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  • Writer's picturePatricia O’Donnell

Integrating Laudato Si into an Elementary School's Curriculum

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

My dad was a Master Gardener and instilled in me the importance of taking care of the Earth. This included recycling, composting, planting bushes, trees, and flowers that helped the butterflies, birds, and bees and using organic fertilizers. If he were still alive, he would have devoured Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, On Care For Our Common Home.

I am grateful each day for this gift from my dad because it has moved me to help inspire the school community of Saint Patrick School to embrace Pope Francis’ message and put it into action. One very practical way the faculty and staff have been doing this over the past few years is to marry Laudato Si, Catholic Social Teachings, and our yearly STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) focused initiative together to form a robust learning experience for our PreK - 8th grade students. This current school year of 2021-2022, our main focus is Ocean: ecosystems and sustainability.

Throughout this school year, 8th grade students have been reading the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Laudato Si. This has given them a glimpse into Pope Francis’ motivation for writing the encyclical and his insights regarding pollution and climate change, the issues of water, global inequality, and the decline in the quality of human life. Through our Catholic social teachings, we explore the theme of “Caring for God’s Creation” and realize that this challenge has moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.

Over the years we have looked at our purchasing of cafeteria products and realized that the styrofoam containers we used were non-recyclable and we were not “Caring for God’s Creation.” One of our school parents helped us find a company that provided eco-friendly containers and we have been using them for the past 3-4 years. While they are a little more expensive, our school community realizes that this is one way we can help with sustainability and decrease the use of harmful materials.

We have also tried to make Laudato Si come alive for the students by engaging with local church and civic leaders. The 8th graders wrote letters to our local elected officials asking them for their views on caring for the environment, especially the ocean. They quoted excerpts from Laudato Si and also presented data and facts from their research during science class on the negative effects of plastics in the ocean.

A Zoom meeting with Archbishop Perez was scheduled during February. This allowed the 8th grade students to listen to his views and interpretation of Laudato Si and how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is helping move the message of Pope Francis forward. It also provided an opportunity for an exchange of questions and answers. The students even learned that the Archbishop is an avid scuba diver and he has noticed the bleaching of the Barrier Reefs due to global warming over the past 5-7 years.

Our current Student Council President, Miss Annie Cellucci, approached me in the fall with another wonderful eco-friendly idea for cafeteria materials. Annie states, “My school has always provided us with education on how to care for our environment. This passion was deepened by the 8th grade’s studies on Laudato Si. Student Council has decided to help provide sustainability in a small but impactful way: by switching our lunch utensils and containers to biodegradable plastic. We researched and realized that this is one area where our school is most wasteful. We do not have the ability to provide reusable lunch ware, so in 2022 we will be changing to using biodegradable plastic. To help fundraise for these items and simultaneously boost school spirit, we started a concession stand at home basketball games. This is still a relatively new activity, but we have already raised over two hundred dollars. We hope that our project will have a positive impact on our common home and raise awareness.”

Throughout all of our studying and exploring, the school faculty has realized how much this young generation cares about the Earth and how much they yearn to make a difference. Young people at Saint Patrick School are passionate about making an impact on the environment. With a generous grant from the Connelly Foundation, we purchased a greenhouse and will be building it this Spring. This will help teach our students about the growing process, horticulture, caring for the Earth, and sharing the plants and vegetables with others.

Young people want to be informed, empowered, to have a voice, and to be heard. They have creative and knowledgeable ideas on how to make small but necessary changes both in mindset and in actions. The current state of our Earth is not good, but the future is bright with young Catholic leaders ready to take a stand to help protect Our Common Home.

Thanks to EcoPhilly for inspiring this piece.

Patti O’Donnell is principal at Saint Patrick School in Malvern, PA. She teaches one 8th grade Religion class as well as coordinates programs for the school community.

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