Gabriella Swan, like students aross Canada, has brought the classroom to the family dining room table. Michael Swan

‘Igniting Hope’ theme comes at right time

By 
  • April 30, 2020

It isn’t just during a time of pandemic that the world has an overwhelming need for hope. It’s something that is always on the agenda in Ontario’s Catholic schools, says Anne O’Brien.

Catholic educators across Ontario have long recognized this and for Catholic Education Week, which runs May 3-8, the focus is squarely on hope. This year’s theme is Igniting Hope.

The theme was chosen by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. It’s been on the books since August and squares with a common theme educators try to pass on to students, said O’Brien, director of Catholic education with the OCSTA.

“Even without a pandemic, our students need hope,” said O’Brien. “We talk about hope a lot in Catholic schools.”

But at a time when students are stuck at home, isolating with their families and taking their lessons online and through distance learning in attempts to stop the spread of the deadly virus, O’Brien can’t help but see the power in Igniting Hope.

“When dealing with youth we’re always talking about finding the greatness within each individual,” she said. “Then when this global pandemic came on it just made it so much more profound and powerful.”

The shutdown of schools has been a teachable moment for students, indeed for all education partners. Everyone, with no exceptions, has been touched in the same way and that has brought people together in “a common kind of unity through one theme of hope,” said O’Brien.

The trustees have put together an extensive resource kit to help teachers share lessons surrounding the theme.

Each day has its own sub-theme — Our Hope in Christ, The Hope Within Us, The Hope Among Us, Hope for the World and A Future Full of Hope — and specific lessons to share. There are book lists for mentor texts and Scripture connections, daily prayers, faith activities and more.

Normally there would be Masses and eucharistic celebrations in parish churches. Instead this year there will be online celebrations by local bishops and parishes, including a live-streamed Mass May 6 celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins from St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica.

O’Brien spent many years in the classroom as a teacher and said the week was highly anticipated by her and her colleagues. Teachers have had access to the resources developed by the OCSTA and have long been preparing for this week. The distance learning that’s been in place since March Break has meant they’ve just had to adapt it to the circumstances.

“They’re just taking these topics and renovating them a little to make sure they’re appropriate and adaptable to home,” she said.

With the COVID-19 shutdown, parents are being asked to step up to help their kids participate. There are at-home resources on the OCSTA website (ocsta.on.ca) and parents are urged to use whatever they are comfortable with.

“This doesn’t need to be complex,” said O’Brien.

To start the week, families are being asked to build up Catholic Education Week by putting signs of hope in their windows and doors, using chalk to write hopeful messages on sidewalks, post signs of hope on trees in their yards or make family rosaries.

“It doesn’t need to be big and fancy, it’s just about Jesus who was very profound yet simple at the same time.”

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