Educators from all five Catholic schools within the boundaries of the Anchorage Archdiocese attended an Aug. 15 training day focused on promoting faith-filled schools where students are safe from bullying and abuse. The day’s theme was “Called to Promote, Provide and Protect Faith-Filled Environments.”
Approximately 70 teachers, staff, and administrators attended from the four archdiocesan schools: Lumen Christi High School and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Elementary School of Anchorage, Our Lady of the Valley School of Wasilla, and St. Mary’s School of Kodiak. Also attending were educators from Holy Rosary Academy, an independent Catholic school which operates in Anchorage with approval of Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne.
The day began with Mass of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy in that state, Archbishop Etienne first acknowledged the suffering of those who have been abused by leaders of the church.
“I offer much prayer for them at this Mass today,” he said. “We must find hope in the midst of these realities, and that hope is certainly given to us by our Blessed Mother and her Son, the Savior of the World.”
In light of Revelation’s vivid imagery of the woman and the dragon in the first reading at the day’s Mass, Archbishop Etienne reflected on the challenges Christians now face.
“Demons have harassed all holy things since the beginning: Mary, her son and the church,” Archbishop Etienne said. “The church has always been subject to the harassment, and this always will be. We must make the distinctions between the two natures of Christ and his church: the distinctions of humanity and divinity. The church is so sadly human, so the reality of sin will continue to taint our existence as a church, but thank God that through Jesus Christ who founded this church, that the church is also divine. We bring forth life through the sacraments and through our faith.”
Archbishop Etienne upheld the Blessed Virgin Mary as a sign for teachers and faithful alike. She embraced the cost of discipleship and yet praised and rejoiced in God.
“The cross is a part of our life as Christians, as disciples, but it’s the only path to salvation,” Archbishop Etienne said. “Let us find our joy in our Savior. Let us rejoice in what God is asking us to do for his son, his people, his church.”
After Mass, Archbishop Etienne presented his vision for Catholic Schools. He shared a few stories about Catholic Schools and the impact they had on students. He also emphasized the importance that teachers grow in their own faith as they attempt to pass it on to students.
“Renew your own personal faith and recognize his call. He has commissioned each of you to his will, his purpose, his plan for you and those entrusted to you,” Archbishop Etienne said. “We want and we need — Catholic Schools to have a culture that forms character in our young people. Curriculum is an important part of it, but the people in the schools have the greatest impact.”
Carolyn Greene, a Training Specialist of the Division of Juvenile Justice presented on the topic of recognizing and preventing bullying in a school setting.
“Human life is sacred,” Greene said, “and God is the Lord of life. No one has the right to destroy human life.”
She shared bullying statistics and several hands-on ways for teachers to address bullying and conflicts both inside and outside the classroom.
Jenny Michaelson, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Safe Environment, presented on the Circle of Grace training, which is provided to young people in local schools and parishes. Circle of Grace is explained through its accompanying meditation of reaching one’s hands straight out, up, and to the sides. Personal space is the Circle of Grace, and only good, wholesome things belong in that Circle.
“Because we are created in God’s image, and if we believe Christ is in us, we must model that and teach that to our children,” Michaelson said. “We must integrate the mission of safe environment into everything we do.”
Safe environment training for adults and children was implemented in 2002, and many more policies and procedures are in place to protect the most vulnerable.
“It’s not for us to decide who deserves dignity and who doesn’t,” Michaelson noted. “Everyone deserves a welcoming, secure, protected environment so they can embrace the faith and engage in healthy relationships.”
The day concluded with a presentation from Detective Will Cameron and Technician Brandon Hunter of the Alaska Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Attendees, after acknowledging the many benefits of the digital landscape, learned about different types of ways children are targeted as victims of crime through the internet.