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Two schools and their 'Wonder'-ful encounter

Fellowship flourished from reading leads to in-person meeting of fifth graders from different schools

MIAMI | In the summer of 2021, when Julie Perdomo was named principal of St. Mary Cathedral School, many asked her, “Where are you going? Where is that?”

“The cathedral,” she answered.

They often followed up with the question: “There is a cathedral in Miami?”

“Yes,” she reassured them.

Fifth graders from St. Mary Cathedral School and St. Louis Covenant School share a meal together after a day of fellowship. Students from both schools gathered on March 17, 2022 for "We Are All God's Wonder Day" at St. Mary's. After reading "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools spent the day doing activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Fifth graders from St. Mary Cathedral School and St. Louis Covenant School share a meal together after a day of fellowship. Students from both schools gathered on March 17, 2022 for "We Are All God's Wonder Day" at St. Mary's. After reading "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools spent the day doing activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.

After 15 years at St. Louis Covenant School in Pinecrest, first serving as a math teacher and later as assistant principal, Perdomo’s move came as a surprise. Months before her decision, she had gone to St. Mary Cathedral for Sunday Mass. She recalled Father Christopher Marino, the rector, preaching about St. Joseph and the vocation of work, opportunities, and how sometimes you have to open your heart to something else. Not long after that, the position of principal at the cathedral school opened, and she applied.

“I live in Palmetto Bay; my nieces and nephews are still at St. Louis,” Perdomo said. “But I knew then and I know now that every day that I’m in that drive, every day that I’m here, every day that I’m dealing with some kind of event or something that’s happening, I know that I’m supposed to be here. I feel it and I’m happy.”

Saying goodbye to her team at St. Louis was not easy, but Perdomo kept in touch. Wanting her new team at St. Mary to have a better idea of who she was and what her aims were, in November 2021 she sent a team of seven teachers to St. Louis.

“A lot of the times, elementary schools feel like we’re in competition with each other,” she said.

This would not be the case, especially when the fifth grade English and language arts teachers from both schools bonded over the novel “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio.

“The collision of the two worlds was awesome,” said Perdomo.

A cross-town "Wonder"ful friendship: Elizabeth Morales from St. Louis Covenant School in Pinecrest and Gabriella Del Castillo from St. Mary Cathedral School are the teachers behind the "We Are All God's Wonders Day" held on March 17, 2022 at St. Mary's. The two teachers met in November 2021 and bonded over the R.J. Palacio novel "Wonder." They decided to initiate a fellowship between both schools while they read the same book at the same time.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

A cross-town "Wonder"ful friendship: Elizabeth Morales from St. Louis Covenant School in Pinecrest and Gabriella Del Castillo from St. Mary Cathedral School are the teachers behind the "We Are All God's Wonders Day" held on March 17, 2022 at St. Mary's. The two teachers met in November 2021 and bonded over the R.J. Palacio novel "Wonder." They decided to initiate a fellowship between both schools while they read the same book at the same time.

Gabriella Del Castillo from St. Mary and Elizabeth Morales from St. Louis decided they would have their students read the book simultaneously. Over several weeks, they shared lesson plans, ideas, and established a mentoring friendship — Del Castillo has taught for five years; Morales for 20.

The project involved having their students speak virtually via Google Meet to get to know one another and discuss the book. Afterward, both the students and teachers wanted more time together. Why not meet in person at St. Mary, combining an opportunity of fellowship with a tour of one of Miami’s oldest schools and churches?

“This idea to go to St. Mary’s kept coming back to us,” said Morales. “I think it’s so important for the kids to see one another in different walks of life. I think it’s important to see beyond our own little community. I think it’s important for them to see the causes that St. Mary’s champions, just like the causes that we champion here.”

Perdomo appreciated the teachers taking charge and thinking beyond the classroom. “It’s important for students to be able to get out of their comfort zone, do something different, and the teachers, too,” she said.

 

MEETING IN-PERSON

A yellow bus filled with fifth graders from St. Louis Covenant School arrived at St. Mary Cathedral the morning of March 17, 2022. Inside the church, fifth graders from the cathedral school awaited them. After six weeks of shared reading and virtual meetings, they were meeting in person to celebrate “We Are All God’s Wonders Day.”

