Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kairos @ the Prep

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 chats with Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H. about the origin and history of Kairos at St. Joe's Prep.

A recent tumblr. post, shared with the St. Joe's Prep community by Mr. Tony Braithwaite '89 and written by a Jesuit high school grad, reminded me of something that I should never forget: Kairos is one of the best things we do at St. Joe's Prep.

Sr. Kathleen Woody G.N.S.H, whom countless Prep alumni fondly recall as both a teacher and the Amazing Kairotic Ixthotic Supernun, spent some time with me to discuss the origin and history of this "intense retreat."

What is Kairos?

Now, I have to say this: I can give you the basics, but as you know, there is an element of secrecy and privacy to this retreat. OK, here we go.

Table 5 - '99
Kairos, an ancient Greek word that means the right time or God's time, is a three-and-a-half day retreat for adolescents that is based on the Cursillo retreat for adults. Kairos follows, roughly, the same pattern, and the topics of the retreat's speeches are modified for teenagers. I think the beauty of it is that the retreat takes you where you are. If you're someone whose relationship with God is solid, then the retreat confirms you and gives you a boost. If you're having problems at the time of the retreat, your experience might be more profound. It's absolutely the work of the Holy Spirit. During the first couple of retreats, I used to worry about how things might turn out. Around the eighth retreat I said to myself, "Why am I worried? I'm not in charge of this. I just order the buses."

How did Kairos come to the Prep?

There are a few different creation stories out there, so let me give you the one I'm familiar with. We got Kairos by way of Kentucky, I believe, through a Franciscan priest who was familiar with the Cursillo retreat. This priest and his faculty colleagues tweaked the retreat to make it appropriate for high school students. Since Kentucky isn't that far from Chicago, Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois got a hold of it. And once in got into the Jesuit network, it took off. We got it from Gonzaga high school in D.C. We sent seven Prep kids and Fr. Joe Michini, S.J. to D.C. to make the retreat and bring it back. The students thought it was a great retreat, they loved it. But one student said to Fr. Michini, "It'll never work at the Prep." Of course we made him the first rector! (student retreat leader).

How were those first retreats?

Since I hadn't made the Gonzaga retreat, that first Prep Kairos was led mainly by the students. We decided that we would not push the seniors to make it. We knew that if a priest and a nun pushed a retreat, it'd be the kiss of death. The kids would think that you pray all day and that'd be the end of it. So we let the word spread - and it did. We ran three retreats the first year, and for four years after that. One year we added a fourth retreat, then a fifth, then a sixth. We learned real quick, also, that a full four day retreat was too long - by the afternoon of the fourth day, they want to see their loved ones.

What are some of your favorite things about Kairos?

Now that I'm a full-time classroom teacher and no longer in Campus Ministry, I miss the experience of knowing on Monday night that in a few days I would have a much deeper understanding of who these young men were and what made them tick. I miss the students' creativity - I'll never forget a makeshift, Kairos-wide bowling tournament complete with brackets and team names. I also miss seeing how Kairos affects our adult leaders, some of whom said it was life-changing. I don't miss the planning or the worrying.

Are you sure you don't want to share any good stories about Kairos?

Oh, I'm sure.

What do students get out of the retreat?

Although we break students down into groups, the retreat is geared towards the individual because each reaction is individual. Here are the two big graces from Kairos: you recognize that you are a person loved by your God, by your family, by your friends. It then teaches you that everyone else is lovable. Once you know another's story, you're much more accepting of the person and therefore it's much easier to receive someone in a Christian spirit. It can, if you are open to it, change your attitude to become much more open and much more tolerant towards others.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's On Your Agenda?

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 relates the 2014 State of the Union (SOTU) address to your final grade school semester.

"An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy." - Thomas Jefferson

If the past two covers of the Sunday edition of The New York Times, displaying potential GOP presidential candidates for 2016, are any indication, then it's safe to say that our sitting president doesn't have too much time left - at least in the eyes of the media. And although his successor won't take the oath of office until January 2017, President Obama has a narrow window of time to accomplish the several tasks on his and his party's agenda. I'm no political analyst, but perhaps a dimmed media spotlight and a ticking clock will permit him and his administration to tackle their to-do list more aggressively.

So I ask all you second semester eighth graders out there, what's on your agenda? Now that your high school admission journey is almost complete, and your time in grade school nears its end, where and how can you still make your mark?

Some of our government teachers have asked their students to watch and react to this year's address and the opposition's rebuttal. I encourage you all, if you have the time and interest, to watch this year's address - it'll be good practice for a budding St. Joe's Prep scholar. And I challenge you to make the most of your remaining time in eighth grade.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snow Day!

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 fondly recalls a memorable sitcom episode, polls Prep students and staff on how they spent their time off, and thinks about the summer.

"I gotta study, man." - Bart Simpson

742 Evergreen Terrace

An early evening ritual at the Turner house circa 1994-2000 was watching reruns of The Simpsons. Yesterday, while digging out two cars and shoveling several neighborhood sidewalks, I recalled an early episode called "Bart Gets an F". Here's the gist of Season Two's poignant and, at times, spiritual opener: Bart's feeble oral book report on Treasure Island prompts Mrs. Krabappel to ask a question that he can't answer correctly. Ever the vigilant and caring educator, Mrs. K warns Bart - and eventually Homer and Marge - that continued poor performance might result in his having to repeat fourth grade (I know, I know, Bart's been in fourth grade for 20 years). It gets to the point where Bart prays and asks God for a miracle so he can have more time to study. Bart's prayer is answered - Springfield is walloped by a serious and unexpected winter storm (was it named Janus?) forcing his school's closure. Bart, who can't wait to go sledding and build forts, immediately forgets that God has answered his prayer. But Lisa, his sister, does not. She tells Bart that she heard his prayer and that Bart "owes Him big."

