“Sticks and Stones…”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  This old adage has been the topic of multiple bullying conversations in the last 20 years among educators, but do you know its origin?


In the midst of the Civil War, a meeting of African American parents at church focused on how to protect their children if slavery was outlawed.  Even if the slaves were freed, they knew there would still be a lot of antagonism and hatred to face and their children would be the brunt of this animosity.  Parent after parent lamented the situation and expressed fear and concern for how to protect their children.  Then, one man stood up and proclaimed, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  At first he was ridiculed, but he went on to share that the only way to “protect” their children was to empower them on the inside.  They couldn’t change society, but they could control themselves and their responses.  They made a pact that day to teach their children this phrase.  Each night at home they coached their children to say it over and over until they couldn’t get it out of their heads.  For, if they could control their response to jeers and insults, they would be able to rise above and believe in their inherent dignity.

No, we’re not going to start using this phrase at St. Peter’s.  However, we are going to reinforce the resilience aspect that it encourages.  Don’t get me wrong, I know words can hurt.  All of us have experienced it.  That’s why we reinforce kindness and respect on all levels here at school.  But, in the real world, people can be mean and we need to know how to respond.  We also need to teach our children how to respond.


Jeff Veley, award-winning speaker and social skills educator, shared the above story with teachers last week.   He also spoke to students in three Catholic schools in Lincoln, including grades 3-8 at St. Peter’s.  His dynamic presentation carried a powerful message.  He himself had not only experienced bullying/aggressive behavior in his inner city school, but he also became a social worker dealing with some of the hardest cases.  Yet he and a fellow worker one day just asked themselves, “Are we really making a difference?”  So many young people they saw shared the same message, “Everybody hates me.”  No matter how many anti-bullying and zero tolerance programs were put in place, students still were not able to rise above the hate.  Jeff shared that in the best anti-bullying programs, schools would boast of a 20% decrease in bullying.  As he stated it, “A 20% is a failing grade!”


His message grew out of research from psychologists like Izzy Kalman and work with speakers like Brooks Gibbs.  The process is simple, but the results can be life-changing.  He explains to children how aggressive behavior (put-downs, etc.) is a “power” game:  someone wins and someone loses.  When the target of the behavior gets upset, the aggressor wins, but if the target stays calm, the aggressor loses and usually loses interest in continuing the behavior.  He encourages students to use a 2-step Peace Plan:

Be a PeaceMaker

  1. Don’t get upset.
  2. Treat them like a friend.

To demonstrate how this works, he

calls a student up from the audience to play the “Golden Rule Game.”  He has the student call him names or pick on him in some way.  The first time, he gets upset and retaliates with his words.  This eggs on the student, who continues the behavior and the student “wins.”  In the second round, the student again acts as an aggressor, but Mr. Veley remains calm and treats the student like a friend in his words and manner.  This unexpected behavior disarms the student and Mr. Veley “wins.”  As he says, “Confuse them with kindness.”


It’s not magic, nor is it a perfect solution.  Name calling and other verbal insults are never right and can be hurtful, but the key is to empower students with a means of effecting a real change, to help them be resilient.  As Jesus taught us in the Golden Rule, love changes everything.  Mr. Veley emphasized that if a student is being physically harmed, they need to get help from an adult immediately.  But if they are being attacked by words, their first defense is to use the Peace Plan.  In rough schools where this process has been fully implemented, results have been a 90-95% reduction in aggressive behaviors!  Plus, students are less likely to feel like helpless victims and are more likely to feel empowered to respond in a healthy way.

PeaceMakers Logo

This message fits right in with the PeaceMakers program we have implemented this year.  In addition to teaching virtue and reinforcing social skills, this tool helps students to grow in resilience and learn how the power of love and kindness can change behaviors – and possibly hearts.  If you would like to know more about Jeff Veley’s program, this is an excellent 25 min. video about the Peace Plan as well as ways that adults can then assist students in developing resilience when they are faced with challenging situations from peers.  https://www.jeffveley.com/free-video-training-delivery/?mc_cid=2db20ac102&mc_eid=926e394ec7

The next time you find yourself the brunt of someone’s unkind words, try out the Peace Plan.  You might just be surprised at the results.  God bless you!

