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BRAINTREE -- As part of Discover Today's Catholic Schools Week, the Catholic Schools Office held a contest inviting students in the Boston archdiocese to express their relationship with Jesus through art or writing. Thirteen students from kindergarten through grade eight were selected as winners and honored at an award ceremony at the Pastoral Center Nov. 16.
Although Catholic Schools Week, organized by the National Catholic Educational Association, is held each year in January, the Catholic Schools Office collaborated with dioceses across New England to organize "Discover Today's Catholic Schools," which took place November 4-10. It was a week for New England's Catholic schools to emphasize enrollment and promote the benefits of a Catholic education.
Superintendent Kathy Mears and the team of judges credited Sister Barbara Gutierrez, SNDdeN, director of enrollment management, for coming up with the idea for the contest. Age-appropriate prompts challenged students from kindergarten through grade eight to draw or write about their relationship with Jesus. The youngest age group, kindergarten through grade two, had two winners per grade.
Dr. Andrew Miller, director of academics for the Catholic Schools Office, created the rubric for scoring the entries. Miller said the team thought they might get a few hundred submissions from the 34,000 students in the archdiocese. They ended up receiving over 1,100 entries from schools as far north as the Merrimack Valley, as far south as the South Shore, and as far west as Marlborough.
"We had a lot more than we ever expected. It was a windfall, and it was so exciting," said Mary Goslin, one of the Catholic Schools Office staff members who helped judge the entries.
Miller said they wanted to select pieces created by children who were "not just saying what they think we want to hear, but that they're actually expressing something powerful about their personal relationship with Jesus."
"Although some of the artwork was truly outstanding for the ages of the children, it was the messages that were most important," Goslin said.
"What we're honoring here is the relationship that these children have with God," Miller said.
The prompt for kindergarten and grade-one students was to draw a picture based on the theme "Jesus is my friend." The kindergarten winners were Emily Waetzig from Our Lady's Academy in Waltham, and Nathaly Monterosso from St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, Neponset Campus. The grade-one winners were William Net from St. Pius V in Lynn, and Alana Ho from St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, Neponset Campus.
Grade two and three students could either create a drawing or write an essay on the theme "What happens when I talk to Jesus." The grade-two winners were Emma Dopson from St. Monica School in Methuen, who drew a picture, and Jayla King from St. John Paul II Catholic Academy, Lower Mills, who wrote an essay. The third-grade winner was Delaylah Noel from St. Charles School in Woburn, who wrote an essay about how she wants to be a good role model for her brother, who was due to be born the day of the ceremony.
Grades four through eight were to write an essay answering the question, "If you could spend one day with Jesus, what would you do?" The winners were Sabrina Salgado in grade four at St. Pius V in Lynn, Jae Moreschi-Furtick in grade five at Sacred Heart in Roslindale, Maksim Vilsaint in grade six at Sacred Heart in Roslindale, Mark Pizzarello in grade seven at St. Patrick in Stoneham, and Casey Haddow in grade eight at St. Pius V in Lynn.
One grade-seven student, Madeline "Maddy" Hannan from St. Jerome School in Weymouth, was an independent entry and received an honorable mention. She saw fliers at her school advertising the contest, and decided to enter it without a teacher's facilitation.
Responding to the question of how she would spend a day with Jesus, Hannan wrote that she would want to talk with him in her favorite vacation spot in Maine.
"I think when it's more about yourself and your personal relationship, it's a little easier, so I found it pretty easy to write about my relationship with God and what I would show him, because he gave us this earth and there're so many things we love about it," Hannan told The Pilot.
Emma Dopson's drawing depicted herself and Jesus teaching people about God.
"There was this poster in our classroom that said, 'Teach other people about God,' and I thought I could do that with Jesus," she said.
Emma said that her teacher and principal played a question-and-answer game, using the process of elimination to reveal to her class which student won the contest.
Emma was accompanied at the ceremony by her mother, grandmother, and younger brothers, Brent and Bryant, who are also students at St. Monica School.
"This is wonderful, seeing all the different schools coming together," Emma's mother, Katie Dopson, said.
Superintendent Mears acted as master of ceremonies at the Nov. 16 presentation of awards. Parents, teachers, and principals accompanied the winners, who received age-appropriate Catholic books as prizes.
"It was a thrill for me to be able to participate as one of the judges," Sister Pat Boyle said, addressing the assembly.
She told the students, "I wish you continue, congratulations, and I hope that the messages that you wrote stay with you, that you remember that you can talk to Jesus, that he is your best friend, and that whether you want to draw a picture about your relationship with him or you want to write sentences and tell people about him, keep doing that. It's why you're in a Catholic school and it's what makes a big, huge difference in your life as you get older."
"We are so grateful that you participated and are helping us to tell other kids what a great thing it is to be in a Catholic school," Sister Barbara told the winners.
Speaking to The Pilot after the ceremony, Goslin said, "I think this is really, truly awesome. I love the fact that families are here. The principals and teachers that came as well show that there's that connection and that support. But for the families to join us in celebrating something like this shows what a community we are."