The 2019-2020 school year has been defined by tragedy, controversy and unprecedented challenge. In November, we were overwhelmed with grief at the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Jeff Behrends, who was a teacher at Kennedy Catholic for twenty years. Losing him was like a gut punch. In December, the school was tested once again when a racially insensitive video was posted on social media by our students. This led to a deeper and further campus-wide discussion on race relations at the school. In February, the school was overwhelmed when two of our beloved teachers resigned, followed by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne requesting President Mike Prato take a leave of absence until the end of the school year. Mike has since announced his retirement after 16 years of service. In March, the school was shut down after Governor Inslee announced the mandatory closure of all public and private K-12 schools due to COVID-19. Later, a closure through year-end was mandated.
As a Catholic high school, it is our job to seek a higher purpose. In what way can we, as Catholic school teachers, staff and coaches, provide stability and purpose in challenging times? How can we create positive transformation? How can we help our students develop confidence, self-advocacy skills, courage to speak their truth, while also becoming men and women for others? How can we turn the controversy, the tragedy, and the challenge into a platform to build a burning desire for future change? Developing leaders following Christ is our mission – and it is powerful – and never needed more so than this year.
To be a person for others means responding to pain, tragedy, and suffering in the capacity of a servant in order to meet the needs of those most vulnerable. As we work to mentor our students to become more effective as leaders, we are modeling for them our own energy, dedication and passion we ourselves bring to the school every day. It is our goal to help our students discover the driving force that inspires them to become the best leader they can be. This is what it means to be a Lancer – as the Lancer Family, we are in this together. We may not always agree, and we may have different perspectives, but a family always provides a sense of hope and meaning to its members, especially when facing challenges and crisis situations. A family, the Lancer Family, provides a foundation of kindness, integrity, honesty, generosity, courage, patience, and love. What makes a good leader? Who makes a good leader? The current reality and our world, now more than ever, needs good leaders. Students learn about leadership by watching the people around them. By observing how others respond to criticism, confront failure, and communicate to large groups, they begin to develop their own habits and thought processes.
At Kennedy Catholic, we believe leadership development is an important part of the educational experience. Learning. Faith. Leadership. These have been words used to describe the Lancer experience for years. Lancer students have the capability and the opportunity of being leaders given the enormity of the options of campus activities, coupled with the unique mentorship provided by passionate teaching faculty, coaches and our campus ministry team.
As students gain responsibility and enthusiasm about being a leader they also serve as positive role models for their peers.
Creating leaders doesn’t happen overnight – nor does it happen without mentorship. One of the best ways to empower student leaders is by connecting them with role models who will guide them and give them a voice. This year, Caroline Cacabelos joined our staff to be one of those role models.
Caroline graduated from Creighton University in 2018 with a BA in Justice and Society. She spent her first year of post-grad volunteering through the Alumni Service Corps program at Seattle Preparatory School. During her formation at both Creighton and Seattle Prep, she grew a deep desire and passion for forming and deepening relationships. This passion continues to grow for her at Kennedy Catholic as she constantly pushes her students and colleagues to simply love one another and to open themselves up to receive love from others. “Our goal is to give students the skills and courage to lead others through their words and their actions,” says Caroline.
Peer-to-peer interaction is one of the most important parts of student leadership development. Through the experience of organizing events, resolving conflict, and entering into dialogue, students lead and learn at the same time. When students are given responsibility combined with the belief they can succeed, they have everything they need to meet and exceed expectations.
ASB (student government) helps students learn to formulate their own opinions while at the same time presenting the challenge of blending everyone else’s ideas. It is a collective effort. Harnessing a group of driven and opinionated young students while moving them in a forward direction takes finesse.
At the same time, having the right to discuss disagreements and varying opinions is an essential part of the formation process.
Self-advocacy, strategic, and creative thinking are also important to leadership development. Giving students the opportunity to advocate for a specific request or take part in the decision-making process is crucial. Learning to become a leader can be very empowering as students practice using their own natural talents to inspire others. Through this process, they become more self-aware while better understanding personal strengths and weaknesses.
