Everyone's on the same page at De La Salle

Imagine growing up in an unconventional family where living in a car, moving from town to town to evade creditors and having little to eat was commonplace.

De La Salle High School – students, faculty, staff and parents, too – is experiencing these escapades of the Walls family documented in the 2005 New York Times bestselling memoir “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls – through the school’s summer social justice reading project.

“One Book for Justice” has explored a multitude of social justice themes through its choice of books over the past three summers.

Book led to art, peace rally

The first summer, students read about non-violence and peacemaking through Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle’s “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” A fine arts showcase was organized that included art, dramatic performances and poetry readings and also a peace rally with other high schools.

Last summer, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” by Malcolm Gladwell was read. It is a story about giving voice to the underdogs such as under-represented populations in the community and finding tools that they could use to have the upper hand like the biblical David. Students discovered that education and economic equality could help the underrepresented population.

Reaches all courses
Campus minister and lead religion teacher Tony Behan said that not only is the book read, but its social justice messages cross over into the curriculum in all subjects and extend beyond the classroom into activities in the community, such as the youth peace rally.

"The goal is that in every syllabus and every course there is some dimension of the (social justice) theme brought out in the class,” Behan said.

The first year, the math department chose to infuse the nonviolence message by getting students to research crime statistics in their neighborhood.

Students used Smart boards in the classroom to see current data and do statistics and analysis on it.

When students return to school in the fall, there is an assessment day where the whole school divides into groups and discusses the novel. This year, assessment day is set for Sept. 10.

Cultivating social justice

The idea for “One Book for Justice” was inspired by the school’s Catholic Lasallian assessment three years ago that revealed an improvement in the school’s service-learning program was ripe. Students involved in campus ministry along with faculty members helped form the summer read program.

For this summer’s book, a committee that included principal Paul Kelly, Behan seven students, several English and religion teachers selected the book. Behan said they read three books before deciding on this one.

“The hardest part is coming up with a book that’s accessible to eighth graders, the rest of the student body, teachers, staff and parents,” Behan said, mentioning that selecting the first book was easy since it was written by a priest. Choosing the second book was more difficult. This year, the committee zeroed in on the New York Times bestseller.

Plans for book club
Behan plans to take the project further.

“We’re hoping to establish a book club at the school where members (open to all students) would read a book a month,” he said.

“We really want this to be a student-led and directed project,” he said. “What I think the power of the project is is that it brings the entire consciousness of the school to one theme, being more aware of the issue.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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