Lessons in Virtues

June 17-23, 2004
Lessons in Virtues
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Mary’s School Teaches Students Virtues through Storytelling and Theater

CLINTON –– When Valerie Elacqua, a parent of two students who attend St. Mary’s School, wanted to increase children’s understanding of virtues based on the 10 Commandments, she found a creative, fun and effective way to do it. Elacqua, with the help of parents Sarah Sczerzenie and Marianne Sabine, created a monthly program to teach students the importance of good habits that will bring them closer to God and others. The virtues of humility, respect/reverence, thankfulness, obedience, kindness, modesty/purity, sacrifice, careful speech, friendship and simplicity challenged the children to examine their behavior and put each virtue into a concrete action throughout the year. Elacqua feels that what is good and what is bad have become blurred in today’s culture. “We need to articulate to our kids that the virtues being taught are worthy things to aspire to,” she said.

Each month the children attended an assembly which introduced a virtue with an explanation of its meaning and how to practice it in everyday life. Through musical or dramatic entertainment, the sixth grade class brought the virtue to life on stage. In June, the students gathered to learn the last virtue for the school year –– simplicity. “What is the 10th commandment?” asked Elacqua. “Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff,” replied a student in the audience. Elacqua quoted from Matthew 6:25. “I warn you, then: do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing. Is not life more than food? Is not the body more valuable than clothes?” She then expanded and simplified the meaning for the children. “What do you think that means?” asked Elacqua. While the children struggled with the answer, Elacqua talked about being happy with what you have, valuing people more than things and fighting temptation. “We need to be content with what God has given us and remain unattached to things,” said Elacqua. To reinforce this message, the sixth grade students performed the “Fisherman and the Goldfish,” a Russian folk tale by Alexander Pushkin. The story is one of greed. The old man, who has been earning a living for 33 years as a fisherman, cast his net into the ocean one day and pulled up only one fish –– a goldfish that talked. The goldfish implored the old man to throw him back into ocean and he would reward him with compensation. When the old man’s wife heard that her husband threw the fish back in the ocean without receiving payment, she was very angry and demanded he go back and ask the fish for a new washtub. The fisherman did what his wife demanded. However she was never satisfied. Over and over she ordered her husband back to the sea to ask for a new cottage, to turn her into a fine lady, to give her a palace, a rich sable jacket and jewels. The old woman soon tired of being a fine lady and instead wanted to be mistress of the sea, with the goldfish as her servant. Her greed was her downfall, for when the old man told the goldfish of his wife’s latest demand, the goldfish didn’t answer and swam away. When the fisherman returned home, he found his wife dressed in rags with the old broken washtub before her.

The students applauded enthusiastically when the performance ended and additional discussion ensued about the importance of being content with what one has. “We have to balance our wants with what we actually need,” said Elacqua. Sixth-grader Nicole Evans, played the voice of the goldfish and said she thinks that teaching virtues is a good idea. “It helped everyone learn the lesson –– to be happy with what they have and not be greedy,” she said. Aisling MacIsaac, another sixth grader, loved being in the performances. “I’ve been in all of them,” she said. “Being in the plays is fun. I like to play silly parts.” Aisling said that she thinks the story said a lot but was simple enough for the younger students to understand.

The sixth grade students also put on the production of “The Princess and the Kiss –– A Story of God’s Gift of Purity,” by Jennie Bishop. Elacqua said that her mixed bag of multi-media presentations has been a labor of love. Elacqua and the sixth grade students have also produced plays on the life of saints or Bible stories that effectively told the story of the virtue being taught. For the virtue of thankfulness, they shared the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was known for her generosity. In addition to performing at St. Mary’s School, the students have traveled to St. Peter’s and Our Lady of Lourdes School in Utica to share their message. Matthew Chamberlin, a third grade student at St. Mary’s, said he liked everything about the program. “I write in my journal to help me remember what is bad to do –– like stealing, and what are the good things to do,” he said.

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