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All Saints Catholic School, Manassas, Virginia
by Ruth A. Matheny
For Judith Fisher, former teacher and assistant principal at All Saints Catholic School in Manassas, VA, the challenge was clear: How can middle-school students learn to work effectively for peace and justice?
For Judith Fisher, former teacher and assistant principal at All Saints Catholic School in Manassas, VA, the challenge was clear: How can middle-school students learn to work effectively for peace and justice?
Students in seventh and eighth grades “need to be respected for their ideas along with their decision-making and problem-solving skills,” she notes. They are also generous, enthusiastic, and increasingly aware of the social aspects of the lives of others. Her answer was the formation of the Peace and Justice Players, a group of seventh and eighth graders who commit to learning and practicing peace and justice at home, in the school, and in the community.

Now in its seventh year, the program began with 14 students. This year 42 students accepted the invitation of moderators Caroline Kardaras and Eileen Rakshys to adapt the lessons of sacred Scripture to practical actions that promote peace and justice.

In the words of moderator Kardaras, “We hope to provide the students opportunities to activate their faith through prayer and service within our schools and community.”

The Players hold regular meetings but do not have officers. Members suggest activities and ideas, which are then brainstormed by the group. Each meeting opens with an appropriate Scripture reading, perhaps a parable such as the Good Samaritan. One year, that parable formed the basis of a skit presented in costume to kindergartners and first graders. No one is too young to learn the lessons of peace and justice.

Activities are suggested, planned, and implemented by the Players; but they may involve students from other classes, the parish, and even the whole community. Over the years, the scope has widened and varied.

To celebrate Catholic Schools Week one year, the Players held a “parade of virtues,” with each grade decorating a float built on a red wagon and identifying one of the virtues.

During “Migration Week,” they held a poster contest with the theme “Put People First.” During Lent, Players serve a soup and bread lunch, paying the regular lunch price themselves so that others may be fed.

Special needs students from a local Catholic school were guests of honor at a Players’ reception. Clothing and blankets are regularly donated to the needy from as far away as Washington, D.C. Students also work with the local homeless shelter and reach out to the residents of nursing homes. One Christmas, the Players provided ornaments and trimmed the tree at the Benedictine Shelter for Women.

An unusual project at the end of the first year was the creation of an indoor Peace Garden, designed and developed with the help of volunteer parents. A statue of St. Francis, blessed by the pastor, watched over the garden.

In November the Players presented “The Chameleon Effect,” a short play by Diana Jenkins which shows the changes in a young boy as he learns values and morals. A full schedule of activities promoting peace and justice is planned for the rest of this year.

Of course, a source of funds is needed for the Players to implement their many activities and services. At times, they hold book sales or a slipper-and-stuffed animal day enjoyed by all students. Other events are made possible through selfless donations.

The Peace and Justice Players are just the beginning of students’ focus on peace and justice. Says founder Judith Fisher, “Parents of Players and their teachers in high school communicate with All Saints regularly.... Students continue serving at homeless shelters, buying and gathering clothes for the poor, even asking the high-school religion teacher to start a Peace and Justice group.”

Members of the Peace and Justice Players proudly wear the insignia pin of “The Lion and the Lamb” presented to them by Principal David E. Conroy, Jr. 

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