St. Benedict’s Prep (SBP) was recently featured on 60 Minutes. SBP is an all-boys 7th-12th grade school in the inner city of Newark, NJ. The school is currently run by Alumnus Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B., and has been operated by the Benedictine monks of Newark Abbey since 1868. Thanks to a grant from Covanta, I have had the privilege to work with the school this year. My first introduction to the campus in September 2015 was to watch their convocation gathering early one morning. I saw hundreds of young men huddled together in a small gymnasium sharing updates on accomplishments of the school’s sports teams and singing spiritual songs of encouragement with the kind of reckless abandon that would hardly be possible if there were girls to impress.
I met with the six senior leaders of SBP; each has over 90 students under his leadership. When I asked them what environmental issue they were most concerned about, they answered almost in unison, “Climate change.” Our meeting was just days after the Pope visited the east coast, and they were familiar with his encyclical, Laudato Si, which exhorts the faithful to reduce environmental pollution and waste in order to ease the suffering of those in poor communities that are most vulnerable to the impact of deficient resources and environmental degradation. The encyclical seemed to fall perfectly in line with the school’s motto that is boldly spelled out at the entrance to the school, “Whatever hurts my brother hurts me.”
Over the course of the 2015-16 school year, a core group of staff and students have been working on ways to reduce waste and start a campus-wide recycling system. They have reduced cafeteria waste and started recycling paper and cardboard. In order to expand their efforts, they wanted to gauge student attitudes, so they decided to use the periodic school-wide writing prompt exercise as their mechanism. What they developed was one of the most innovative tools for engaging students that I have ever seen. Emmanuel “Manny” Knighton is a senior who is a truly gifted artist. His art teacher, Pamela Wye-Hunsinger, encouraged him to create a graphic novel with questions about recycling and climate change with space for students to respond. Here is what he created: WRITING PROMPT-BeesGoGreen 1-5-16. In addition to the writing prompt, Manny is using the same character and graphic novel style to create signs that will be placed around the school to remind students to place their recyclables in the correct bin.
Manny, like so many of the bright and talented students at SBP, is off to college next year. He plans to attend Rutgers New Brunswick. He’s been drawing since he was seven years old, and is already a decade into what I’m sure will be a long, successful career in impactful artistic designs that will make the world a more beautiful place for all of us.