary students opportunities to explore many options. Growing up, I attended St. Adalbert School in Elmhurst, and it was clear to me that I wanted to attend a Catholic high school because of the support and love I had enjoyed. I knew when selecting The Mary Louis Academy that I would receive an excellent education and feel at home in the school community, but I did not realize how valuable, beneficial and influential TMLA’s mission and Service Homeroom Program would be.