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Symposium Success

Fr. Mark Payne Symposium January 2024

Community Shines Through. More than 100 educators attended the Fr. Mark Payne Institute Symposium on January 25, and most of them experienced St. Benedict’s Prep for the very first time. Attendees were introduced to Benedict’s principles of community, student leadership, socio-emotional health and experiential learning in workshops and sessions facilitated by students. Oluwaseyi Elizabeth ’25 (pictured center), one of 30 student-fellows in the Fr. Mark Payne Institute, didn’t hesitate to show visitors how Convo is done. 

More than 100 educators from Newark to California and beyond got a firsthand look of the Benedict’s credo, “Never do for students what students can do for themselves,” at the first Fr. Mark Payne Institute Symposium on January 25. Titled, “We’re Doing it Wrong,” the daylong professional development event provided an immersive overview of the four pillars of St. Benedict’s Prep, community, student leadership, socio-emotional health and experiential learning.

Attendees, including teachers, principals, social workers, school board members and others, represented more than 50 public, charter, independent and Catholic schools. Adults attended Convocation, participated in a student-facilitated community development workshop, heard from school counselors and students in the Grossman Family Counseling Center and witnessed demonstrations of the Water Adversity Challenge, a leadership experience required of every UDI after completing The Trail freshman year. Approximately 30 student-fellows from the Fr. Mark Payne Institute guided groups of adults through the day, provided context and information on each pillar and answered wide-ranging questions from educators.

The practical application of the Benedict’s model came together in a panel discussion facilitated by Glenn Cassidy, Ed.D. ’90, director of the Fr. Mark Payne Institute. The panel of education experts and advocates of the Benedict’s model included: Sydney Burton, director of work experience/internships, Kingdom Prep Lutheran High School in Wauwatosa, Wis., Dominic Fanelli, principal of Benedictine High School in Cleveland, Ohio; Eddy Mosley ’06, assistant director of culture at Comp Sci High, Bronx, N.Y.; Chris Howe, former Navy SEAL and leadership development coach, Victory Road Leadership Development Group; Ivan Lamourt, Psy.D. ’82, associate headmaster of mental health and human services; and Mark Comesañas ’98, executive director, My Brother’s Keeper in Newark, N.J.

Fr. Mark Payne Symposium Panel

Members from the Fr. Mark Payne Symposium panel

Practical Advice on Adapting the Benedict’s Model

Ms. Burton and Mr. Fanelli addressed how their respective schools adapted elements of the Benedict’s approach. “We don’t have a licensed counselor,” explained Ms. Burton, noting that Kingdom Prep is a relatively new school that graduated its first class of seniors in 2022. “How do we make sure every student is seen and known on campus?” The school modeled its 12 packs (after its mascot the Wolfpack) on Groups. “Students get with their pack every morning,” she continued. “That’s the place for them to really share what’s on their mind.”

Mr. Comesañas, who served as Head of Schools of LEAD Charter School in New Jersey and was founding principal of UPLIFT Academy in Newark, offered a mindset and framework for developing authentic student leadership in schools. “It all comes down to seeing young people as assets who can solve community challenges, rather than seeing them as a problem to be solved,” he stated. “What that posture does is it changes the perspective of the adults in the building and also the young people.” He went on to detail how the organizations he’s led, gave young people a say in hiring decisions.

“The first thing that I took from Benedict’s and brought over to the Bronx in my school was raising the hand,” shared Mr. Mosley, who co-founded CompSci High in 2017. The longtime Benedict’s practice was introduced to the world in the 2016 60 Minutes broadcast, when then Senior Group Leader Bruce Davis ’16 brought a gymnasium of kids and adults to ordered silence, simply raising his hand. “[Students] should have a way to bring their room to attention,” Mr. Mosley emphasized. “Everyone should have a way for everyone should feel empowered, to be able to say, I have something to say right now. I need everyone to turn off their voices.’”

Initially, the raised hand received some push back at CompSci High. “But we all decided that we're going to do everything to do with fidelity and within about three months, we started seeing students holding people accountable. That consistency in that in that small piece of buy-in, we were able to build off of that.”

Expanding the Institute’s Reach

The symposium concluded with breakout sessions conducted by panelists and members of the St. Benedict’s faculty, and attendees were invited to continue working with the Fr. Mark Payne Institute. Faculty and students have also taken the Benedict’s model on the road. Dr. Cassidy, Kaleb Hassell ’25 and Daniel DaRocha ’24 presented the workshop, “Don’t Do For Students What Students Can Do For Themselves,” at the Male Enrollment & Graduation Alliance (MEGA) II Symposium on March 8 at Montclair State University. To learn more about the Fr. Mark Payne Institute, visit sbp.org.


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