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So Why Don’t We Wear Shorts Anyway?

When I as a kid, shorts were a sign of summer…  We loved those days where we could play outside for hours on end.

Now I like to see a child happy at least as much as the next guy.  So why not give the kids a little joy and let them wear shorts here at school, too?  While some of these reasons carry more weight than others, I’d like to share them, as they have bearing on our formation here.

Number one.  Peck, peck, peck…..there is a gradual breakdown of civility in our culture, and any semblance of formality or refinement is under attack.  Have you noticed the dress of people at Sunday Mass over the years? I know I’ve heard the argument….God is glad we’re there, He doesn’t really care what we have on.  There is truth to it, but there’s also goodness in dressing up for the Lord. Kids who have a pair of pants that resemble “dress pants” are used to wearing them know what dress up means and are capable of doing so.  While the girls need to continue to work at wearing skirts properly, they too are used to wearing them.

Number two.  School is serious business, and as a sports team has their uniform, so we have ours.  It gets kids in the mood for learning, and frees them from wondering, “What to wear today?”  Let’s get there and be ready to learn.  Daily routine is fostered.

Number three.  Simplicity, on a different level.  No need to purchase another uniform item as the season changes and your kids grow.

Number four. We have air conditioning, which maximizes the learning environment for the students.

Number five….for some things it is good to have to wait.  When you get to high school you can wear shorts. Stick it out, friends. There’s an argument for perseverance.  Too much, too soon makes for entitlement.

Number six.  What sane person would wear shorts day in and day out when it is well below zero?  Peer pressure and human respect are about the only two answers that I can think of. Not very good answers in the formation of souls. I really don’t want that trickling down into our school.  We need to fight peer pressure to do illogical things.  I’d rather not introduce the illogical to our kids.  It’s snowing today, which gives this reason a little more validity in March!

Number seven.   Differentiation between the boys and the girls. It’s part of theology of the body.  Our girls generally have a different uniform from the boys.  Unisex is oversold these days.  We are equal, BUT different.

Number eight.  I know more than just a few people who, when they got a “real job” had a very hard time putting aside the sweats and hoodie.  We have that formative piece covered.

Number nine.  Shorts can easily get too short.

Number ten.  It has been our custom here from the beginning.  You can let the rope out, but you really can never bring it back in.

Finally, I want to see our kids eternally happy.  A bit of discipline and refinement along the way will help, please God.

A teacher was just commenting to me how she enjoys seeing a child randomly skipping down the hallway on the way back to class.   I enjoy the girls twirling in their skirts occasionally.  Our children know they are loved and they are happy here.  That is a good signal that our formation program is working well both for this life and the next.

So, when the weather gets warm, pull out those shorts at home and let them run through the sprinkler.  But in the meantime, we’ll be keeping the pants and skirts here at school.

God bless you!
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Catholic Sibling Rivalry

After the Bishop’s visit here on the Feast of St. Peter last Thursday which included the Eucharistic procession through the school, our children were excited, especially since it has been a while since the Bishop has been here for a school Mass.  Don’t miss the flower petals on the floor, strewn by the third grade girls.  (I was proud of Mr. Maly and staff for agreeing to a potentially difficult cleanup, for the sake of honoring the Lord.)

Bishop w monstrance

In the Bishop’s homily he asked the children some questions, one of which was, “How many popes have we had?  What number is Pope Francis?”  I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m squirming a little, as I’m not sure of the exact answer.

A child toward the front of the church where the younger children sit raised her hand and the Bishop called on her.  (Anyone want to take odds on whether she will have the right answer?) She said, “Two hundred and sixty-sixth.”

