Assumption High School’s leaders say a national award for innovation in social justice education is confirmation the school is headed in the right direction. It’s about teaching students to be Christ to the world, they say.
Last month, the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) awarded the Dr. Karen M. Ristau Innovations Award to Assumption, an all-girl school founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1955.
The award is presented to an individual, school or program that has “furthered the mission of Catholic education through an innovative program or approach,” according to the NCEA’s website.
The recognition “says we’re doing it right,” said Mary Ann Steutermann, who serves as Assumption’s executive director of mission effectiveness. The charism of the Sisters of Mercy “is all about being the hands and feet of Christ in the world. It’s about taking action.”
Martha Tedesco, Assumption’s principal, said what’s most “exciting” about the honor from the NCEA is that it’s an “award for something that’s so necessary — teaching young women to advocate for those who don’t have a voice.”
Tedesco said the award “motivates us to keep doing what you know in your heart is the right thing.”
Steutermann, who teaches part of the curriculum that was honored, said the school’s approach to teaching social justice is comprehensive. Based on the Sisters of Mercy’s five critical concerns — non-violence, anti-racism, immigration, women and the Earth — the school has developed five ways to help students learn about the issues and take action to address them.
“It has an arm in every area of school life,” said Steutermann.
Each of the sisters’ concerns is addressed in the school’s academic curriculum, she said. Students also have the option to take a “deep dive” into particular issues with elective courses in African American history, women’s issues and food systems and sustainability.
The school also offers various clubs, opportunities for service work with local nonprofits, mission trips and advocacy education.
“One of the things that make us innovative is we teach them about advocacy,” she said. “It’s one great way to live out the Gospel. Service is great but advocacy addresses the issues” of injustice. “It’s a systemic way to address social problems.”
Steutermann teaches the students how to advocate for change — such as how to write letters to the editors of local newspapers, read legislative proposals, how to find their legislators and contact local officials.
Assumption students have called their legislators about issues like gun violence, the safe storage of firearms, issues surrounding support for the mentally ill and gender inequities.
The students learn that such advocacy isn’t difficult and that the legislators want to hear from the public.
Advocacy becomes a “life skill,” Steutermann said. “It teaches them to champion the causes they care about” after they’ve graduated from Assumption.
She noted that the lessons also empower the young women, though most are too young to vote. Empowering women to be servant leaders in their chosen fields is the school’s mission, she added.
The National Catholic Educational Association is a private organization that works with Catholic educators to support ongoing faith formation and the teaching mission of the Catholic Church, according to its website. Its membership includes 140,000 educators serving 1.6 million students.