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First Words

Summer 2017

At the end-of-the-year faculty dinner in May, my wife looked around, saw a room filled with youthful teachers and wondered what had happened to the veteran faculty who had become her friends over the years.

While we still have icons such as Fr. Fran Stiegeler ’62, Charlie Dullea ’65, Jim Bjorkquist ’65, Peter Devine ’66, Katie Wolf and Mike Shaughnessy ’67 serving our students better than ever before, they are joined by some talented younger educators. In fact, it’s this diversity of age and experience that is crucial to our success.

One of our recent hires is Mike Santos, now in his second year at SI, who teaches both physics and engineering. I’ve become a fan of his Project Based Learning approach to education, especially his annual Cardboard Boat Regatta, also in its second year. He asks his students to construct boats using nothing other than cardboard, duct tape and garbage bags. Two members of the team hop inside the boats at our pool to race from one end to the other against boats built by classmates and faculty.

This is more than good fun. Students learn by doing that boats need specific structures to hold the weight of two people, and they need keels to maintain a steady course. They learn from mistakes and find that their failures are just as instructive as their successes.

The Jesuits in the U.S. have also chosen to row into uncharted waters by taking a closer look at their province groups, something that has been in the works for years. Ten provinces are now five — Central and Southern, Maryland, Midwest, USA Northeast and Jesuits West — the latter being the name for the new province that has brought the Oregon and California Provinces together.

 In one way, this is a return to our roots, as Oregon had been part of the California province until a separation in 1932. The new Jesuits West province will include Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

To celebrate this reconfiguration and the greater collaboration that is already happening, Jesuits West asked its various ministries to respond artistically to the ways we are invited to “row into the deep” — to set out from the comfort of our shores and cast our nets into deeper water. (“Rowing into the deep” was also the theme of the Society of Jesus’s General Congregation last year.)

At SI, artists, dancers, videographers and musicians collaborated on this effort. Art teacher Katie Wolf created a mural at the entrance of the school to showcase the secondary schools in the new province, and she asked students in her classes to create pieces dealing with waves and water. Dance instructor Meredith Cecchin Galvin ‘97 asked students in her class to choreograph and perform a piece at Ocean Beach responding to the theme. Photography teacher Carlos Gazulla and his students submitted photos as well. Seven members of the Class of 2016 sang “Oceans” by Hillsong, which became the soundtrack for a masterful video filmed by SITV Moderator Yosup Joo. (See it now at goo.gl/f9CNHw.)

SI is also returning to its roots in a way thanks to the creation of the Father Sauer Academy. We have accepted the first 26 students for our inaugural sixth grade class, and they will learn that this isn’t the first time SI has taught middle school students. We did that for years after our founding in 1855 as we followed the Italian model of education that SI’s first Jesuits brought with them from the Turin Province.

The idea of history being cyclical may seem old hat — that we simply repeat the past. In our case, that is only half the story. As a student at SCU, I took a class from the great Oxford professor Frederick Charles Copleston, S.J., a master of the philosophy of history. I learned from him that history can be both cyclical and linear, proceeding in circles that also advance civilization.

The younger faculty will discover this truth just as the veterans have seen this play out in their years in the classroom. Some student names will repeat, as educators begin teaching the sons and daughters of those they once instructed. Those new students will, I suspect, offer us all new hope, new vision, new ways of advancing civilization and building boats that carry us from one shore to the next.

— Paul Totah ’75

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Monday June 26
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