He was as surprised as I was that the little one had the answer on the nose!  Was I proud of that child and her teacher, or what? Mrs. Svoboda had written it on the board that morning, but they had not spoken of it.  The child noticed, and was it a handy fact to have!

Now on to the sibling rivalry.  When they got home last Thursday a fifth grader said, “When I get confirmed, I’ll be right in front of the Bishop!”

Her little sister, who is in second grade, said, “When I receive my First Communion, I will be right in front of Jesus!”

You have got to love the kids!  I was especially glad to hear that second grader so vividly showing she knows what Holy Communion is all about.

We also had First Confession last Saturday, which prompted a cute story from Father Townsend’s past involving a second grader in dialogue with his Grandma.  As I recall it the little one was telling his Grandma how lucky she was that she only has to think of the time since her last confession to figure out what needs confessing, and he has to think about HIS WHOLE LIFE.

After Confession the little fellow said, “Wow, all those sins and it only cost me an Our Father!”  It cost the Lord a little more than that, but that is for consideration later in life my little friend.  For now we will enjoy your goodness.

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Last What?

The Last Supper.  You know, the picture with Jesus in the middle and all the apostles gathered around, conveniently sitting on the same side of the table so we can see their faces!


Yesterday, I was delighted to hear an eighth grader talking to the first graders about the Last Supper.  Hanging in the first grade hallway, which they walk by dozens of times a day, is this classic image.  But how often have they noticed it?  (For that matter, how often have I noticed it?  I admit, I had to go look because I didn’t remember seeing it.)


Mrs. Alishouse had been discussing the image in her classroom.  She asked how many students have this hanging in their homes and which room it is in.  When her Junior High TA stopped by to assist in the afternoon, she assigned him the task to take a few students at a time into the hallway to discuss the picture.  He asked them some basic questions:


“Who’s in the middle?  Who are the men with Jesus?  Which one is St. Peter?  Who is the youngest apostle?  What are they eating?  What does it become?”

My heart was touched by the beauty of this interchange on so many levels!  First, that a junior high boy is able to share his faith freely.  Second, that first graders and eighth graders get to develop a relationship in our school to feel united as a family.  Third, that our teachers take time like this on a regular basis to provide tangible experiences with our Catholic Faith.  It’s a win-win-win situation!

As we continue through Lent, the image of Jesus at the Last Supper is a good reminder of the self-offering that Jesus provides for us at every moment.  Not only did He die on the cross for us, but He also gave us a means to have His physical Presence with us always in the Eucharist.  It reminds me of the famous prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas:

O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
V. You have given them bread from heaven:
R. Containing in itself all sweetness.
O God, who under a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of Thy Passion; grant us, we beseech Thee, so to reverence the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that we may ever feel within ourselves the fruit of Thy Redemption: Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter tomorrow with a Eucharistic procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day, may we remember that our time of Lenten penance is just a foreshadowing of the union Jesus wants to have with each of us on a daily basis, until we reach eternity.

May you continue to have a Blessed Lent!

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Three Ash Wednesday Secrets

OK, one secret and two conclusions from reflection.

#1 Secret  – It may not be a secret to you, but Ash Wednesday, though one of the most well attended liturgies of the year, is not a Holy Day of Obligation within the Church.

#2 Conclusion – I need Lent. Though not a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church, our humanity knows thoroughly that we need Lent.  An obligation comes from the heart.  I need reform, I need cycles of penance.  THANK YOU, CHURCH.  No wonder the Church was overflowing at 6:30, 8:15 and noon.  I trust the same will be true later.

