Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School students are making a difference.

By Beth Langefels

Molly Bardine has been teaching English at CJ for 22 years and is also the department chair for a unique project that is unlike anything any local school has done before.

“I researched different ways we could incorporate service projects,” Bardine says. “The goal of the senior capstone project is to have students demonstrate skills they have acquired during high school, including critically looking at issues that have touched their hearts.”

Community service projects at CJ are focused on social justice and are required for students from the beginning of freshman year. “Students learn that having an impact on an issue doesn’t mean raising money,” Bardine says. “They have to be more creative in how they approach their projects.”

There are service requirements for each grade level: freshmen must participate in two service opportunities per semester; sophomores must participate in service opportunities and, in addition, must add three service hours to CJ per semester; juniors must give 25 hours of service to Dayton-area agencies; and seniors will complete a justice capstone project in small groups of two to four.

At the end of March during senior year each group shares its projects with parents and teachers. “It’s a great celebration of their work,” Bardine says. “Parents can see how the students’ hearts and minds works in service to others.”

The program began in 2013 with the first pilot group of 20 students. During the past four years students have served in area homeless shelters and food banks and completed projects on the impact of homelessness and poverty. Other social-justice issues addressed have been aging disabilities, disadvantaged youth, environment, animal welfare and pro-life.

“The most exciting thing for me is to see the students recognize that they have made an impact,” Bardine says. “Many say they never saw themselves as leaders, but I see this in them when they implement projects.”

Students at CJ begin as freshman talking about social justice issues that are important to them and approach them as problems that need to be solved. They learn to partner with local organizations to address the needs of the community.

“One group was looking at gun violence and ended up working with the Dayton police,” Bardine says. “They learned about the importance of building positive relationships and planned a community event.”

Projects can often change the way organizations serve the community. A “Got Veggies” project, which involved helping the hungry, ended up transforming the way a local charity distributes food. “They found that it’s not a matter of access to fresh food but of not knowing how to prepare it,” Bardine says. “Our students worked with the food bank to create recipe cards to address this.”

Bardine says service projects help students at CJ gain project-management skills that benefit them in college and beyond. “It’s cool to see them exploring an issue and figuring out what they might do to fix it,” Bardine says.

“We all have to make an impact and I push them to reach for something more than traditional types of projects,” she says. “We all have within us the ability to make a difference.” 

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