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placeholder January 18, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Catholic Schools Week

Every Bishop O'Dowd student must complete a minimum of 100 hours of service.
Courtesy photo

Learning that leads to action

When Anthony Rimac '15 reflects on his service learning experience through the lens of Catholic Social Teachings, three tenets stand out — life and dignity of the human person, dignity of work and rights of workers and solidarity.

Serving at Via West, which provides residential respite care for adults and children who have a vast array of developmental disorders, disabilities and conditions, Anthony tried to help empower people he worked with to live their lives independently to the best of their abilities.

Anthony Rimac

This meant helping them with routine daily tasks that most young people Anthony's age take for granted. "When people aren't able to carry out their basic human functions, there is a large element of dehumanization; there is nothing empowering or dignifying about having to rely on someone else to do something as simple as go to the bathroom or change into a different shirt," he said.

Anthony's experience is just one of many that Bishop O'Dowd High School students have during their four year service learning program.

Every O'Dowd student completes a minimum of 100 hours of service, working specifically with people who have been marginalized, disenfranchised, misjudged, forgotten or ignored. The goal is that each student will gain a personal understanding of social justice and our Christian call to reach out to those on the edges.

World Languages teacher Sara Bauermeister coordinates the sophomore service learning program, the Friends project, which helps students improve their leadership skills by building a friendship/mentoring relationship with children doing such things as assisting at camps or after- school programs, or working with children and adults living with disabilities.

She also heads the St. Anthony Justice Education Day program in which sophomores participate in day-long immersions at St. Anthony Foundation in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, working with the homeless.

Bauermeister believes service learning can impact students' lives in ways academic programs don't.

"I can tell them about homelessness all day long, but it's outside their realm of experience until they meet and befriend someone who deals with this issue on a daily basis," she said.

Teaching compassion and solidarity isn't easy, says religious studies teacher Beth Mueller, who also coordinates the Anawim project, designed for students to learn about social justice by connecting with people who experience the injustice of marginalization.

"I think exposing students to situations and experiences where they start building relationships with people is where that begins," she said. "We want them to break down those assumptions and start asking critical questions about why it's so hard to get out of homelessness, or why people are struggling with mental health issues, alcoholism and drug addiction."

Meanwhile, Bauermeister is hopeful that O'Dowd students will be compassionate and effective change agents who make the world a more just place for everyone.

"Our service learning program really changes their lives and opens their eyes. We're planting the seeds for the future," she said.

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