#3 Conclusion – Ashes are poignant on a baby.  philsta

I don’t know the mom with a toddler and a newborn who were in the pew just behind me.  When it was time to go up for ashes, as I was beginning to exit the pew, I noticed the two year old from the pew behind me flat on her back in the main aisle, not making much noise, yet, looking at her mom who was picking up the baby.  I asked her mom if I could take her, mom said yes, I started to lean down to pick her up and the little girl’s eyes got extraordinarily wide.  I said, “Maybe I’d do better with the baby.”  She smiled, nodded and gave me the newborn and we went up to get our ashes.  Babies get ashes, too.  I love to see ashes on ALL of us.  The reminder of our mortality is so much move vivid on a BABY.  They are so far from death, yet we are reminded that even they are on the journey through this life to eternity.  So, thanks to that mom for blessing me with the opportunity to present that little tiny one for ashes.  (And also for the baby fix.  She slept so nicely!  And that soft baby fuzz….God knows what He’s doing!)


Lord, help us all to journey together through life closely connected to you.  Help us to receive well with open hearts the particular graces of Lent.

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“Risky Play” has Benefits

Roller-skating immediately came to mind as I read a professional article on the benefits of “risk taking” in play.  http://www.sterlingwest.net/the-lessons-we-learn-from-risky-play


Watching the kids step off the mats with their skates on for the first time provides quite the scene.  Some can’t wait to get off the mat with their skates, others like the safety of the predictability of the padded surface.


We need to be careful providing opportunities for “risky play”.  Every sane parent in the world would remove their child from our school if we delighted in providing risky play opportunities without regard for the children’s safety.

Three places came to mind – Skating, the playground, and the climbing wall.  Mrs. Richter could probably provide a few more examples…  Skating is the one on our minds at present as the activity is in process a few feet from my office.


There were a couple times during the half hour class when NO ONE was on the floor, but only for a few seconds.  In a couple weeks the story will be considerably different.  It is amazing how quickly they learn.  At present many of the little ones delight inputting on nine pieces of garb.  Count them NINE! (skates, knee pads, elbow pads, a helmet and the required wrist guards.)  They make a great photo!  Needless to say, the older kids wear only the required wrist guards with their skates.  Even the older kids get to wear a helmet if they meet with the floor three times in the first few minutes.


Do your legs bend like this?  Mine do not!

A parent has volunteered to provide supervision for two evening skates, in addition to the ones listed in the newsletter at 6:00pm on both February 15th and 19th.  Join in the fun for $2 per skater.

God bless the children as they play and continue to grow in coordination, strength, wisdom, age and grace.

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Catholic Schools Week 2018!

I didn’t grow up with a Catholic school.  In my hometown of 450 people, we had a cathedral-sized church and a Catholic school right next to it that used to be staffed by Dominican Sisters.1280px-Cedar_Rapids,_Nebraska_St_Anthony_church_from_W_1

My oldest siblings could tell me stories from the Sisters who taught them and some of them were even named after the Sisters.  But in the 1970s the Sisters were no longer able to keep staffing the school, so it was sold to be used as the public school elementary building.  I’ve pondered since then how my life might have been different if it had never closed:

  • Maybe I would have realized that prayer is having a conversation with a Friend and not just saying rote words.
  • Maybe I would have cherished receiving Holy Communion knowing that it was truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus and not have had to wait until college to come to this realization.
  • Maybe I would have been aware of God’s calling to my religious vocation much earlier than young adulthood…

Of course, God works through all things, but sometimes we take for granted the blessings that we have and the benefits that come to us through Catholic education.  My prayer for each of your children and your families is that these years of growth in a Catholic culture will form a foundation that will last a lifetime – actually, that will last for eternity!

See our Facebook page for pictures of many of the activities of the week, but below are a few selections:

Grandparent Day was a huge success!

Roller skating is a great treat!

3rd graders skating

Finally, enjoy this short “commercial” created for CSW 2018 with footage from our Lincoln Catholic Schools: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWGHFqobOSQjPtW95hPbDoA

God bless you and Happy Catholic Schools Week!2018 CSW Logo_Book_Cross

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