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St. John Vianney Catholic School Addresses Students Need for Truth
School is teaching Theology of the Body for Teens

Principal Jennifer Haggerty teaches students about Theology of the Body at St John Vianney Catholic School.

Northlake, Ill. - The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has just released a report that encourages governments to make it mandatory to provide sexual education to children age 10 and older.  According to this report, this education should include education on the “pleasures of sex.”

The report says that such education would help overcome “the stigma and stereotypes that religious conventions perpetuate” and would “help improve young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and so improve their health and well being.”

The principal of St. John Vianney in Northlake, Ill. (in the Archdiocese of Chicago) Jennifer Haggerty and junior high religion teacher, Kevin Czarnecki, agree that the issue needs to be addressed in schools, but they prefer to take a more “Catholic” approach.

Teaching the Truth about Sexuality

In stark contrast to recommendations by the IPPF, the school is using the teachings of the late Pope John Paul II to educate their students on the truth about their creation as male and female.  The school is teaching its eighth grade students the curriculum from Ascension Press “Theology of the Body for Teens.”

“Our teens and preteens are in desperate need of a new message, a true message about who they were created to be,” said Haggerty.  “At a time when our society constantly uses sexuality in any and all inappropriate ways, it is about time to take back sexuality and re-claim it for what God originally intended it to be.

“I am so thankful to John Paul II for leaving us such a blessing!” she said.  She said she and her co-teacher Czarnecki would both would “fully recommend” the Ascension Press program to other schools.  “I thank God for Ascension Press who has put this program together so wonderfully. The videos are interesting and very appropriate and the text hits all the needed areas.”

Abstinence Education Not Enough

St. John Vianney is a pre-K through 8th grade school with about 180 students.  The students are mainly Hispanic (60 percent of the student body.) Most families fall into the lower income bracket, with about 48% qualifying for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

“We both arrived at the same time (3 years ago) and found that this had been a topic completely avoided,” said Haggerty, so she and Czarnecki looked into different programs.  Not having any funds for such programs specifically, they started teaching the program called “Game Plan” which is a free program funded with federal abstinence education money. 

“The first year we taught Game Plan to 7th and 8th graders separated by gender,” said Haggerty. “I taught the girls and Kevin taught the boys.”

Haggerty said the abstinence program was a good program, but since it was for public schools, they had to “fill in the gaps” with their own knowledge of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

“However, the second year we wanted something that was a better fit for the school,” she said.  “At the same time, unfortunately, all monies to abstinence education programs were cut and Game Plan could no longer be offered free of cost.”

Both Czarnecki and Haggerty were aware of the program offered by Ascension Press. “We asked the Archdiocese Respect Life Office as well as the Office of Catholic Schools if they would support us in our effort to pilot the Ascension Press Theology of the Body for Teens Curriculum.  Both groups said yes and offered to help cover the cost of the program.”

Haggerty said that she and Czarnecki decided to offer the new program just for the 8th grade, and are currently in the second year of teaching this program.  They currently teach it daily for 40 minutes, during the students’ religion class time.  The class curriculum generally takes the school about 3 months to complete.

“We also tried it once a week, but felt that it was too long between classes,” said Haggerty. 

School Takes Gender Specific Approach

They continue to keep the boys and girls separate, which has worked out very well,” she said.  “The rapport we have developed with the students is completely new and very important for trust building.  The young girls I am working with desire to be great, they are just unsure of how to get there and they are confused by the messages the media is giving them.  They also see so much failure around them in family life and in relationships that have shattered into pieces, they want something more for themselves and they want to know how to get that which they desire in their heart.”  

Haggerty said the response from parents has been surprisingly positive.  At the beginning of the program, the administration invited parents to come to an informational meeting at the beginning of the course to see the textbooks and receive the parent handbook. 

“We play the parent video that comes with the course and give our own testimonies as to how the program has worked for us thus far,” she explained. 

Student Response Is Beyond Positive

Haggerty said the response from the students has surpassed their expectations. “Students are more attentive in this class than I have ever seen them, and I have been teaching for 12 years,” she said.  “They are so hungry for the truth and are so surprised by the fact that almost everything we are teaching them contradicts what they are hearing daily from the media.  I am often amazed at the questions they come up with, the depth with which they answer class discussion questions and the overall impact this course is having on them.”

Haggerty describes the student’s reactions when they “start imagining all the possibilities of what God truly has in store for them.  Their eyes widen, their smile expands and their intensity deepens.

“What more do we want for our children but to truly understand that they were made in the image and likeness of God, created to do amazing things! They begin searching for truth for themselves. This is exactly what we want, to start them on a constant search for the truth, which will ultimately set them free.”  

Haggerty credits the formation and spiritual direction she receives as a member of Regnum Christi for helping her to serve the school and its families.



Related links

Altius Foundation
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School
Sacred Heart Apostolic School
Sacred Heart Apostolic School
Anáhuac Network of Universities
Canyon Heights Academy
Clear Water Academy
Dublin Oak Academy

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