Monday, January 18, 2010

Fides et Sapientia

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” (Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 1998)

These words capture our highest aspirations for our students at Pope John Paul II High School.  By coming to know truth in all of its beauty , students come to know God, and in so doing are inspired to become the people he created them to be.

Students are immersed in a rigorous liberal arts course of study, including 3 years of foreign language and fine arts. Tutorials are offered for students who need extra help, whereas those who demonstrate aptitude may take honors courses and AP courses for college credit. Our fine arts program affords students choices in choral and instrumental music, as well as the dramatic and visual arts. Students are encouraged to join a large variety of athletic teams, clubs and service organizations.

The lens through which our school's life is focused is our faith. Through the study of Scripture and Doctrine, students discover the ancient and universal truths that bring synthesis and meaning to their lives. Through Christian service to the less fortunate each year, they are inspired to love God through others. Through prayer, weekly liturgy and worship, they are invited into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Faith and reason, John Paul II reminds us, are the “wings” upon which the human spirit rises.  May our students learn to soar!

"The Glory of God is the Human Person Fully Alive."

Imagine a school where the state’s 100 meter track champion sings in the Advanced Choir, where the captain of the football team is also the youth governor of Tennessee, where an all state soccer player performs in the school orchestra, where honor students mentor younger students struggling in their studies and where students serve the needs of the less fortunate each year as part of the core curriculum.

Imagine a high school where students take foreign language and fine arts for a minimum of three years, a school whose students have earned over 150 A.P. Scholar awards over the last two years, where students come to school early and leave late to receive extra tutoring from their teachers, a school where students are encouraged to think, to ask questions, and to challenge assumptions.

Pope John Paul II High School was founded in 2002 for the purpose of building Renaissance young men and women. We believe, with St. Irenaeus (pictured), that "The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” When students stretch to become scholars, when they strive to be the best singer, the best artist, the best athlete, the best person they can be, they glorify God by using the talents he has given them. Therein is their fulfillment and happiness. We want nothing less for them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lives of Daring Adventure!

Our hockey team is once again excellent. Currently they’re 12-0-1 and atop the GNASH standings, having just beaten Centennial 9-2 on Friday night. I was able to see them play on Wednesday night against Ravenwood—a very good team—which they tied 2-2.

I am always amazed when I watch a hockey game how gracefully hockey players skate. They’ve been skating for so long now it has become second nature to them, almost like running or walking. Watching them, you’d think skating was easy, but if you think that, you’ve never tried or forgotten the first time you did try. Even the most gifted athlete, the first time they try it, will look and feel like a klutz. The first time I tried to skate I was about 27. I clung to the bar around the perimeter of the ice rink, holding on for dear life, but even that didn’t stop me from having five or six spectacular busts. And it doesn’t help when you’re struggling to your feet, trying to preserve whatever vestige of manhood you have left, that little 6 and 7 year olds go blazing past you, backwards, forwards, spinning. I used to be a pretty good athlete, but I sure didn’t look or feel like one that afternoon.

The first time we do anything is usually the hardest. Girls, if a guy calls you up and asks you out and he sounds pretty smooth, don’t think he hasn’t practiced that phone call privately 15 or 20 times and worried about that phone call all day. If you’re going out for a sport the very first time, the most difficult day is the first practice, because you don’t know how you’re going to stack up, and you don’t want to look like a fool next to your peers. If you’ve never spoken in front of people before, it takes courage to do so, and you’re likely going to fidget and stutter the first time you do.

We have a tendency to avoid the unknown. It’s a human tendency—most of us don’t like taking risks. And yet we know that taking risks is necessary for a healthy life. Fellas, assuming we don’t want to live our lives all by ourselves, we’re going to have to make that phone call or ask a girl directly to go out with us at some point. If we’re ever going to play a sport, we must go through a first day of practice and if we’re ever going to give a talk, there’s always that first time.

High school is a time to take some risks. I’m not talking about bungee jumping or parachuting, but the risk of exposing yourself in the classroom by raising your hand to give a really good answer (even if your friends may tease you for it), or really striving or an A and not the path of least resistance, or hanging out with a different group of people because you have more in common with them than your old friends, or joining a new club, or even starting a new club.

