Serving in New Geographies: Current STF’s Make the Move to Cincinnati

Late this summer, we’re welcoming in our 7th Cohort of Seton Teaching Fellows, and there are so many changes they’ll experience this year.  We’ve hired for two new positions to support our fellows: a Director of Formation and an additional Instructional Coach. We have grown from 19, to 27 to 40 fellows in the past 3 years. We have a brand new El Camino curriculum that reflects our commitment to authentic Catholicism, to classical education, and to the children we teach. On top of all that, we will begin this next school year during the times of Covid-19, and like everyone else, we have a hazy idea of what that means for the future of education as a whole.

What’s the change we’re most excited about? The addition of two new geographies for our STF’s to serve in. That’s right, we’re expanding in and beyond the Bronx! Starting this Fall of 2020, we will open two new Brilla Schools, Brilla Pax and Brilla Caritas in the North Bronx, and a Catholic School called Romero Academy in Price Hill, Cincinnati. We are so proud that 14 fellows will be on the front lines, helping to found these amazing  new Seton Network schools. In addition to the fellows, two Fellow-Alums: Sami Craver and Shannon Thomas have also been hired on as full-time teachers at Romero Academy, and will help found this awesome school! We sat down with both of them to hear about their decision to continue to serve the mission in Price Hill.

Shannon in front of Romero Academy in Cincinnati.

Sum up your year of mission for me! What do you do, what are a few things you’ve learned, and how have things changed since going remote?

Sami: So, during the school day I support 2nd grade, and I teach 1st for catechism after school. The real-life experience of teaching taught me so much more than I learned in college. I was an education major and while we did student teaching, it’s so different when it’s your responsibility to make those critical decisions in the moment. In being a lead teacher in my El Camino class, I learned what it means to create your own classroom environment. The other facet of STF that has taught me a lot has been living in intentional community. Community life taught me patience and sacrifice, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.. that perfection at times can be the enemy of good.

Sami: “Community life taught me patience and sacrifice, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good”

When the transition to distance learning happened, I had to learn to be a lot more intentional with my check-ins. I love face to face communication, and time spent together, so screens, for me, take away from the relationship. I’ve been having to find new ways to connect with students… Whether it’s sending a video, or a voice recording, scheduling calls, or doing random check- ins! One of my disciples and I have even been sending letters to each other! Maintaining that connection has been so crucial.

Sami: “I’ve been having to find new ways to connect with students… Whether it’s sending a video, or a voice recording, scheduling calls, or doing random check- ins! Maintaining that connection has been so crucial.”

Shannon: I am a K teacher during the day and I have a 1st grade class for Catechesis after school. I think that young age is where my heart is. Teaching ABC’s is so fundamental. And what a gift and what a blessing to be able to teach those things my students will use every day forever!

This year has taught me more about myself than it has about teaching. I grew so much in my faith, and in my excitement to evangelize, but being open, and trusting the Lord in the way He works in my life is what I’ve grown in the most. I had the misconception coming into the year that I would have my own class both in the day & after school. Being in a supportive role was not something I expected or was ready for. I was very prideful, and very quickly, God came in, wrecked my heart and said “You just need to Trust me. You need to sit and wait and see what I’m going to do.” And He held up his end of the bargain. I pray the Litany of Trust every day now, which is insane! If you told me that a year ago I would have thought you were crazy. I have gotten so much better at just sitting and waiting and trusting. In college I thought he wasn’t listening. Now, I know that he is. I also am better able to see the little facets of the faith in others. In my community members, and in my disciples.

Things have very much changed since going remote. It’s a different sense of mission for sure. I have everything here in Southern California with my parents: the beach five minutes away, my own room. In many ways, the logistics have changed but the fervor and the excitement haven’t. The highlight of my day is when I see my disciples, and that is what grounds me in mission.

What were the factors that guided your discernment/decision to teach in Cincinnati?

Sami: Through being a Seton Teaching Fellow, I grew a lot in the appreciation of and passion for the mission that Seton strives to accomplish. My manager Mrs. Valencia knew how much I loved the mission, she helped me see that the opportunity to serve it doesn’t have to just be at Brilla Schools in the Bronx. I had so much peace when I put in my application, but at the same I had to trust that if Cincinnati didn’t work out, God did have another plan in place for me. Luckily, everything fell into place!