In 2017, Athletic Director, Sam Reed started a student-athlete leadership group. These Captains Council participants are nominated by coaches and outgoing seniors to represent each of our 26 varsity sports, with an additional 8-10 selected through an atlarge application process.
Members typically gather monthly for early morning meetings, where they participate in leadership lessons,discuss culture and climate issues impacting their teams, and serve as an important advisory board for the athletic department in regard to future budget and development of new programs and initiatives. The philosophy of servant leadership is a common theme in these meetings, pushing the school’s most talented student-athletes to think beyond themselves for the betterment of their classmates, teammates and the larger community.
This past fall, the group spent a weekend day taking part in Special Olympics of Washington’s first Day of Inclusion event, where Captains Council members formed teams with Special Olympics athletes and local members of law enforcement to promote inclusion and participation by all.
When mentors display important leadership traits such as respect and compassion, it shapes how students approach their own style of leadership while also creating a relationship with an adult they can trust. A core characteristic of transformational leaders is the ability to be a role model.
The goal – inspire others to action. The strongest lessons can be demonstrated by personal behavior and example. What a student will see is – if they can do it, so can I. Students learn the world is bigger than themselves and begin to take action on how they can make their mark on the community. We want students to see what can be better and act to make positive change in their world.
They can be an involved and necessary part of implementing real change.
The goal and focus of retreats and service-learning is for students to live in communion with others through life’s blessings and challenges. Through prayer, community, formation, and service, students grow deeper in relationship with God; grow in love and friendship with each other; gain understanding of faith as a compass for decision making; and become committed to promoting life and common good through justice and peace in our world.
Our retreat programming has a rich tradition. The foundation of this tradition stems from the SEARCH Retreat, where students spend a weekend SEARCHing for self, community, and God. SEARCH has been run for 38+ years impacting thousands of students along the way. SEARCH creates a unique opportunity of community for our current students and alumni far and wide, recent andyears past. The far-reaching impact of SEARCH has blossomed into a comprehensive, four-year retreat program for all students. Each year during their time as a Lancer, students are invited to go on retreat – to set aside the demands of the day-today and enter into a sacred space of community and faith.
During retreats, students build community, engage in dialogue, hear from speakers, create space for hard conversations, and celebrate the goodness found within themselves and among their peers. It is in and through retreats that our Lancer Family lives our faith out loud at the service and formation of others – as retreatants, student-leaders, adult-leaders, chaperones, family members, and community partners.
Service-learning calls and challenges our students to respond to the needs of others, especially our most vulnerable and marginalized. Kennedy Catholic’s Integrated Service-Learning Experience facilitates student academic learning through meaningful acts of service. Service-learning encourages students to deepen their personal sense of responsibility for the needs of others while using Catholic Social Teaching and The Beatitudes as a framework for their reflection and processing. By graduation, students will have completed a minimum of 50 hours of service.
Each year, we are witness to students becoming deeply committed to the community. Students serve in partnership with a variety of organizations – from Saint Vincent de Paul to Northwest Harvest, from Teen Link to The Boys & Girls Club, from WestSide Baby to Providence Mount St. Vincent, from Camp Waskowitz to Camp Coleman, from the New Orleans Service Trip to the Cambodia Immersion. Our students make an impact in our local community, across the nation, and across the world. Last year, our students served 17,000+ hours. Service-learning creates a shift for our students, widening their world view and calling them to take on the responsibility to be changemakers. In and through their service, students address society’s inequities with compassion and kinship, acting out of love and in solidarity with each person they serve. Performing service creates opportunity to become aware of the suffering of others – especially those who live on the margins. At the same time, providing time to practice empathy, compassion and selflessness. Sacrificing for others through service and in solidarity teaches values and morality – all characteristics needed in our leaders today.
Through retreats and service, students are reminded of their goodness and responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ. Not only do we belong to each other, but we are called to create a world that celebrates and supports each person individually, especially those most vulnerable and marginalized. ◆