“These people over here, these are your brothers and sisters. Today, I’m very happy to introduce you to each other,” Father Marino told the students. Accompanying him was Father Reynold Brevil, the cathedral’s parochial vicar, who led the group in prayer.

Excited murmurs and giggles filled the Cathedral as the students split and mixed into five large groups named after characters from the book (Auggie, Jack Will, Justin, Summer, and Via). Led by a teacher, faculty member, or chaperone, more than 80 students headed to five different activity stations in the courtyard and backfield of St. Mary School. With a rotating schedule, students worked together on precept posters, rolled dice in a game to get to know each other, worked on a “God’s Wonder Writing” reflection, and worked on a puzzle-like plot diagram of the “Wonder” story. They also received a tour of the cathedral.

Fifth graders Abigail Perez-Pinon and Jeremiah Petit-Homme from St. Mary's Cathedral School work with Nick Garciga and Sebastian Grau from St. Louis Covenant School decorating and lettering their Precept Poster. Students from both schools gathered on March 17, 2022 for "We Are All God's Wonder Day" at St. Mary's. After reading "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools shared a day of fellowship with activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

Fifth graders Abigail Perez-Pinon and Jeremiah Petit-Homme from St. Mary's Cathedral School work with Nick Garciga and Sebastian Grau from St. Louis Covenant School decorating and lettering their Precept Poster. Students from both schools gathered on March 17, 2022 for "We Are All God's Wonder Day" at St. Mary's. After reading "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools shared a day of fellowship with activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.

At the Roll the Dice Station, Morales rolled the dice and landed on the question, “If you won a million dollars, what would you do?”

“I would buy a yacht and hire a staff to take me all over the world,” she said, encouraging students to break the ice with the conversational game.

In his group, Kiki Piedra from St. Louis rolled the dice and answered where he would go on vacation. “Antarctica,” Kiki said.

“Antarctica?! Why there,” asked Jeremiah Petite Homme from St. Mary.

“It’s the first place that popped into my head,” Kiki replied.

“I think he’s a secret agent,” joked Jeremiah.

 

BONDING

The friendly banter continued throughout the day as the students bonded. At the Precept Poster Station, some minds even shared the same thoughts. Among the more popular choices: “Know thyself” from the Oracle of Delphi. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” from Dr. Seuss. And “Every time the sun rises, a new hope begins” from Jack Will in “Wonder.”

The quietest moment of the day came at the God’s Wonder Writing Station, where students answered in writing, “What is something that makes you unique and different from others? How are you one of God’s wonders?”

Feodora Francois from St. Mary answered that her gift of singing made her unique, while Nicholas Urdaneta from St. Louis pointed out how our differences, the way we look and sound, are blessings in themselves.  

More than 20 miles separate the schools from one another, but after the activities were complete and students sat down for pizza together, distances and differences diminished.

“That’s beautiful,” said Perdomo.

After lunch, as students boarded the bus headed back to St. Louis, Del Castillo remarked how her own students didn’t want their new friends to leave.

“They told me that they want to see them again already, so it makes me very excited,” she said. “I’m looking forward to doing something else with Mrs. Morales, even if it’s next year.”

Morales said the fourth graders at St. Louis are already asking if they are going to St. Mary next year. “It could become an annual thing,” said Morales.

“As a teacher, you want to see great things happen, you want to feel that you’ve made a difference. When I set out in this collaboration, I knew I wanted the kids to grow in fellowship and faith. COVID, technology, and time were all challenges, but this was truly God driven,” Morales added. “This is hopefully one of those ‘Wow’ moments, a drop in the bucket of memories my school kids keep forever.”

"We Are All God's Wonders"  brought together over 80 fifth graders, faculty and staff from St. Mary Cathedral School and St. Louis Covenant School on March 17, 2022 at St. Mary's. After reading 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools spent the day doing activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.

Photographer: CRISTINA CABRERA JARRO| FC

"We Are All God's Wonders" brought together over 80 fifth graders, faculty and staff from St. Mary Cathedral School and St. Louis Covenant School on March 17, 2022 at St. Mary's. After reading 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio together, but from a distance, students from both schools spent the day doing activities revolving around the novel and getting to know each other better.


Comments from readers

Fr. Matthew Gomez - 05/04/2022 11:10 PM
Having been at St Louis for my pastoral year and currently living at the Cathedral of St Mary, this is awesome!!! It is always a joy when we can come together as a local Church in Miami.