AMHS News Today
President's Blog: A beautiful day in the neighborhood
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” – Fred Rogers
For those of us old enough to remember the days when TV had only a handful of channels, we likely remember Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers. I spent many hours as a child watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood and his magical world of make believe. I recall Mister Rogers entering his living room, adorned with a fish tank and traffic light, hanging up his jacket in the closet and putting on a cardigan sweater, then changing his shoes, all the while singing “Won’t you be my neighbor?” directly to the camera. Episodes featured characters such as Mr. McFeely, Officer Clemmons, and Trolley as well as puppet characters, including X the Owl, Cornflake S. Pecially, Daniel Striped Tiger, and Donkey Hodie, voiced by Fred Rogers and a team of performers. Award-winning actor Michael Keaton (who worked as a stagehand on Mister Rogers Neighborhood early in his career) recently paid tribute to Fred Rogers by hosting a 50th anniversary celebration in March 2018.
A visit to the “Fred Rogers Company” website paints a fascinating picture of his personal and professional life. Born in Pennsylvania in March 1928, Fred McFeely Rogers, went on to study music composition while in college and entered into the world of TV in the early 1950s in New York. Rogers returned to Pennsylvania to develop programming for a community television station in Pittsburgh. “The Children’s Corner” was his first effort and it was a major influence for what would eventually become Mister Rogers Neighborhood. While producing the show, Rogers attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Child Development. In 1963 he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He continued to develop children’s programming, first for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and debuted “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in 1966 in Pittsburgh. National Educational Television (NET) picked up the show in 1968 and distributed it nationwide. NET eventually became the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Along with Sesame Street, Mister Rogers Neighborhood became a staple for early childhood programming for over 30 years, until Rogers passed away in 2003. Fred Rogers went on to win nearly every award associated with children’s programming. He authored countless books, composed music, earned honorary degrees (from over 40 colleges and universities), was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. He was featured on a US postage stamp in February 2018 alongside the character of King Friday XIII. Plans for a film depicting the life of Fred Rogers (starring Tom Hanks) are currently in the works.
Jonathan Merritt wrote a brilliant profile on Fred Rogers in a November 2015 issue of The Atlantic. Merritt titled the article “Saint Fred” and shared accounts of how children and adults were moved by Rogers, including children with autism and adults suffering from chemical dependency. The world of make believe offered a magical place for children to find themselves and nurture their creative mind. It was a message of love, of loving your neighbor, that Rogers expressed to the viewers on the other side of the camera. Merritt wrote:
“He believed ‘the space between the television set and the viewer is holy ground,’ but he trusted God to do the heavy lifting. The wall of his office featured a framed picture of the Greek word for ‘grace,’ a constant reminder of his belief that he could use television ‘for the broadcasting of grace through the land.’ Before entering that office each day, Rogers would pray, ‘Dear God, let some word that is heard be yours.’ Rogers told kids they mattered, that they were worthy of love, and that emotions were to be embraced, not buried. He spoke to children like grown-ups, and helped them tackle topics such as anger, trust, honesty, courage, and sadness. ‘The world is not always a kind place,’ Rogers once said. ‘That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.’
Rogers recognized the state of American television in the 1950s was more slapstick than loving. He recognized many American veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam suffered from PTSD, and their children could benefit from a surrogate parent, one who spoke gently and affirmed children for their goodness in an oftentimes stressful world. Mister Rogers Neighborhood offered children and their parents a safe, albeit make-believe, place.
As parents, we do our best to protect our children from harm. The adolescent years are rife with challenges for our children: anxiety, stress, social media, and the pressure of an uncertain future. The coping mechanisms of our children, our students, can take on many forms and not all are healthy and appropriate. “The world is not a kind place,” said Fred Rogers. How can we as adults help our children navigate these years? We ask ourselves this question frequently, and as our mission statement expresses, we partner with parents during these formative years. As we prepared for the 2017-2018 school year, a sub-committee of members of the board and school leadership researched what other Catholic high schools in the country have done to focus on the challenges facing our students today.
At AMHS we are taking the step to enhance our current support systems we already have in place and utilize additional resources and tools in our area. Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year we are appointing Jordan James to serve as the Director of Wellness and Sports Performance. He will oversee a program targeting our student and adult population. Jordan will collaborate with members of our campus ministry office, counseling department, ASB, and parent association. He has already started to identify community support services and professional development training for faculty and staff and is beginning to script goals for the upcoming school year. His full-time position at AMHS will allow him to teach Strength and Conditioning classes, oversee the athletic team strength and conditioning programs, and serve in his director position.
