Agape in the Classroom
Students in an Agape program presented their creative final projects at Loretto Abbey on January 10, 2014: there were blogs, wordles (word clouds, see image), paintings, poems and videos. Agape is the Greek word for selfless unconditional love that gives without expecting anything in return. The main message of the program — unconditional love — was embedded in each of the final projects shared.
The Agape program was the idea of Leah Watkiss, Program Director for the CSJ Ministry for Social Justice, Peace and Care of Earth. “During a difficult week-long workshop on the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and youth in Canada, I was devastated by stories of predators preying on the insecurities and challenges of children and youth who don’t realize their own value and dignity as children of God. I wanted to make the message of God’s love real and tangible for students, to awaken them to God’s love in their lives and to challenge them to live in way that upholds God’s love for them, others, and the rest of Creation.”
Leah approached Ann McGowan, Director of the Mary Ward Centre, with her idea and together they designed this eight-session program.
Eighteen Grade 12 students from St. Patrick’s High School participated in the program which included an Introductory Retreat at the Mary Ward Centre and the subsequent seven classes. Sisters of St. Joseph and Loretto Sisters served as ‘Companions in Spirit’ to the students, praying for them during this time. Some of the students’ written comments about the program were:
- “We can talk about a variety of things we’re not normally able to talk about during class.”
- They liked: “The freedom to speak my mind and not be brought down by others but have my ideas respected”
- “Everybody should do a program like this.”
Each session explored a different aspect of love (love of self, love of others, loving relationships, etc.) and challenged students to apply that day’s learning to their own lives. At the wrap-up on January 10, Sisters and students met for the first time and enjoyed conversation, pizza and the fascinating way each group had interpreted their final assignment to creatively share with others the most important message they took away from the program.
This first pilot program was a big hit with students, Sisters, and teachers alike. A second pilot starts in February with a class from St. Joseph College Secondary School.
Text and photos by Gisela Côté