This reflection comes from Ignatian Volunteer Kate Kniest, who finished her second year of service at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan, IL. It was originally printed in IVC Chicago’s Footprints blog.
Walking through the halls of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep High School, one sees the challenges, conflicts, potential and joys of being a teenager. The energy, generosity, passion and the problems are sometimes front and center, sometimes concealed and difficult to discern. On some occasions it is easy to see the face of Christ in each teenager, while with others it is a challenge.
As a nursing consultant at Cristo Rey St. Martin, I meet with students who feel ill, update health records, and teach health education classes. Most of these classes have an emphasis on reproductive health. I had been a nurse educator for most of my professional life, but I have never taught high school students–and never sex ed! Delving into the anatomy and physiology of the body has been fun. Every discussion of how the body works is another opportunity to share the special beauty of God’s creation. To share the amazing complexity and functions of the human body with the teens is one of the joys of my IVC service. Sometimes teenagers are immensely interested in the reproductive system, especially the boys. Sometimes, they act totally disinterested.
As a result of the classes, some students have felt comfortable enough to come to me with personal concerns. Some wish to discuss their own health problems or those of family members. They ask about body changes and sexual decisions. Students who have experienced major health changes talk about life, relationships, sexuality, or time spent in hospital. In my role, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany students to the hospital, doctors’ appointments, or visit them at home. I have had the pleasure of meeting their families and extended families. Being brought into the confidence of the teens, and having the flexibility and the time to hear these issues is a special gift. It has given me a clearer sense of the struggles facing teens today. Often just listening is enough, but sometimes school or community resources are also needed to address some of the concerns.
One of the resources at Cristo Rey St. Martin is a committee of counselors, staff and administrators who meet weekly to identify students who need additional support to be successful and meet special challenges. This group is also a sound resource for kids who are experiencing health concerns, and I have been fortunate to participate in this committee. I am touched as I watch them put into action Pope Francis’ directive to step out and encounter those in need. This group creates an attitude in the school that there are solutions to problems that may at first seem insurmountable. Each member is dedicated, non-judgmental and loves the students and their families.
I have learned much during my time at Cristo Rey St. Martin. I have enjoyed getting to know the faculty and staff. I am always impressed with their creativity and remarkable capacity to help students and families. They extend their kindness to me with thanks for the smallest of contributions. Each day provides opportunities for reflection and gratitude for my time as a member of this special school community.