As the school year begins around the District of San Francisco New Orleans (SFNO), a number of students will be returning to their local school communities with new skills, information, and experiences provided through the District Office of Education’s Young Lasallian annual summer programing. The Office produced two powerful gatherings – Lasallian Youth Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana and Lasallian Student Leaders at Saint Mary’s College of California.
Lasallian Youth Assembly (LYA)
This year’s Lasallian Youth Assembly took place June 18-23, as fifty student participants from 11 SFNO and the North Mexico District schools gathered, along with moderators, Lasallian Collegians, and program facilitators, at Loyola University and prepared to embark on their week-long journey in New Orleans.
With its theme, “I was in prison and you visited me…Mercy Without Borders“, LYA gave participants the opportunity to learn about and reflect on some of the realities and challenges experienced by persons within the criminal justice system in the United States.
After first evening orientation activities and opening liturgy on the 18th, the group moved into their first full day, the Education Day. Speakers included attorneys from the Orleans Public Defenders, a returned citizen and representative from the Micah Project in New Orleans, along with representatives from the Office of Peace and Justice-Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
In reflecting on the day, a participant shared appreciation for being able to learn so much from each speaker, “from the rights that a person has because of our amendments to life stories of a person who was in prison and the facts about mass incarceration.”
The week continued on the 20th with a visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. While at the Penitentiary, widely known simply as Angola, the LYA group received a tour of the facility, spoke with one of the trustees and the vice warden, and visited the Angola Museum, where they were able to learn more about the 116-year history of the prison.
In response to the day’s experience, one participant shared the following:
Aside from learning about the specifics of day to day prison life, we were also given many different perspectives and statistics from employees and inmates from the prison. We were forced to think deeply about what we were hearing from the employees of the prison and from former inmates and actual inmates and what each of their experiences were.
Even with the arrival of a tropical storm in the area, the week progressed well after adjustments to the schedule. On the third full day of the gathering, students had an opportunity to watch 13th, a documentary about racial inequality as seen in the nation’s prison system. In addition to discussing the film, each school had an opportunity to plan and share how they would take their experiences and information back home with them. Following their presentations, participants had an opportunity to do a reflection activity with a local artist.
Day four allowed for an opportunity to learn about a Lasallian response to the criminal justice system in the Philippines through the work of Brothers and Lasallian Partners at Bahay Pag-asa, a center for at-risk youth conducted by the University of St. La Salle. The day ended with a chance to explore New Orleans’ French Quarter and experience a bit of the Crescent City. LYA ended the following morning with closing liturgy.
Student and chaperone participants alike appreciated the opportunity to explore the LYA theme from a variety of perspectives throughout the week. One student participant said, “I will take back all I have learned about mass incarceration and try to educate my fellow students on the injustices in our system.”
Lasallian Student Leaders
Over 180 students from 15 high schools around the District gathered with their chaperones for a week of leadership building and Lasallian formation at the 14th annual Lasallian Student Leaders gathering, held July 16-21 at Saint Mary’s College (SMC). Focused on the theme of servant leadership, the week allowed student leaders from around the District to deepen their understanding of servant leadership through the lens of the Lasallian Core Principles. A number of the students who had participated in LYA took the opportunity to begin sharing what they learned during the week.
After arriving at SMC, participants gathered for orientation, introductions and the opening Mass. They also took part in different skills training sessions designed to help them understand their own and others’ leadership styles based on personality.
The next day’s schedule included two additional skills training sessions, group tours of Saint Mary’s College and a keynote address given by counselor and author Roy Petitfils. Mr. Petitfils shared a bit of his story while reminding the student leaders of the importance of recognizing those who may be considered as the invisible ones in their local school communities. His message emphasized the importance of taking on an attitude of service as leaders while masterfully weaving in Lasallian core principles. Students took his message to heart and would have an opportunity to further reflect on his message the next day.
On day three, students participated in the final skills training sessions of the week and spent some time in the student committees that they would worked with for the remainder of the week. That evening was Lasallian Family Night, which was facilitated by Br. Chris Patiño and invited students to reflect on the ways the core principles were being lived out at their individual school communities, while also recognizing areas for needed growth. Following group discussion, each school gave a synopsis of its conversation and shared which core principle it felt needed the most emphasis in its school community during the upcoming academic year.
Day four provided an opportunity for students to showcase some of the great activities that take place at their schools and learn from one another through the “Idea Swaps” sessions. Along with sharing ideas and programs from their schools with one another, students continued their work within one of the twelve student committees assigned with a specific task for the week. Each committee had the responsibility of planning and leading a component at the end of the week. This gave students a hands-on opportunity to put into practice the different skills and information that they learned at the start of the week.
The day five schedule allowed all committees to share their hard work with the rest of the gathering. Each committee did an outstanding job in incorporating the week’s lessons through what they put together and presented. Day six, the final day, ended with a closing Mass and departures.
Throughout the week, students supported and celebrated one another with great enthusiasm. They are sure to take this dedication and enthusiasm with them as they live out the Lasallian core principles as servant leaders in their school communities.
Story contributed by Kenenna Amuzie, SFNO Director, Young Lasallians.
LYA photos courtesy Abel Gutierrez and Br. James Joost, FSC.
LSL photos courtesy Abel Gutierrez.