by Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN This week, Jan. 25-30, is Catholic Schools Week, and Catholic schools throughout the country will be celebrating their contribution to communities with the theme “Celebrate Service.”
Since 1974, the annual observance for the nations 7,500 Catholic schools begins the last Sunday in January.
It is sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The 2009 theme links to the NCEA’s recent campaign to honor Pope Benedict’s 81st birthday by pledging hours of community service.
More than two million hours of service were pledged by the end of the campaign in April during the Pope’s visit to the US.
Three Catholic school students representing Catholic youth nationwide had the opportunity to deliver the pledged hours personally to Pope Benedict in Washington, DC.
For the school year of 2008-09, the 16 elementary and three high schools within the Diocese of New Ulm have pledged approximately 40,000 service hours.
Holy Trinity Catholic School of Winsted, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in Catholic education last August, is part of the New Ulm Diocese.
It has planned activities for Catholic Schools Week in both its elementary and high school with something for the students to look forward to each day of the week.
Service is not anything new for Holy Trinity students. In an average school year, more than 1,000 student service hours are given to the community.
“As Catholics we are called on to serve others,” Holy Trinity Principal Bill Tschida said. “This is a lifetime calling. We are able to begin to foster this element of our faith through our service.
“I think it is important for them (students) to understand the many different ways that they can serve,” Tschida said.
“If you foster an environment of service, then we teach our students to put other’s needs before their own.”
Each school year, the elementary and high school host annual fall and spring service days when students travel through town helping area residents with raking, sweeping, cleaning, and washing windows. Some students even helped residents put their docks in, and helped clean up the lake shore.
“Children are not doing it for any specific reward. There are no points no bonus system. Just generosity,” Holy Trinity Marketing Director Julie Fasching said.
“It goes way beyond the books and goes into actual practice,” Fasching said. “They see how it impacts people right in their own backyard.”
The McLeod County Food Shelf is a recipient of multiple fundraisers that Holy Trinity students have throughout the year.
The National Honor Society sponsors a coin drive to raise money for food at Thanksgiving. The annual Halloween Bash last October had students collect almost 3,000 pounds of food for the food shelf.
In addition, once a month, four students work at the food shelf unloading trucks and stocking shelves.
At Christmas time, students collect toys for the National Honor Society’s toy drive and sacramental brothers and sisters collect their own gifts to wrap and send through Operation Christmas.
Campus Minister Elaine Kahle has been working with students on service projects for the last six years.
She has heard first hand from the students how service projects have affected them.
“Every time we go to Caring and Sharing Hands, the kids will say, ‘I am so thankful for what I have.’”
“Students don’t say, ‘this is the day I am going to be different.’ . . It is the package deal. When you have the religion class every day, you get a retreat once or twice a year, you have these service experiences,” Kahle said. “All of those things in and of itself probably aren’t that life changing or life forming, but you put all of those components together that is what makes this (school) special.”
A gift that keeps on giving
Holy Trinity graduates continue to serve through generous donations and volunteering their time to support Catholic education.
“Holy Trinity School’s long and rich history within Winsted and the surrounding areas is proof that Catholic education was important to our ancestors and continues to be with our current families, parishioners and community members,” Lead Teacher Cathy Millerbernd said.
Many volunteers support multiple fundraisers for the school.
Three of the school’s major fundraisers are the annual Spring Fling auction, the Winstock Country Music Festival, and the Christian music festival called “Higher Ground.”
Donations, fundraisers, and grants give students the opportunity to use new, up-to-date technology.
“We are so fortunate to have generous donors and alumni who help us stay on the front, cutting edge of technology,” Fasching said.
Interactive white boards are one of the latest additions to the school.
While many schools are just bringing this new technology into their schools and are fortunate to have just one board, Holy Trinity has seven of the new Smart Board Interactive white boards, according to Technology Coordinator Peggy Lenz.
Holy Trinity teachers are excited about the use of these boards and have found them to be a very effective tool in the classroom.
“Students learn in many different styles and this technology allows us to create lessons that address those different styles, first grade teacher Marnie Ebensperger said.
“Some of the positive things that have come from our use of the Smart Boards have been increased attention and focus on lessons being taught, eagerness to participate and more effective use of our time as teachers in preparing and presenting lessons,” second grade teacher Maria Nathe said.
Lenz also talked about donations of computers from Xcel Energy and the US Agriculture Department.
“We now have a computer for every 1.5 students,” Lenz said. “The best ratio a school can have is one computer for every two students and we are at that or better.