From Sister Barbara Flores:
This is an initiative that I have been working on “Virtue Based Restorative Discipline” and came to fruition with the sponsorship of a core group of our teachers (included administrators and one manager) by the Archdiocese of St. Louis (Office of School Climate) to attend an institute in St. Louis. After returning they launched workshops for the faculty and staff of the five Catholic schools in Belize City. It seem to be catching on so well. I view it as part of the vision for Catholic Primary Schools in the country to effect change (systemic) from within. We are committed to promote this effort of VBRD beyond the five schools in Belize City one school at a time.
Mrs. Celia Usher who is also an assistant local manager for one of the city schools and my assistant led the group in St. Louis and also wrote this article.
It has long been acknowledged that Catholic Schools are a primary ground for evangelization, and one of the greatest hopes for the Catholic Church in Belize. With this deep awareness we hold Catholic Identity in our schools in high priority. How do we keep the face of Christ alive in our schools? How do we guide our children in understanding the Catholic Faith, knowing themselves, and encountering God? The challenges to overcome in order to accomplish this are great. However, we know for sure that any school that consciously places a very present, relational God at the centre of all they do, flourishes, grows, and produces children with good Christian values, wholeness and inner qualities that serve all.
With the negative changes in society, the limitations of resources in our schools, and the immense disadvantages, stresses and burdens our children carry from very young, disciplining students has taken on a new level of difficulty for teachers. Aggressive and negative behaviour is so often displayed. We are learning as we see daily the pain of some of our children that there are valid and disturbing reasons for their behaviour. We also know the answer to help our children with any form of intervention or prevention has to include God’s love and God’s way.
Catholic Public Schools (CPS) has had a wonderful opportunity, a great blessing, and answer to prayers for a better way to discipline our children who engage in harmful behaviours. A team of 7 representing, 5 schools, Holy Redeemer, St. Martin De Porres, St. Ignatius, St. John Vianny, St. Joseph, were commissioned by Sr. Barbara Flores, SCN, General Manager, CPS, to attend the Virtue Based Restorative Discipline (VBRD)Summer Institute 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. This was at the invitation and sponsorship of Mrs. Lynn Lang, Director of School Climate, Archdiocese of St. Louis, and architect of the VBRD program, and Mr. And Mrs. Tom Nolan, St. Louis. We are ever grateful for the Archdiocese’s generosity and hospitality and their commitment to ongoing support. We do not journey alone. The Belize CPS team will be working with the guidance of Mrs. Lang and school personnel in St.Louis.
The creation of VBRD was an answer to a call for a way to deal with bullying, “A Catholic Response to Bullying”. However it has been proven to be effective in addressing any unwanted and harmful words or actions in children and adults in schools. The Guiding Principles of this program, when lived, help schools to develop the kind of school climate that manifests God’s presence. The goal of the process of working with a child and teaching discipline is to repair the harm done by negative behaviour and to restore hope for all involved. The VBRD model acknowledges our need for God’s virtues, as taught by the Church, to bring about change and to restore the ever present integral goodness given to each soul by God. Relationships are important, and prayer is a key factor. Inevitably, spiritual strengthening and a sense of self worth are experienced by all who engage in VBRD.
The basis of the model is practice of the Virtues, which are simply defined for the children as “A holy habit that imitates God”, which we are all gifted with by God and called to live. It is a comprehensive approach which begins with the teachers, who also are invited and encouraged to look at themselves and begin the inner work of practicing the Virtues so as to authentically teach them, live them and make them a part of who they are, guiding their students in doing the same. The program as it unfolds, reaches out to parents as stakeholders in the education of each child, inviting them to live the Virtues with their children.
When disciplining a child, the goal is to bring about lasting change that will end negative behaviour, while attending to the spiritual and emotional needs of the child, and at the same time holding each person responsible for his/her behaviour, which means consequences are faced. “When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.” (St. Francis de Sales). The model teaches both teachers and children to be better listeners, to include God in the discipline process, to take responsibility, and to love unconditionally. It teaches Christ.
The team has begun implementation in their schools. VBRD Workshops were held for all 5 faculties. Though feeling challenged, administrators and teachers embraced the invitation to participate with heart warming willingness. Implementation involves ongoing formation for faculties and the infusion of schools with teaching of the virtues in a variety of creative ways. It is a whole school effort. The process has begun, and in time, with consistency, prayer, commitment and a willingness to live the Virtues and an openness to change, we are sure to experience great transformation and a greater visible presence of God in our schools.
The schools presently embarking on this mission ask for your prayers. Changing hearts and developing new ways of being is not an easy task. It will take time, much courage and commitment to God, ourselves, and our students to bring about the outcome that is so needed. The VBRD team is committed to its implementation and the hope is to, in time, share with many other Catholic schools in the country and to offer the support to them that is needed so as to create a school climate in Catholic schools that reflects the Face of Christ.