It takes a special person to work with middle-school kids, an age group that experiences rapid and complex changes to their entire being. Their emotions can see-saw from one minute to the next, and things that were simply accepted earlier in life are often questioned. These emotions are what Mary Margaret Utess enjoys about working with middle-school students. “When I began working with them in 1991, I was as scared of them as they were of me. I’ve come to enjoy the happiness and challenge of their honesty. They can’t hide anything because, even if they can’t express what they are feeling in words, their emotions show on their faces.”
As an eighth-grade religion teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary–St. Casimir in Lansing, Mary Margaret works hard to make faith relevant to their individual lives, and felt immense gratitude when her pastor, Father John Byers, gave her 20 copies of the teen edition of FAITH magazine last fall. Quickly finding additional copies, she gave one to each student and spent a class period highlighting the key content of each article. Knowing her students as she does, she was able to zero in on topics that might relate to particular student issues.
“This was their initial introduction to FAITH, so I didn’t want to just hand it to them and possibly have them toss it aside. Together, we went page by page. The kids were attracted to the question and answer advice section, and enjoyed Father Joe Krupp’s sense of humor. It was a unique experience to share the entire issue with them.” Because the 45-minute class period only allowed showcasing prominent points of the issue, Mary Margaret assigned her students a task: They were to write Father John a thank-you note, specifically referring to an article that spoke to them. To do this meant each student had to invest time in reading the content. “I know this experience was important to them because it is months later and I often see the magazine in their planners. Some will still get it out and refer to it.”
As an avid reader, using print materials to supplement curriculum is not new for Mary Margaret. “I will often bring up something I’ve read that relates to an area we are studying. I tell the kids they are asked to read Scripture every day, so whatever article I bring in, I relate it to Scripture.” This includes relevant articles in other issues of FAITH, which is funded in part with DSA contributions.
To help foster their relationship with God, Mary Margaret is looking forward to next fall’s teen issue of FAITH so she can share this diocesan tool which assists her students in forming their faith.
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