I couldn't help thinking if some of our students were either grateful for more time to prepare for their Latin and History exams, or frustrated with the Good Lord for delaying the inevitable. I also asked my co-workers what they did during their snow days. Here's what I learned:

Mr. Scannapieco '09 - Alumni Service Corps

"My roommates (fellow members of the ASC) and I painted our dining room, 2-3 coats. Trim and everything."

Ms. Mascio - Admission Office

"I caught up on plenty of guilty pleasure TV."

Mrs. McKenna - Admission Office

"I'm moving next week, so I packed up my whole house."

Mr. McCloskey '91 - Admission Office

"Lots of snow-blowing then sledding at The Willows."

Andrew Hayn '15

"I was in Ontario for the weekend, so having Tuesday off was nice. But on Wednesday I just stewed."

Joe Egler '16

"It was helpful to have a little extra time to look over my notes and prepare, so I'm grateful."

If all this talk of snow and the polar vortex makes you think about summer, take a look at our summer programs at the Prep. And let us know in the comments how you spent your snow day.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I got in! Now what?

In today's post, Mr. Turner '00 provides recently accepted students with a brief checklist as they decide whether to join the Class of 2018.

1) Take a moment.

Guess what? You got accepted to St. Joe's Prep. That's something to be proud of, so let it sink in. Be happy, but stay humble. Once you accept us, so to speak, your next challenge begins.

2) Decide.

I recall someone telling me that besides yes, the best answer to give is no. We hope you say yes to the Prep because it's the best fit for you, but we understand you may have other options.

3) Look at your calendar(s).

After you decide to enroll (and if you haven't already, please let us know by Friday, January 24), look ahead to March and April for a few important dates:

  • March 21 - Enrollment Contract Due
  • April 12 - Placement Tests

4) Think about Summer '14 @ the Prep.

The summer of '96 was bittersweet for me. I knew that in a few months I would start a new and exciting chapter at the Prep, but that I would begin to drift away from my neighborhood buddies who were attending other schools. Football practice didn't start until August and I was anxious to meet some of my future classmates. If the Prep had offered a program like Go Forth back then, it would have been the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap between 8th grade and freshman year. Here are some reasons to consider Go Forth, a 5-week summer enrichment program at the Prep:

  • Meet other members of the Class of 2018 and commute with them to the Prep
  • Study the following subjects, taught by some of your future Prep teachers, to get a head start:
    • English
    • Latin
    • Math
    • Science
  • Get familiar with the Prep's campus and meet friendly and helpful upperclassmen
*For more information about Go Forth, call the office at 215-978-1954.

5) Keep at it.

You got in because you're a hard worker. Continue to excel in the classroom, on the stage, and on the field as your time in grade school comes to an end.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Great Courses @ the Prep: Censorship

In today's blog post, read about one of the great courses the Prep offers - Censorship with Mr. Coyle.
Mr. Joe Coyle

About ten years ago, a former Prep English Department chairperson wanted to help Prep graduates make the transition from high school to college English classes smoother. The thinking was that by allowing rising seniors to choose from a variety of elective courses which they were passionate about, our graduates would be more engaged during their final semester and better prepped for higher education. Mr. Joe Coyle proposed two electives, both of which still run: Literature, Language, and Culture of Northern Ireland and the subject of today's post Censorship in Literature.

Why Censorship?

The idea was twofold: to teach books no one else was teaching at the secondary level - especially at a Jesuit school like the Prep; and to compel high school senior boys to read. I wanted these young men to get excited about reading books.

How did the syllabus evolve?

The first thing I did was consult the American Library Association's list of top 100 banned (or frequently challenged) books. The list is varied and the criteria for submission are diverse. I realized after the first year that it wasn't working - trying to teach Ulysses by James Joyce to anyone is difficult, let alone high school seniors. In addition, students have already read several of the books on the list. During that summer, I reflected on the course, bagged it, and started over. I asked the question, "What are 5 books that guys would truly want to read?" In order to adhere to the course's purpose - namely, censorship - I kept Harry Potter, which frequently occupies the top spot for banned, challenged, or censored books.

What other books do students get to read?

After Harry, the books get darker and more complex. We read 25th Hour, whose author is one of the main writers for the HBO series Game of Thrones. Then we move on to Fight Club, which in my opinion is a book that can change someone's life. The papers my guys write for Chuck Palahniuk's book are some of the best I get to grade as a teacher. We also read Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream.

How do you assess your students?

Comprehension tests, class participation, and papers.

Are there any upcoming changes for the course?

For 2014-2015, I'm dropping Harry and 25th Hour. We'll start with Fight Club, read Trainspotting and Requiem, then for the remainder of the semester, we'll watch, analyze, and discuss - with the help of Prep alum and Philadelphia Homicide Detective Lt. Philip Reihl '80 - the first season of the HBO series, The Wire.

What is you favorite thing about teaching Censorship?

I love the depth of our class discussions. If you want to listen to some good, thoughtful, and sincere conversations about books that strike a chord with young men, sit in on my class.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

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