Since August I have been teaching 7th grade science in the parochial school in Broomfield, CO. Every teacher was asked to choose a patron saint for their class. I chose servant of God Jerome Lejeune, the French scientist and father of modern genetics who discovered that the cause of Down Syndrome is an extra chromosome (Trisomy 21). My students became very interested as they listened to the story of this “modern saint”. A few months later, we studied chromosomes and I showed them photos of some of my friends with Down Syndrome. I wanted to make it clear that you can’t talk about a disease without referring to real people, who have faces, names, and hearts. A few weeks later, I received news of a research project in Bologna that is working to find a cure for the mental retardation linked to Trisomy 21. The project is not very well known and receives little funding, so I decided to ask the class to support Dr. Strippoli and his research team through prayer. Without even realizing what was going on, I found myself with a few dollars in my hand and a twelve-year-old who boldly said in front of everyone: “Sister, praying is fine but we also have to do something! We should organize a fundraiser to support the project.” I saw the American entrepreneurial spirit at work combined with the desire to do something good, beautiful and true. Starting from this initial enthusiasm, which involved the whole class, the children spent their breaks, lunch recess and extra-curricular time organizing Project Bologna. In a few months they put together an exhibit of 16 panels to explain the origin of the Bologna project, the history of Lejeune, Trisomy 21, the research in Italy, and then they explained to the parents and friends what this work meant to them.
As for me, I learned a lot about the experience of educating. To share a passion, to take seriously those who one educates, and to propose something that can ignite the heart and mind: all of these contribute to the flourishing of the person and help them to become themselves, come closer to the human face that God has in mind for each one of them.
(In the image, the group of middle school students in Broomfield, Denver, USA).