Teachers often leave a lasting legacy in the lives of their students. But two sisters who taught at St. Mary’s High School years ago have left a different kind of legacy—one that continues to give back to the school.
Sisters Valerie Usinger and Ann Monica Pierce set up the Good Sisters Trust with money that remained when they closed the St. Vincent De Paul Society of Colorado. Managed as an endowed fund by the St. Mary’s Catholic Education Foundation, the Good Sisters Trust was established to benefit both SMHS teachers and students, which is exactly what it is still doing today.
This school year both the science department and the foreign language department received grants from the Trust. The science department received a grant for $1,451.53 to purchase lab supplies. The 21 requested items include everything from a hand-held tesla coil, which will be used in the electricity unit, to a roller coaster, to be used in during a unit on motion.
All of the new items will be a part of a new physics-physical science lab. Al Hartzell, science teacher, said he plans to start using the new materials as soon as the subjects come up.
“One item we got is a neon wand, which will pick up the electrons from the frequency generator and glow in the dark when the machine is on, thus showing the kids that electrons carry electricity and you don’t need a plug and outlet to produce electricity,” Hartzell said.
The foreign language program was awarded a grant for $750. The money purchased items to start building a Spanish library. Items purchased included books, movies, and a bingo set.
Spanish teacher Consuelo Mockerman said the grant meant a great deal to the Spanish program since the items will help develop a strong foreign language department.
“We have a vision of what skills we want the students to learn in four years,” Mockerman said. “But for that, we need to start teaching and training students with the appropriate materials as soon as freshman year begins. No one disagrees with the fact that reading does so much for the individual in any language.”
Mockerman said the movies and bingo set allow variety in the classes that the students get excited about. Plus she said students will pick up phrases and expressions they here in a movie and start using them, thus encouraging the practice of speaking Spanish more.
“Students will complete activity packets that go along with the movie that we will review and discuss in class. So it is not just watching a movie for the sake of doing something; students will be engage in the movie, listening to the sounds of words in context, increasing their vocabulary and passion and love for the language,” Mockerman said.
The Good Sisters Trust builds on the foundation of service that Sister Valerie and Sister Ann Monica created while working on at St. Mary’s.
Dr. George Ulrich, a 1974 graduate of St. Mary’s, fondly remembers both sisters. Sister Ann Monica was his theology teacher and he remembers who as someone who encouraged her students to think and explore.
“I say ‘teacher’ because that was her conventional title,” Ulrich said. “But what she actually did was encourage us to explore and find the spirituality in our own fifteen-year-old adolescent world. “
Ulrich fondly remembers an assignment from Sister Ann Monica that charged the students with listening to a popular song and finding a spiritual meaning in it. She left the assignment open-ended and gave the students plenty of class time to work on it. But, not surprisingly, many students goofed off instead of working on the assignment and weren’t prepared when the assignment was due.
Sister Ann Monica gave no speeches about disappointment, Ulrich said, and when the students protested about what was sure to be low grades, she asked them how the class wanted to handle the situation. She accepted the classes proposal to turn in amended reports the following Monday.
“It was not Sister Ann Monica exacting justice and retribution,” Ulrich said. “It was Sister Ann Monica simply giving us the opportunity to craft a remedy. She gave us control of this small part of our lives. Sister Ann Monica treated us as adults. We were responsible and accountable for our actions and non-actions. She permitted us to fail…and then she gave us a chance to succeed. ”
Sister Valerie taught chemistry, and Ulrich said she encouraged students to take responsibility for their own learning. As much as possible she let the students work at their own pace, while always being there to assist when needed.
“She presented chemistry with great humility. She never tried to impress anyone, and she never belittled anyone who had trouble learning it. I think she understood it was a difficult subject,” Ulrich said. “Her approach was to make every effort to learn it with you. If you would try, she would try along with you.”
Ulrich said he doesn’t remember feeling that he obtained a mastery of high school chemistry. Yet he went on to complete a year of both college-level chemistry and organic chemistry, and a course in biochemistry.
“I never found any of this easy or really enjoyable, but I did apply myself and keep at it. I never had a chemistry teacher who taught this difficult subject any better than Sister Valerie did,” Ulrich said. “I learned from Sister Valerie that you could figure it out if you applied yourself and if you kept at it.”
For more information or to learn about how you can support the Good Sisters Trust, contact SMHS Vice President for Development Matt Walter at 719-635-7540, ext. 38 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Amy G. Partain, Communications Associate
St. Mary’s High School