Senior trips have traditionally been an opportunity for classmates to spend a few days together as a group sharing their memories of their time together before going their separate ways to college, the military or workforce.
The tradition seems to be one that many schools no longer participate in.
The students of Sacred Heart School still continue to carry on the tradition, only this year their experience was a first of its kind for the school and the 24 seniors who will graduate in May.
Students at the school have taken an annual trip dating as far back as 1945.
Originally the students went to the Lake of the Ozarks area, but have traveled to Colorado, New Orleans, and last year to San Antonio.
The administration and board of education decided this year’s trip would be a mission trip for the students, providing them an opportunity to continue with the school’s outreach program.
“I was a little bummed at first when I heard about what they wanted us to do,” Laura Wadley said. “I knew whatever we did it would be fun because I would be spending a week with my friends but it really was a positive experience.”
The seniors — 21 chose to go on the trip — and their chaperones spent the week of April 3-8 in Chicago working in the inner city, volunteering with nuns in a soup kitchen and tutoring youth as part of a YMCA after-school program.
They also worked with the elderly as part of a YMCA Bible study program.
The students spent much of the trip working in areas of Chicago that are considered some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, if not the United States.
“One of the schools we worked at was heavily damaged in the 1950 fire in Chicago,” said Timara Kennon, junior high language arts and high school religion and finance teacher and a chaperone on the trip. “The school burned down and they never really recovered from that or the racial tensions of the ’60s and ’70s.
“This is only my second year at Sacred Heart and when I was asked to go I was a little leery because I didn’t know many of the students very well and I wasn’t sure what the experience may be,” she added. “From the very first day though, the students made me feel like I was a part of the group and what we were doing; they truly are a great group of kids to be with.”
A purpose of the trip was to remove the students from their comfort zones and allow them to experience another way of life.
“I have led a number of these types of mission trips before,” said Father Geoffrey Brooke, Associate Pastor of Catholic Churches of Pettis County. “One of the goals of the trip is to get them out of their comfort zones and experience a place unlike their own.
“We want them to learn to connect with Christ in other places and communities that they may never have the opportunity to experience and be a part of,” he added. “We wanted them to see firsthand what it really means to be in poverty.”
Brooke, who took over the mission side of the trip, arranged through the Our Lady of Angels Mission in Chicago for the students to have the opportunity to do hands-on work with others who came from very different walks of life.
“I really think this is a continuation of the work our students do here,” said Tabitha Kehde, SHS office manager and chaperone for the trip. “Many of our students work with younger students and do tutoring here but the situations of the children there are different; life is not the same for the students or the people who live there in so many ways.”
Kehde commented that many of the women in the Bible study shared their personal stories with the students and chaperones.
“Several of the women told us they had lost their sons and daughters because of violent deaths and shootings,” Kehde said. “That struck me and I think many of our students; it broke my heart to hear them share their stories.
“One of the wonderful things about the experience though was that they accepted us as much as we accepted them,” she added. “I don’t think many of them have the means to keep in touch with us, but I know we will never forget them.”
Senior Asa Wilt agrees with Kehde.
“I don’t care if you print this, but I’m telling you right now if I were 30 or 40 years older I would marry Maddie,” Wilt said. “I love that woman so much because she was amazing.”
Wilt is referring to one of the women he met during the second day of the trip.
“We not only had a Bible study but we played bingo with them too,” Wilt said. “Maddie simply demanded the attention of everyone in the room, because of her energy and how funny she was.
“She had such a comedic flair and she was so down to earth,” Wilt added. “I simply fell in love with her.”
Wilt added that Maddie gave him some advice on life.
“She told me to get my education,” Wilt said. “That if I want to go further with my life I must be educated.
“It was such a good experience for me,” Wilt commented. “At first I was disappointed about the trip and the changes but I went into it with an open mind and it was an awesome experience. I really am satisfied with everything about the trip.”
Other seniors expressed a similar view.
“I was upset when we found out (last year) they were changing the trip for us,” Jake Mothersbaugh said. “But it turned out to be pretty good.
“We got to do a lot of fun things like a pizza tour,” he added. “And working with the kids was one of my favorite things because they were funny.”
There are plans to continue the mission/senior trips in the future.
“I think the experiences our students had are great, but they are only a small taste of what the trip represents,” Brooke said. “One of the things the students need is a time for growth and understanding of what they experienced at the time.
“After each activity we took about 45 to 60 minutes and I divided the seniors into small groups where they had time to process and discuss what they had just experienced with one of the chaperones,” Brooke explained. “We felt it was important to give them that time of reflection.”
Kehde, who has been on other senior trips at Sacred Heart, agreed this experience was one of the most meaningful she has experienced.
“I have known most of these seniors since they were very little,” Kehde said. “I am so very proud of them and the experiences we shared.
“These kids didn’t want to be apart and break off into their small groups as other seniors have in the past, instead they chose to stay together,” Kehde added. “I think because of what they were asked to do they formed deeper friendships and grew closer; it was very rewarding to watch and be a part of.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484