Sacred Heart School Principal Kristen Fink loves when she walks down the hall at the school and hears a kindergartener and a middle schooler in conversation. “They call each other by name, and genuinely care about each other,” Fink said. “This year, Prayer Families have enhanced our already strong sense of community.”
At Sacred Heart School in Winnetka, a Prayer Family is a small group of students—preschool through eighth grade—one to three from each grade. SHS offers Catholic education for children in preschool through junior high. Students remain with their Prayer Family for the entire school year.
“Multi-age groupings build community across all grade levels and further increase the family atmosphere. Students get to know others beyond their grade, interacting and learning from them,” Fink said. “Often times, younger students need a little more support or guidance; a middle school student from their Prayer Family may be asked to help them. Support from an older student makes a big impact.”
“My son loves being with the older kids,” said Kerry Farley, parent of an SHS kindergartener. “They make him feel very special and treat him so well. It’s really fun for them to see each other outside of school; the younger kids think it’s pretty cool to know a “big kid” and get a high five.”
Laura Wettersten, a kindergarten teacher at SHS, believes that Prayer Families are especially important for her students. “This multi age experience is so valuable in that it allows a mentorship to organically happen when you witness older students gently guiding and helping the younger ones. The word “family” is really appropriate in that there is that feeling within each group. A feeling of trust and caring that is pretty amazing!”
Prayer Families meet once a month and participate in team building activities, crafts, prayer and service projects. Each Prayer Family is led by eighth graders and is comprised of students from every grade. The eighth graders prepare lessons and activities to share. This year, the focus is on the eight Beatitudes, working through one each meeting.
“My students always look forward to our monthly Prayer Family meetings. Prayer Families have been a great way for students of various ages to interact and learn together in a safe, nurturing community. It is an opportunity for the older students to be role models for the younger students and for students to feel connected and supported,” says second grade teacher Olivia LeCompte.
Prayer Families enhance the school’s Catholic curriculum and supports the school’s mission of developing students academically, spiritually and socially — in short, the whole person.
“Since I’ve been teaching here for many years, I have had the privilege to watch these students grow, and there is something really special about seeing a student that I had when they were 4 or 5 years old teach others about their faith,” Wettersten said.
“My children all love Prayer Families. It is a wonderful thing to have a cross-section of ages working together and building relationships throughout their time at SHS,” said Colleen Meyers, who is a parent of four students at SHS.
“A positive school climate is essential to the success of a school,” said Fink. “When all stakeholders feel connected and part of a family, great things can happen. Having real connections to a greater school family is one thing that makes Sacred Heart School a unique and inviting place to learn and grow.”
“At Sacred Heart, we want the students to know that they are unique and special and that they should work together to make our classes, our school, our community and our world a better place,” Fink said.
Recently one of the younger students in the school’s after care program was watching the 7th grade boys’ basketball team play against a rival. “Goooooo Vikings!”, he shouted from his vantage point on the stage, “Go number 13!” Number 13 gave him a wink and a high five. “He’s in my prayer family, he’s my friend and I love him,” the younger student said proudly. “Hey, I love you too,”, the 13-year-old basketball player said with smile as he tousled the youngster’s hair. Both walked a little prouder after the exchange.
That is what family is all about.
Sacred Heart School celebrated the 44th Annual Catholic Schools Week January 28 to February 2. This year’s theme highlighted four priorities of Catholic schools: “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” The school observed the annual celebration with Masses, an open house and a variety of other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members.
Sacred Heart School is a six-time Apple Distinguished School Award winner located in Winnetka.