In 2016 we published our current five-year Strategic Plan: Inspiring Christlike Leaders. The plan includes the goal of “developing a community wellness program for our adult and student population that not only addresses the physical well-being of our students/faculty/staff but also their emotional and mental well-being.” The wellness program will address the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of our community.
Early work in this area includes the following for the students and faculty/staff:
--Curriculum: Our Health class for 9th grade students features units on controlled substances, nutrition, and healthy habits. The Human Body Systems (Anatomy) class features units on mental health and nutrition. Ninth grade students take a full year of Physical Education and all students are able to take elective courses in Strength and Conditioning. We offer morning and after school strength and conditioning and team conditioning throughout the year.
--Athletic programs: Over 80% of AMHS students participate in athletics throughout the year. Each sport season features a non-cut sport (boys and girls tennis, wrestling, cross country, track and field, football).
--Student resources: in addition to clubs featuring physical activity like ultimate Frisbee and ping-pong, students have access to a variety of resources in the AMHS library which offers a collection of self-help books. The library has enhanced the learning space for students to study before and after school (and during lunch periods) and has five desktop stations and a computer cart with thirty laptops.
--Spiritual opportunities for students: Freshmen and sophomore students may attend the Quest Retreat. Junior and Senior students help lead the Quest Retreat and attend and lead the Kairos Retreat. The St. Thomas Chapel is open for student use before school each morning and upon request with the Campus Ministry office. The school has an opening and closing prayer each school day as well as a monthly liturgy service (class masses or all school masses on holy days of obligation). Students involved in the choir, band, and orchestra programs perform liturgical music at school liturgies and students may serve as altar servers and acolytes. Students may attend an annual mission trip (our current mission trip visits our sister school in Guatemala). The St. Thomas Chapel is available for prayer services for all AMHS athletic teams during their season.
--Spiritual opportunities for faculty/staff: Faculty and staff may help lead the Quest and Kairos Retreats and chaperone mission trips. Faculty and staff lead monthly prayer reflections in the St. Thomas Chapel on the morning of our faculty/staff meetings. Faculty and staff members supervise morning chapel hours and Campus Ministry organizes prayer gatherings in the chapel space during the year. Faculty and staff lead morning and end of the day prayer each school day. Faculty and staff serve as Eucharistic ministers at school liturgies. The Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy Archive on the AMHS website, developed by Brian Murphy, contains over 1000 of his writings, homilies, letters, etc. The Sunshine Committee (led by a group of faculty and staff) send cards of celebration or encouragement to members of our adult community.
--Faculty and staff wellness program: AMHS has an agreement for a special rate for employees for membership at any local YMCA. The weekly Principal bulletin features nutrition and fitness information prepared by administrative assistant Denise Jannusch. Faculty and staff have access to the AMHS weight room and training programs with Jordan James. Judy Linscott hosts a monthly First Friday lunch for faculty and staff in the cafeteria to provide a regular fellowship gathering for our adults.
--Counseling department: Introduced the Naviance program which includes a career profile and college search resource. Students may access an interest inventory and learning style inventory. The counseling department has connected with community agencies to provide emotional support for our students.
--Diversity and inclusion committee for faculty and staff: Comprised of faculty and staff, this group has planned professional development trainings this spring and during the August in-service meetings.
--Academic Resource Center: Over 90 students are served by the ARC. Students enrolled in ARC classes have an educational evaluation to prepare for their accommodation plan. Accommodations are appropriate for students in a high school college preparatory program and can follow the students to college. Students not enrolled in the ARC classes may receive academic coaching, or utilize their accommodation plan, which may involve extended time on tests, a quieter testing environment, a reader for testing, or note taking resources. In the last 4 years, AMHS has added 6 courses to support growing needs. During the 2017-18 school year, AMHS offered a total of 14 classes designed to meet the unique needs of students--10 of the 14 courses are taught by ARC staff, the remainder are taught within the academic departments.
--Parent Association sponsored speaker series: The PA collaborates with the Principal and the ASB to feature guest speakers on topics including social media and safe driving.
Throughout my career in education, I have been blessed to serve alongside remarkable people who strive to guide young men and women through the challenging years of adolescence. Now as a parent of adolescents I realize how blessed my wife and I are with the amazing teachers and staff members at AMHS. My children could always go to someone in times of need, on a bad day or at a moment when they needed someone to lift up their spirits. ‘Dear God, let some word that is heard be yours.’ This was the prayer of Fred Rogers as he prepared to speak to children through the lens of the camera. All children need to know they are loved unconditionally.. We look forward to our wellness program and how it will provide our families and our adult leaders with more resources to help our students in these challenging formative years of their lives.