Every parent wants their child to be a leader that can make good decisions based on his or her beliefs.
That’s why St. Norbert School — a century old Catholic K-8 school based in Northbrook — puts such a heavy focus on helping their students develop strong character while teaching them valuable leadership lessons as they build their skills in this area.
“Character is a critical piece of being a good leader and understanding the responsibility to do what’s right” says principal Stephen Schacherer. “So too is the development of a mindset in serving others – focusing on the good of the community, at the classroom and school level, as well as more broadly outside of our school. This servant leadership focus is what makes St. Norbert School so special.”
In order to teach the students this responsibility, and help students build strong character, St. Norbert School works in the community and with local charities to develop programs that get students out of the classroom and involved in service projects that aim to teach them the importance of helping others.
Last school year, for example, students did work for Project Linus, which makes blankets for children, and PAWS Chicago, a nonprofit animal shelter. They also put together care packages filled with food, water, hats, gloves and an individual prayer card for homeless people in their community.
Eighth grade students even got the chance to work with students from an impoverished school in Jamaica, learning about these students and building a relationship with them.
“When we look at the Catholic school’s religious curriculum, you find teachings on love, peace, compassion, reconciliation and service,” Schacherer says. “What we teach is focused on how to get along with others — and this is what we’ve been doing probably forever.”
But building character is only one piece of graduating students’ leadership development. The other piece is providing students the opportunity to participate in real-world leadership roles.
One way St. Norbert School offers these roles is by allowing older students to mentor younger students. Another is letting students take lead roles on projects that other schools may reserve for adults.
“One of our big community activities is the Crusader Team Challenge fundraiser. (During this event), we put all of our students on different teams made up of K-8 students and let the students take the lead naming the teams and sharing in the responsibility to run the teams,” Schacherer explains.
The teams then put together a night of fun activities for families that helps raise funds for the school.
“There’s a great team-building aspect to it,” Kristin Schmitz, the admissions director for St. Norbert, adds. “They learn how to interact as a team and the older kids can get younger ones involved so they so they get to know each other from different parts of the school.”
But it’s not enough that students at St. Norbert learn how to stand up and be leaders on school projects. It’s also important that they learn about what’s going on in the world so that they can decide what causes they want to stand up and support in life, too.
To do this, the Archdiocese of Chicago provides St. Norbert School with materials and resources that ensure teachers can educate their students on social issues, in addition to standard courses and specialized electives.
“Our society needs leaders that focus on the growth and well being of the communities in which they belong,” Schacherer explains. “Kids need to take action, and I want everyone that graduates St. Norbert School to be inspired to be a leader that knows their voice is important by giving them leadership opportunities and letting them know it’s safe and that they can speak.