Taking a Risk

Michelle Clayton sits quietly on the carpet, legs crossed, hands folded in her lap. She’s 26 years old and, momentarily, in charge of a group of 6- to 9-year-olds sitting before her. They’re excited. Their morning work is finished, and it’s time for their weekly swimming session at the O’Connor Sports Center pool. They squirm a bit as they anticipate being called, but they wait, all eyes on her.

“OK. If your name has the letter ‘J’ in it, you may go,” she says slowly. A handful jump up and walk—very fast—to get their swimming bags in the other room and then line up by the door. In a few minutes, they’re all gone, led out of the bright, well-lit, clean-carpeted room, and Clayton turns to her red writing folder to grade the children’s work. Light streams in through large picture windows and the glass-paned door.

Clayton is a teacher’s assistant and student intern in the Xavier Montessori Lab School and one of 40 teachers to graduate from Xavier this year with a degree in Montessori education. She joins a continuing legion of teachers certified by the American Montessori Society and trained by the program that founded Montessori teacher education in the United States 40 years ago. Since 1965, the University has graduated about 1,600 Montessori teachers.

In the early 1960s, Montessori-based education was not well known in the U.S. outside of New York, where the American Montessori Society was founded. Martha McDermott was teaching at Ohio’s first Montessori school in Cleveland, while Hilda Rothschild, an early Montessori educator, opened Cincinnati’s first Montessori school. Interest in Montessori education was growing, and they needed teachers to fill the demand. So in 1965, Rothschild convinced Raymond McCoy, then dean of Xavier’s graduate school, to start a Montessori teacher education program. Rothschild brought McDermott to Xavier to teach in the lab school and the graduate program. Since then, Xavier has been at the forefront of Montessori teacher education nationwide.

“Xavier was the foundation of Montessori,” says McDermott. “Hilda Rothschild saw that this training needed a university base and came to Xavier. The University took a risk.”

By 1975, Xavier had secured a grant and, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Public Schools, opened the first public Montessori school in the country. It still operates as Sands Montessori.

Beth Bronsil has taken the program even further since becoming director in 1978. She helped mainstream the Montessori method into the public schools in Cincinnati and across the Midwest. She’s also worked with Taiwan and Korean school officials who regularly send tour groups of teachers to visit the Montessori schools in Cincinnati.

Most people who experience Montessori are smitten by its caring, child-centered approach. Developed by Italian doctor and educator Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, the method focuses on developing the whole child through respect and hands-on experiential learning. She believed children build themselves from their environment, and her work with institutionalized and poor children showed all children can benefit from that approach.

Montessori schools today are marked by their multi-age classrooms, open carpeted spaces and quiet reading areas. “In a traditional school, you sit at a desk and wait for others to finish, but in Montessori, you go on and learn more,” says Clayton, who moved to a traditional school after second grade. “When I was switched, I knew there was a difference, and Montessori offered a lot that I missed.”

Now, 40 years later, Bronsil notes the interest in Montessori education continues unabated. Nationally, there are about 1,000 schools. But she worries about the effect of mandated testing on the quality of Montessori schools. She recently spent time with students from Cincinnati’s Clark Montessori High School and was struck by their maturity and knowledge. Most had been in Montessori since preschool, and it made her think of Rothchild’s vision 40 years ago.

“We’ve been growing these children since they were 3 years old and look at the results,” she says. “Hilda would be so excited to think that children are coming out of Montessori schools that care about the environment, politics, human rights and their own development, and that’s what we don’t want to give up.”

Xavier Faces

Helen Huber
Music Series
Huber, who is in her 30th year at Xavier, is a staff assistant for John Heim, S.J., the director for the Xavier piano, guitar and swing series. Together they coordinate and promote all of the music series events that take place throughout the year. Huber first came to Xavier in 1974 as secretary to the director for the parents club. She enjoys gardening and working in the yard when she’s not listening to piano, guitar or swing music.

Gene Beaupré
Government Relations
Beaupré, who is in his 30th year at Xavier, has several roles: He teaches a sophomore-level class in the political science honors program; he’s director for philanthropy; and he’s director for government relations. He says, “working in the political world gives great perspective on teaching students politics.” To escape the world of politics, Beaupré enjoys gathering with friends for bicycle trips, some of which span nearly 400 miles.

