By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – As Sacred Heart School and Holy Family School students returned from the Summer Institute in Houston, the “Schools in Collaboration” journey continued for two other Sacred Heart students, Kade Whisenhunt and Doryan Didier Pierre-Noel and teacher Ann Lovelace. The three embarked on a 14-day excursion to Colégio São Luiz (St. Louis School), in Brazil. São Luis is one of about 50 schools worldwide that is sponsored by the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This was the first time the Brazilian school has hosted Dehonian exchange students.
In January, Sacred Heart School (SHS) welcomed four São Luiz students and their teacher for a monthlong stay. SHS students have been pen-pals with students from São Luiz for several years. As part of the Dehonian educational community, students are also able to connect with other Priests of the Sacred Heart schools throughout the United States and around the world via zoom at various times throughout the year.
Father Silvano João da Costa, the São Luiz principal, expressed his delight in hosting the Mississippi visitors.
“Just before the 120th anniversary of the foundation of our institution, we are happy to welcome exchange students from a Dehonian school. It is an opportunity of immeasurable knowledge to everyone and the interchange of experiences is spectacular,” said Father Silvano.
He also shared his hope that this first experience in Brazil would reinforce the importance of the internationalization trend and stimulate other institutions that are part of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJs) around the world to also be open to the project. “I hope that new opportunities will take place. We are ready to receive students and willing to provide our students with the expansion of knowledge, which occurs when we discover new horizons,” Father Silvano explained.
Teacher Mariane Werner Zen, the São Luiz’s bilingual methodology coordinator who visited Sacred Heart School with her students in January, was equally excited to welcome the international visitors. “Our exchange program is very significant because it promotes educational fulfillment and experiences that go beyond the classroom,” said Werner Zen. “It may seem like there is a big difference at first, but then you realize that, despite the geographical and language differences, teenagers face the same challenges. They have very similar moments of happiness, fear and insecurity. The more knowledge they acquire, the more respect and the fewer judgments they express.”
In addition to connecting with the former exchange students, Kade and Doryan attended regular eighth-grade classes and activities daily and learned much about Brazilian culture. They also shared presentations about the Dehonian spirit at Sacred Heart School with their São Luiz counterparts. Teacher Ann Lovelace was able to work with several grades in their English studies.
During their two-week stay, the SHS crew was able to experience a great deal of the Brazilian Dehonian community. Visits to the seminaries in Corupá and Rio Negrinho, and to the novitiate in Jaraguá do Sul, served to deepen their knowledge of the principles and spirituality that guide the Dehonian schools in Brazil and throughout the world.
Their time in Brazil was also filled with all kinds of special activities, such as exploring Navegantes Beach, riding a ferry to Itajaí (Santa Catarina) to see the Bico do Papagaio (Parrot’s Beak) rock formation and tour Santíssimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament) Church with its amazing architecture and stained glass.
When asked about his time as an exchange student, Doryan shared, “Before I came here, I thought people didn’t speak English all that much and that they would be more shy. But, I was well accepted and I have been talking normally with the students. They are all very attentive and kind.”
He also said that he was impressed with the structure of the school and the topics covered in the classroom. “The teachers are really nice and the lessons are very meaningful. In Mississippi we are learning the same things in the math classes.”
“What I liked most was getting to know a new culture and discovering new places,” Doryan continued. “I will definitely be saying how wonderful Brazil is.”
Lovelace expressed her delight with the results achieved by the bilingual methodology. While visiting the kindergarten classes, she noticed that even the youngest students were already familiar with the language. “Even the students in the early grades were able to talk to me without trouble. This surprised me because I thought that since English is not their first language, it would be more difficult to communicate. I was wrong.”
The Brazilians’ fluency in English also caught Kade’s attention, as he could count on the help of his classmates to understand the subjects better. “It is amazing how well everyone speaks English,” shared the student. “I thought they would only master the basics, but they all talk to me about different topics easily. They also helped me in class when I didn’t understand something.”
Kade’s enthusiasm about the adventure abroad was easy to see. “I was so lucky to be here; it was amazing! I encourage students to go on an exchange if they have the opportunity. It’s worth it!”