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April 15, 2002

Educators conference theme was almost divine


The hand of the Lord is sometimes so visible there is great joy in being one of His servants, said Catholic Educators Conference chairwoman Suzanne Dinwoodie, as she reflected on the event at St. John Brebeuf Regional Secondary.

This year’s conference theme, Compassion Poured Out, said Dinwoodie, became a vivid example of how God’s voice can be heard by His people.

“When we met with the school principals and the pastors last year to pick a new conference theme, we never could have foreseen how our choice would take on a whole new meaning after 9/11,” Dinwoodie told The B.C. Catholic.

Archbishop Adam Exner, OMI, agreed, calling the theme “a powerful and fitting one for our present times, especially as the world continues to reel under the impact of the acts of terrorism and hatred of last Sept. 11 and the ensuing war.”

Hearts pouring out compassion for others, said the archbishop, hearts that can forgive and accept forgiveness, hearts modelled after the heart of Jesus, Whose compassion saved all humanity, is what all must strive for now. Educators, he said, in a particularly important way, help form the compassionate hearts of a new generation.

Said Dinwoodie, “We all agreed we wanted to teach our students that, as members of the mystical Body of Christ, we are responsible for the human family and called to share what we have been given. We called our concept ‘no one in need.’”

After Sept. 11 many schools, said Dinwoodie, picked up on the Compassion Poured Out theme by getting involved with social justice initiatives and looking for ways to reach out to the poor and suffering in their midst. Some schools arranged for students to become pen pals with students in New York so they could express their compassion to those directly involved in the attacks.

The conference theme naturally influenced the choice of speakers, said Dinwoodie.

Many of the general session and break-out speakers, she said, were experts on the challenges which educators face in carrying out their mission in a spirit of compassion.

The opening keynote address speaker, Dr. Richard Lavoie, is a frequent guest at educational conferences across North America because of his expertise as a consultant to agencies and organizations on learning differences. He is particularly well versed on issues affecting children who struggle in school, said Dinwoodie.

“We learned from the teachers’ evaluations that his strategies for integrating special needs kids was a real highlight. He touched the hearts of many, as did Father Lucien Larre’s humorous yet profound address on today’s ‘busy-ness’ of kids and how it interferes with their development.

“Father Larre said that many children with problems like Attention Deficit Disorder are handed drugs rather than helped to overcome their problems,” said Dinwoodie.

Father Larre, who gave the closing keynote address, is a psychologist who has counselled children, adolescents, and families for many years. He has received the Order of Canada for his work.

Society, he said, suffers from a decided lack of compassion for those with cognitive and developmental problems. The terrorist events and also the recent spate of school shootings, he said, should encourage everyone to look deeper to discover how a lack of love and compassion affect children who are different, who have difficulty following the normal path.

Children who challenge their teachers and families to pour out compassion, he said, are really “a gift.”

Vancouver psychologist Dr. Denis Boyd talked about helping kids cope with crises such as the 9-11 attacks in a talk called Helping Kids Cope with Loss, Stress, and War.

Death, said Dr. Boyd, whether of a fellow student, a family member, or a school staff member, even in a community outside the school environment, provides an opportunity for the school community to come together to pray and share their feelings.

“It is important that the first class the students attend (after such an event),” said Dr. Boyd, “provides the opportunity for everyone to discuss what has happened.”

Praying for those directly affected, he said, is extremely important, and gives children the opportunity to express their shock, grief, and compassion for others.

“Stress levels will be high after a traumatic event,” said Dr. Boyd. Some children will act out (their feelings) more than others and allowances should be made. Students and staff who are already under high levels of stress, or who are grieving other losses, may be at greater risk than the general school population, he said.

Symptoms of stress in children, as in adults, are irritability, outbursts, withdrawal, sleep disturbances, eating problems, stomach aches, headaches, randomized body pains, crying easily, nail biting, separation anxiety, and clingy behaviour.

Teachers can help kids deal with stress after crises by listening and inviting dialogue, playing games where children can express emotions, encouraging the writing of thoughts and feelings, and using art. Music and reading are also valuable, he said, in helping children express themselves.

Dr. Boyd described factors which determine how a particular child will interpret death or loss, according to their age group, individual personality, life experience, etc.

Depending on how open a child is at expressing his or her emotions, he said, each one responds to death or crisis in an individual way. Age plays a factor, as does a child’s life experiences up to that point.

Twenty-five year certificates were presented to Pauline Teglasi of Blessed Sacrament School, Adele Coady of Little Flower Academy, Shirley Colwell of St. Francis de Sales School, and Brenda Lockhart of St. Francis Xavier School.

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