I think too often we judge the quality of a school by ACT averages and college admissions. Yes, our student body does very well by those measurements. But there’s another measure, maybe a more important one: how creative are you? How innovative? Are you mindless automatons, doing whatever the masses do, or are you a risk taker, someone willing to be ridiculed for doing something new? What new, amazing clubs could we be sponsoring if there were someone willing to risk starting something new and willing to ask teachers to be the moderator?

With the two snow days and the weekend, I’ve been inside my home now for almost 4 straight days. I’ve started to feel a little claustrophobic. The truth is, when we don’t break out of what is safe for us, what is "home", our lives begin to feel a little claustrophobic, boring, dull. Take some risks. Bust it a few times, like I did that first time skating. So what?

Helen Keller once said: “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.” May you all lead lives of daring adventure!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Raising Teenagers: Not for the Faint of Heart

One advantage to working in a high school for 25 years is I've met some pretty incredible parents. With four children of our own (now aged 22, 20, 18 and 14), my wife Diane and I paid close attention to how these parents raised their children and shamelessly stole ideas from them. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Here are some of the things we've "borrowed" that have worked well for us:

1) We’ve tried to say “no”. A mother I once knew received a Christmas present from her five children when her youngest child was a senior in high school. It was a plaque, inscribed with the words “World’s Meanest Mother”. The text of the plaque listed all the things she never let them do that “everyone else’s mother” did: stay out past midnight, go to senior prom parties where there would be drinking, miss school on days because they were tired, etc. And at the bottom of the plaque, they concluded with the simple words “Thank you Mom, for loving us so much”. I believe that kids want their parents, deep down, to set limits for them, much the same way we admire the teachers or coaches in our lives who held the line with us.

2) We’ve tried to pick the right battles. As a father I’ve failed on this more often than my wife—something about having a son with long hair is annoying to me! But hair length doesn’t matter. Hard work matters. Integrity matters. Treating people with respect matters. The art of being a parent with teens is to be flexible on the small stuff and give them some room. As one wise parent once told me. “Teenagers are like bucking broncos. If you try to ride them, their natural instinct is to buck you. Instead, parents should build fences that give the horse some freedom, but which lead them to the right place." This may be the single wisest statement I've ever heard about raising teens.

3) We don’t let our kids spend the night with friends. Ever. As a principal I’ve observed that if teenagers drink (and the stats say 70% do!), it’s most often when they’re overnight with someone else, not accountable to their own parents that evening. What they often do is play a shell game: each teen tells his parents that he’s staying at the other one’s house and then both spend the night at a third person’s house whose parents aren’t home or who don’t care. Drinking is a huge temptation, even to the very best kids. Do our children like this policy? No, they hate it, but it gives them an excuse to say “no” when tempted and it helps shield them from the more serious stuff. They’ve survived.

4) They can’t quit something once they start. All four of my children have been on terrible teams with poor coaches. Doesn’t matter, they can’t quit. If they finish the season and never want to play that sport again, that’s fine (my oldest quit playing baseball at 11, which killed my soul because he was good). I remember once talking to a cheerleader who decided to quit the cheerleading squad in mid-season. I expressed concern to her that she often gave up on things and encouraged to her to finish the season out‐‐it would help her in more important things in the future like college, a job, a future marriage. Her mom was furious with me. Sadly, 15 years later, I heard she’s divorcing her third husband.

5) We’ve tried to be faithful to family prayer. Beginning when our children were young, we’ve tried to pray as a family before getting ready for school. It was never “high church”! Our standard routine was to make each kid offer thanks (“Thank you Jesus for…” when our kids were younger), read Scripture (our family uses the Church’s readings of the day), offer any special intentions, and then finish with an “Our Father or Hail Mary”. The whole thing takes about 5 minutes. Even now, with our two youngest in high school, we continue with this tradition.

