Responding to the Needs of our Time and Place

"No boy should have to wait until his father is in his 60s to hear that he loves him. No student should have to wait until adulthood before he knows he's a person of worth, regardless of his background. No mother should have to feel that she must be both mother and father -- or the translator of Dad's feelings and intentions toward the son. No boy should long for a relationship with his father like the one he has with his grandfather. No father should have to feel that he has to wait until his son becomes a man before he can show his son the nurturing side of himself. If we wait that long, it is likely too late. If we do, boys and young men will be lost in their own emotional abyss (Slocumb, Paul D., HEAR OUR CRY: Boys in Crisis, aha! Process, 2004)."

As far as the size of the metropolitan area, a growing gang influence, well-documented homelessness, escalating levels of poverty and the rise of adolescent crime, Green Bay -- which was almost always compared to communities like Eau Claire and Appleton -- is now being compared to cities like Racine and Milwaukee. For some time now, I've been in total awe when I consider some of the things I've heard from friends in the judicial and law enforcement professions as they discuss in general terms some of the issues they confront on local city streets, night after night after night. Living in the heart of a very safe and secure college campus, I am shielded from much of the crime that takes place beyond the Saint Norbert Campus.

Not since I lived in the Norbertine Residence at our Willibrord Catholic High School in the ghetto of Chicago's south side back in 1986, have I been exposed to such a hostile environment on a consistent basis. While it would be nearly 30 years later that the italicized text written above was penned, I experienced the "emotional abyss" taking place in our students' lives -- especially the boys -- who lived in the hood known as Roselawn back in the mid-80s.

But given the research I have been doing for over a year now, I am aware that there are similar needs with 'at-risk' youth in our community right here in Brown County. While so many civic and church leaders have been scratching their collective head wondering what can be done about the issue; I believe the resources available to respond to these issues are just as great as are the local needs.

Research will show that among the greatest and most effective deterrents to the issues that most effect at-risk youth are contributions to community life and education. I believe Abbot Bernard Pennings, O. Praem. knew this over 100 years ago. I would suggest that Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., a Norbertine educator himself would draw similar conclusions today. In fact, long ago the Norbertine Community responded to such needs of our youth by establishing or sponsoring Saint Norbert High School [later Abbot Pennings High School], Central Catholic High School [later Premontre High School; today Notre Dame de la Baie Academy], South East Catholic High School [later Saint John Neuman High School], Archmere Academy and Willibrord Catholic High School. These schools were established to respond to the TOTAL needs of the students, not solely the educational needs of young people.

On 23 October 2007 I approached Abbot Neville and asked him if he could envision any way the Norbertine Community could respond to such "Ever Ancient - Ever New" needs in our local community today. The Abbot had suggested that I had already done much of the preliminary work involved in studying the signs of the times. He suggested that I "connect the dots" in studying further what the specific needs are as far as at-risk youth and what sorts of resources can be identified in our community to respond to those needs. Perhaps the Order could partner with other agencies, individual donors, corporate sponsors, educational and civic organizations to creatively address this situation.

In addition to meeting with other Norbertines and business leaders, I have met with the following people to consider their views:

The Honorable Jim Schmitt -- Mayor of Green Bay
Chief Jim Arts -- Green Bay Chief of Police
Rt. Reverend Monsignor Roy Klister -- Pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul Congregation
Mark Salisbury -- Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools
John Gard -- Former Speaker of the House -- State of Wisconsin
John Benberg -- Executive Director -- Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay
David Gauthier -- Nuclear Oversight -- Dominion Energy
Tom Blankenheim -- Associate Director of Alternative Programs -- Green Bay Public Schools
Deacon Mike Vincent -- Pastoral Associate, Ss. Peter & Paul Congregation
Father Paul DeMuth, Diocesan Vicar for Priests

In my mind and given my discussions with the above, I envision the establishment of a middle school that would educate 5th-8th graders throughout an 11 month school year. The day school program would begin at 7:30 AM and would conclude at 7:00 PM. I am of the firm believe that what happens from 3 PM until 7 PM is just as important as what happens during the 'typical' school day. After school programming would be both organized and disciplined and would include such activities as athletics and team sports, computer programming, tutoring, study hall and service to the institution, local community and corporate sponsors.

This paradigm is not new! Why reinvent the wheel? For more detailed information about the philosophy, please consult,

As I've spoken to so many people about the potential for such a school to be established in our area, a certain degree of excitement is expressed as similar thinkers begin to envision just what sort of goodness can come about when we pool resources together to respond boldly, faithfully and generously to the needs of our time and place.

Please do not think that you'll see the Abbot or me sporting a golden shovel anytime soon. Such a major undertaking would take so much time and exhaustive study. But if you have any ideas of what the needs or resources are with regard to Brown County's at-risk population, feel free to let me know. It will help in the planning and your insights will remind me that you realize, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.

For more information about At-Risk Education, including at-risk definitions and factors that lead to at-risk populations, please check out:


Timothy Johnston said...

Jim, what has made you so interested in "at-risk-youth?" This sounds like a great idea and I pray that it will bear some fruit! Let me know if I can ever be of assistance.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be if not the only way, certainly one of the better way's to go if we want to save and educate the youth of today to be responsible leaders of tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I think that it's a great idea, but there are a few "nuts and bolts" to keep in mind with many "at-risk" students. Although I'm not from Green Bay, so I don't know the entire situation, but there may be certain problems that could come up as a result of having an 11-month year and ending the school days at 7pm are:
*It would be incredibly hard for educators and staff to pull this off. Especially those with young families who need them just as much. I don't know about others, but as a future middle/high school teacher, I would need more than a month of vacation/planning time!
*Even though at-risk youth does not include just those in or below the poverty level, school bus schedules usually don't go beyond 4pm, unless they are transporting teams to games in other cities.
*Part of the problem is when kids are left home alone because their parent/parents have to work 2 jobs--night and day shifts in order to support the family. I have no idea how to fix this (because we simply can't change every family situation), but parents would have trouble picking up their kids at 7pm and dropping them off at home, then rushing to work.
*Although illegal, some students actually do work to help support the family at young ages (though more common in high school), or have family obligations, such as taking care of their younger siblings after they get home from school until their parents get home.

I realize these are really picky details, and may not even really exist in Green Bay families. And of course, the school could accommodate such students by allowing them to leave after 3pm or whenever the "after school activities" would start.

Anyway, I think it's an awesome idea. I hope you can get the resources and planning underway needed to create such a school!

Katie C. said...

So is this the "greenlight"? If so, I think it is wonderful:-) And while you may have some skeptics, I think anything is possible and worth a shot. I am thrilled to see someone I know personally engaging in an effort to prevent deliquency and crime. It's one thing to "talk the talk" but you "walk the walk"!! If I can ever help you in this endeavor on the "boring" academic end of things just say the word!

Anonymous said...

I like it when people think "outside the box."

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