Shannon: Deciding to teach in Cincinnati was something that I didn’t want to discern, because starting in late September, I felt called to stay in the Bronx, and to continue my mission as a teacher there. However, Tom, the principal of Romero, spent a few weeks studying Brilla Veritas in the Bronx. He would talk to me and wanted my input on everything, even for things like the logo, so I was invested in Romero early on. Then, one of my community members, Hannah, said to me, “So, you’re applying to Romero, right?” I was surprised she said that, but it really got me thinking! I love the mission of Seton. It’s the opportunity to serve the underserved. When I applied and got the job teaching at Romero, a peace and a calm came over my heart and over my decision. I had to make the final decision while I was away in California. That helped me realize that even though I’ll be away from the Bronx, it will be okay. I will always have that memory of my time in New York, but for now, Cincinnati is where i’m meant to be.

What’s one thing that you have learned about schools and education in general from your year in NYC that you hope to bring to Cincinnati?

Sami: My initial thought is more about staff relationships, and what I’ve seen the staff in New York do with both their students and with each other. In the staff lounge, there’s a quote from Mother Teresa, “It’s not about what you do but how much love you put into what you do.” That is so evident with the staff at Brilla Veritas. They are all so intentional with their coworkers and students, and they bring the love that they have for our mission into every moment of  their day. I am so excited bring that to Cincinnati!

Sami: “… the staff at Brilla Veritas. They are all so intentional with their coworkers and students, and they bring the love that they have for our mission into every moment of  their day. I am so excited bring that to Cincinnati!”

Shannon: One thing that stands out for me is that these kiddos are  not their circumstance. Knowing that I come from the middle class background that I was raised in, I know what my kids lives look like from the outside. But these kids need to know that they are loved. When I get down on my knees, look into my scholars’ eyes, and let them know that they are known, that is when I love them.  I’ve learned the importance of knowing these students are human before they are scholars. Knowing about some of the situations that are there hurts my heart, but makes me more determined to love them. That love, that desire to know the hearts of children, that is what a good educator is. So many people can be educators. But we are all called to love.

Shannon: “That love, that desire to know the hearts of children, that is what a good educator is. So many people can be educators. But we are all called to love.”

What will you miss the most about NYC?

Sami: My students. I cannot express how much leaving NYC breaks my heart. I doubt that I will see any of my scholars & disciples from this year again. I would love to be able to just hug them, and thank them for everything they taught me.  My students are so reassured by a hug & I know that being able to say goodbye would mean the world to them and to me. I hope to stay in touch with them and their families, but I fear we’ll lose the close bond we have formed over this year.

Shannon: Ugh, everything. I am going to miss of course my scholars and disciples, and their families. They have some of the best families, and through the remote process I’ve learned more about that because parents are very intimately involved with remote learning. I will also miss the 5 women I live with so much. We pray together, and starting and ending the day with a group of people who love and support you is so beautiful. That pillar of Community is such a big part of being a fellow. It’s the part of STF that I have struggled the most in but also grew the most in.  I don’t think you could put a more different group of women together. One was a convert, I was a fall-away and came back to the faith. But at the same time, we truly love each other and have grown so much. Zooming with  them, and being with them remotely has been amazing.

Shannon: “That pillar of Community is such a big part of being a fellow. It’s the part of STF that I have struggled the most in but also grew the most in… we truly love each other and have grown so much this year.”

What’s one thing (or some things) you’re excited to experience when you move to Cincinnati?

Sami: I am so excited to be in a Catholic school where prayer and catechism can be present for every student every single day, and that the faith can be incorporated into all the academic content! I am also excited to grow as an educator, because I know that there will be a lot of training and professional development. And as far as the city of Cincinnati itself, the world is just so big, and the places are made unique by the people who live there, so what I am really looking forward to in this next move is  meeting and experiencing the people!

Shannon: I am  so excited to move to Cincinatti. The number one thing of course is my faith, and the opportunity to tie it in through the day as a teacher. I’m also  really excited to live with Sami. We’re both going to be able to continue that sense of community we’ve been had as STF’s, and we’re entering the work force together at the same time. I am also so excited to be able to design my own classroom and I can make it my own. Going from 3 teachers to being by myself in a classroom is going to be a challenge, but I am excited! I get to answer the question, what is it going to feel like walking into Ms. Thomas’s classroom? 

Shannon and Sami in their apartment in Cincinnati.

Are there any specific prayers or scriptures that have been critical during your time as a Seton Teaching Fellow?

Both Shannon and Sami mentioned the Litany of Trust, which has a long history here at Seton Teaching Fellows.

Visit https://www.sistersoflife.org/litany-of-trust for the ...

To our readers: please hold Shannon and Sami in your hearts in prayer. We are so thankful for the gifts that God has given them, and the gift that they are to our mission. As they enter this new phase of their life, they will continue to impact the lives of the children and families they serve in a deep way. Lord we pray that You will continue to let Your truth, wisdom, beauty, love, and goodness flow in them and through them.

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