6) We’ve had to say we’re sorry and tried to be open to changing our minds. Sometimes we make the wrong decision and rather than “stand firm” as a pretense for infallibility, we’ve had to change course and sometimes ask our kids to forgive us. It seems like I am in this position more often with my lawyerly daughter than my boys, but she’s right to press me sometimes--I tend to be overprotective of her. Being parents of teens is not for the faint‐hearted!

Older parents always told Diane and I when our children were young, in dark and ominous tones, “just wait until your kids turn into teenagers”. The truth is, raising teens has been great. There is no greater joy than watching your children turn into young men and women, to laugh with them as young adults, to smile inwardly when you recognize a point of view or quirk that was passed from you to them (but don’t acknowledge it out loud with them!), to see God’s grace living with them, pushing them to be the men and women he intends them to become. Do we have perfect kids? Hardly. But it's not their fault--they don't have perfect parents!

The truly hard years, we’ve come to realize, were the years of being on‐call 100% of the time when our children were in diapers. To those parents, Diane and I have this to say: The best is yet to come!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Some Assembly Required

This is Mr. Weber's first address to the students for the 2010 year.

What is the worst three word phrase you might read while opening Christmas presents?

"Some Assembly Required".

If you're like me, you never want to see those words on a present someone has given you. It's not just that I don't like to fix things (I don't). It's because inevitably, the instructions on how to do the assembling are very poorly written and hard to follow. At some point, and my kids will attest to this, I will crumple up the instructions in frustration, look at the picture on the box and try to do it myself. I remember putting a wood swing set together for Aaron and Daniel when they were very young: It took me all day. True to form, about half way through, I chunked the directions and finished the project using what I thought was "common sense". When I got to the final step, which was simply to stand the swing set right side up and hang the swings from the top beam, I realized that the holes on the beam for hanging the swing were upside down, pointing straight up in the air, which meant I had to disassemble most of what I had done and start over. Aghh!

I've learned, through trial and error (and error!), no matter how cryptic the directions, it's better to try and follow them. In the end, we'll build a better swing set and be happier with the final product. We may get frustrated along the way, it may seem easier and tempting to take short-cuts, but we'll likely have to redo things over and over unless we're following the manufacturer's instructions.

In many ways, our lives are like presents--some assembly is required. One of the great gifts that God gives us is that he doesn't create us as finished products. He allows us to assemble ourselves over the course of our lives: to become the person he's destined for us to be. But like me putting together a swingset, we often try to take short-cuts to get there, not reading the manual, skipping steps, not abiding by the manufacturers' instructions. And the result is we often make ourselves miserable, either creating ourselves to be much less than the finished product God had designed us to be, or by redoing over and over the steps necessary to get there.

God shows us how to live. He gives us Scripture, he gives us the teachings of the Church, and he gives us consciences that tell us right from wrong. These are the "manufacturer's instructions". They are sometimes difficult to understand and perhaps more difficult to live by, but if we commit ourselves to following them, we are happier with the results.

New years are traditionally times when we look at our lives and commit ourselves to doing one thing that will make us better--the so-called "New Year's Resolution". Fitness clubs swell in new memberships in January as people commit themselves to lose some weight, prompted no doubt by the guilt they feel with all the food they've eaten since Thanksgiving. Since none of us are perfect, there are areas in all of our lives where we've gone off script from the manufacturer's instructions, keeping us from being the kind of people God wants us to be. I encourage you not to let this year pass by like all the rest, but commit yourself to just one thing that you know will make you a better person: Perhaps it's to study more, be a better friend, be a better son or daughter or older sister or brother, read more, take your Christian service more seriously, whatever is the right thing for you.

I'd like to make a new Year's resolution for JPII as well, and ask that you join me in this. We're sloppy. Those of you who came in on Saturday just before break will attest to how much garbage and litter was in our parking lot. It's also too often in our hallways, in the cafeteria and around our grounds. I'd like us all to pledge to be better stewards of this place--that we'll care more about how we leave it for others. I pledge that as I walk the hallways and see litter, I'll pick it up and throw it away, and I ask all of you to do the same. I am so proud of this school, of you students, of you teachers. I don't want anyone getting the wrong impression of us. Please join me in doing a better job keeping this place looking sharp.

Happy New Year!