Please tell us about yourself.
I originally graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s in French and a minor in Spanish. However, I later attended Aquinas College to become a teacher. This is my 18th year teaching 2nd grade at Holy Trinity. My husband and I met through a single Catholic young adult group that I helped start in the Battle Creek area. We were engaged within six months and have been married 35 years. We have four grown children and three grandchildren. My husband and I, as well as his brother, became teachers as a second career. My oldest daughter teaches 2nd grade and my daughter-in-law is a 1st grade teacher! We love children!
Describe your school.
Holy Trinity is one of the oldest Catholic schools in West Michigan. It was originally established in 1870. The farm community has grown but we still have a devoted following of faith-filled parishioners up on the apple ridge of the Sparta area whose family members have attended our school for years. In addition, we have many new families from as far north as Grant who have chosen to attend our school because of our families’ recommendations.
Our students have made an impact in the world after leaving here, which makes us so proud! Just recently one of our alumni was featured on mlive.com because of his leadership on West Catholic's football team. We have had other students go on to college athletics and become team leaders, making national news. Last year we had two students from the same Holy Trinity class graduate from separate high schools as valedictorians of their classes.
We have faith and strong academic rigor at Holy Trinity.
Catholic schools are different because...
Catholic schools are different because we incorporate our faith into everything we teach. We also respond in prayer and action to world events. I will never forget the day the Twin Towers were attacked in New York. The teachers were told in private, but then the priest called the whole school to come into the church to pray a rosary for those who had died and for our country. It was a terrible time, but I was so happy that we could go right next door, get on our knees, and as a school family, pray together. It brought peace during a time of fear and sadness. It brought us closer together. We are called to make a difference in the world. Catholic schools help children see and experience that difference.
What drew you to teaching at a Catholic school?
I think teaching in a Catholic school was God's plan for my life. I never went to Catholic school, but I was active in my church. In junior high and high school I sang in the guitar Mass. I volunteered for VBS in high school and was the first female in my church to lector at the age of 16, besides the nun who worked for our church. I was active at Western Michigan in the university parish and spent six months praying about becoming a nun while living at St. Joseph's former convent on Rumsey Street in 1980, discerning if I had a religious vocation. With the priest's help we determined that the religious life was not my vocation, but I returned to my hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan, and became the assistant to the director of religious education and junior high coordinator of religious ed. I also taught 7th and 8th grade religious ed. with a team of young adults I recruited to mentor the youth. Although I left to get married in Chicago and spent some years in sales and customer service, upon coming back to Michigan I felt the calling to teach. I was teaching 4th grade religious ed. at St. John Vianney at that time and was always thinking about my students. After my husband got his teaching degree, I went to Aquinas and received mine, becoming a teacher at the age of 39. God led me to Holy Trinity School and I have been there teaching 2nd grade ever since.
What is your favorite part about teaching? What are your greatest rewards?
There have been so many rewards over the years as I have watched students overcome physical, emotional and learning obstacles. It is my greatest joy to bring out the gifts and talents in children. I love incorporating theater, directing in-class plays and the Advent program over the years. I'm especially thrilled to help students learn to read and write. But the most important thing I feel called to do is to bring them to the table of the Lord for their First Communion. Preparing them for this sacrament, and trying to teach them about the Real Presence, is why I wrote and illustrated a bilingual children's book on the subject that was just published this year. “I AM: The Mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” published by WestBow Press (a division of Zondervan), is available at Michigan Church Supply at Cathedral Square, on Amazon.com, and even internationally in Canada and Europe. It is my effort to share this message with the children of the world, as well as my own students. I attempt to take this great mystery, the center of our faith, and approach it in a gentle way that allows children to have an, "Aha, that makes sense!" moment. Touching the souls of my tiny charges is a huge responsibility by which I am deeply humbled.
In your experience, what do Catholic schools do best? What does your school do best?
Catholic schools know that our children are our future. We need to stand against evil and leave a legacy of goodness to help make the world a better place.
At Holy Trinity, students are reminded every day that prayer is one of the greatest ways we can make a difference. But we also know that prayer inspires actions. We have many, many opportunities to act. Student council members guide our school in choosing different charities to sponsor every month. Classes also send letters to shut-ins and make sandwiches for the homeless. Students provide service for funerals and other parish and community functions. I started a school store many years ago to empower the 2nd graders to raise money by donating profits to charities they choose. Over the past ten years, the 2nd graders have given over $1,000 to various charities locally, nationally and internationally.
We are a smaller school, but that allows each member of our school family to become as involved as they want to be. We have sports, Science Olympiad, band and advanced academic opportunities. We have whiteboard technology in every classroom, a computer lab, iPads, and Chromebooks. Our principal, Kathy Rand, has always led us to be cutting edge. We pioneered MAP testing within the diocese in partnership with a local school district. We also have teachers with a great deal of experience. For instance, just counting myself and two other teachers, we have over 60 years of experience at Holy Trinity. Our staff works hard to stay current and to help every child develop the gifts and talents that God gave them. We are a Catholic-centered, devoted, loving family.
From the Principal:
Helena is an exemplary 2nd grade teacher who just published her own book about the Eucharist. She instills the love of faith to all her students in the way she teaches.
To learn more about the book “I AM: The Mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist For Children,” follow this link.