Students Serve and Learn Life Skills During “Mini Mester”

Villa Maria took a break from the academic routine with the 2019 Mini-Mester. The three-day program offered students a chance to perform service in the community, learn new skills, and travel to other regions.

Day 1, Wednesday, March 20, focused on service. Juniors went off campus to help at Wings for Success, Our Lady of Confidence in Wyncoye,Our Lady of Confidence in Willow Grove, Orion Communities, Mother’s Home, Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, Cradles to Crayons, and the Brandywine SPCA.

Freshmen and sophomores performed service on campus and shared experiences of serving others. Students glazed ceramic bowls that will be donated to Villa Maria’s charity art show next school year, and other charitable organizations throughout the next year. The documentary Girl Rising was shown and discussed. The film portrays 9 young women overcoming obstacles in order to receive an education in the developing countries that they live in (Afghanistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Egypt, Peru, Cambodia, Sierra Leone). Junior Anna Rago, who travelled to Malawi this past summer, also shared her experience there.

Faculty members Pat Markowski, Megan Filipowicz, Amy Keglovits, and Leah Kim conducted a panel on Mission and Ministry, Mrs. Filipowicz was a volunteer with Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC); Mrs. Keglovits was a volunteer with the Franciscan Outreach in Chicago; Mrs. Markowski has served extensively in her parish, community, and at Villa Maria; and, Ms. Leah regualrly leads service opportunities in the area of music ministry. The teachers showed the students a range of possibilities of service to the Church and community.

The girls also made tie blankets that will provide warmth for women at the Phoenixville Women’s Outreach known as the House, a shelter for single homeless women in Phoenixville. The House provides safe housing and resources to break the cycle of dependence and poverty.  In Chester County last year more than 600 people were identified as homeless; one in three were women.  In addition to shelter, the House provides support services and counseling to empower women to move homelessness to independence.

In another hands-on activity, students built a small greenhouse by the Italian Gardens in order to learn about biodiversity, promote environmental responsibility, and teach self-sufficiency with small scale farming. The greenhouse will be used to grow daisies for Daisy Chain, and will expand into vegetables and herbs for use in the kitchen, and an active, live outdoor lab for science classes.

Thom Stecher and Associates led afternoon programs for the students. The company is a network of educators dedicated to discovering, nurturing and enhancing the diverse talents of all learners.

While juniors were off campus and freshman and sophomores were in various sessions, seniors were listening to presentations on immigration and social services, Sr. Connie Trainor, SSJ and Sr. Kathy McShare, SSJ of the SSJ Welcome Center in Kensington talked about their work with new immigrants. The girls also attended a presentation by Kristin McGee about Ann’s Heart, an organization that provides emergency shelter in Phoenixville.

Thursday, March 21, the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors heard a presentation from Bethany Welch of the Aquinas Center on “Welcoming the Stranger: Migration.” The seniors were offsite performing community service at locations including Ann’s Heart, Baker Industries, Daily Bread Community Food Pantry, Dunwoody Village, Highgate Senior Living, Home of the Sparrow, Open Door Ministry, Our Lady of Confidence, Our Lady of Confidence, Sts. Simon & Jude, St. Patrick’s School, and Thorncroft Equestrian Center.

Thursday afternoon was given over to life skills workshops for freshmen and sophomores, and college readiness workshops for juniors. The life skills workshops included CPR & AED Training, Babysitting 101, NCAA Eligibility, Cooperative Gaming in a Corporate World, Digital Citizenship, Leadership Skills, Mental Wellness 101, Microwave Cooking 101, Mindfulness and Me, No Frills Fitness, Organization and Time Management, Personal Finance Class, and Tea with the Sisters.

The College Ready seminar included a speaker from Drexel University discussing how to develop a college major into a career; resume formatting and polishing. effective interview skills; and, a lesson in personal awareness and safety lead by sophomore Martine Sirianni and faculty member Joan Koob. Martine is a student of Krav Maga self defense, and Ms. Koob works as a Park Ranger in the summer. Both study personal safety as part of their extra-curricular lives.

Friday of the mini-term was field trip day for 9th, 10, and 11th grade. The freshmen wnt downtown to Philadelphia for tours of the National Museum of American Jewish History and the African-American Museum, followed by lunch at the Bourse.

Sophomores went to New York City for a tour of Ellis Island and a guided walking tour of immigrant life in Lower Manhattan.

Juniors visited the National African-American Museum of History and Culture and Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, DC.

While the other grades were traveling, seniors were preparing for their Capstone job shadowing and other work experiences at the annual Business Etiquette Workshop. The girls attended presentations on Brand You, Behavior and Body Language, and Interviewing, followed by a formal luncheon in the cafeteria.