Joann Hazley
Dining Services
Hazley, who is in her 30th year at Xavier, began working at the University as a chef. Today, she is in charge of staffing, taking inventory and managing the finances for dining services. In 1999, her job became less chaotic when the dining center moved from the University Center to the Cintas Center, where space constraints are no longer an issue. Outside of Xavier, she enjoys spending time with her seven grandchildren and her friends.

Clint Schertzer
Schertzer, who is in his 30th year at Xavier, teaches courses on marketing research, marketing planning and analysis, and marketing strategy at the M.B.A. level. He says he tries to “instill the importance of a lifetime of learning, because then students will never become ‘out of date’ despite changes in the environment or field that the graduates are working in.” Schertzer also enjoys reading, skiing and scuba diving.

X Days

Campus was a busy place this spring, with visits from people famous to funny. Musician Ben Folds rocked campus in a concert that raised money for juvenile diabetes; comedian Dane Cook, who was named top new comedian by Rolling Stone and “Comedy Central,” tossed out jokes from his recent CD “Harmful if Swallowed”; Princeton professor of theology Cornel West helped create a dialogue on diversity; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the top Catholic official for interreligious dialogue, enlightened people onNostra Aetate, the declaration of relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions; Paul Rusesabagina, the real manager of the Hotel Rwanda who saved more than 1,200 people from certain death, offered insights into his country’s continuing struggles; U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao talked about President Bush’s proposed Social Security reform plan; Aaron Feuerstein, the forner CEO of the company that created Polartec Fleece who became a role model for corporate responsibility after he continued to pay his 3,000 employees after his factory burned down, spoke on ethics.


When the Lima Symphony Orchestra needed a grand finale for a scheduled performance with the Clark Montessori Steel Drum Band, the conductor knew just whom to call: Kaleel Skeirik. The Lima ensemble was planning to perform Skeirik’s “Caribbean Voyage,” a work premiered two years ago by the steel drum band and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, so the chair of the University’s department of music was a natural choice.

But this time, instead of creating from scratch, Skeirik’s task was to take an up-tempo, two-and-a-half minute Latin-inflected piece by Clark director Bruce Weil and transform it into an orchestral work. “They said, ‘We want it to go on forever—seven or eight minutes,’ ” Skeirik recalls. “So I added in a lot of new stuff.”

The result was “Loadin’ the Truck,” a work that combines symphonic sections with space for improvisation and even dance by members of the steel drum band. The name, Skeirik says, derives from the work’s energetic feel. “The Clark kids have to load their steel drums into the truck every time they have to go to play,” he says. “So we wrote a piece that felt like loading the truck.”

“Loadin’ the Truck” premiered March 6 in Lima. Plans call for the piece to be performed by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra in the near future.

The Mother Zone

In an English class a few years ago, a student of professor Trudelle Thomas’ talked about balancing motherhood and work. She showed raw photos of her child’s birth and the baby nursing at her breast. Though shocked, the students jumped into a debate about how society, men and Christianity view women’s bodies. Thomas was so intrigued she decided to write a book. Spirituality in the Mother Zone explores a woman’s need for spiritual renewal even as she dishes out copious amounts of love, patience and wisdom to her children. Thomas wrote the book to help women know they don’t have to be society’s “perfect mother” but can take charge of their lives by listening to their deeper selves. “It’s about trusting your spirit, your wisdom and God’s presence in your life.”

The Best Medicine

John Baum is a happy guy. And as the owner of Bethany Nursing Home in Canton, Ohio, the 1974 graduate wants to ensure those around him are happy as well. All of which goes a long way toward explaining why Bethany is home to one of the first laughter clubs in the United States.

If the idea of a laughter club elicits a chuckle, good for you. Medical researchers are taking an increasingly serious view of the ways in which a positive outlook can impact people’s health.

Time magazine devoted a cover story to the subject, which mentioned Baum’s group.

And while they’re still relatively scarce in the United States, laughter clubs have caught on elsewhere. Founded in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a Mumbai physician and entrepreneur, the clubs are built around laughter yoga, a series of specific techniques designed to make participants laugh, and thus reduce stress. One news service estimates more than 3,500 such clubs exist globally.

The Bethany group started in 2000. In the sessions, participants may pretend they’re riding a rollercoaster or imagine they’re angry, then laugh the feeling away. “Our activities director read about laughter yoga and contacted a guy from Europe,” Baum says. “She approached us about starting a club. And it really took off. It’s wonderful stuff.”

So wonderful that Baum’s staff decided not to keep all the fun to themselves. Bethany sponsors a weekly laughter club for fourth graders at a nearby elementary school. “Some of the kids end up with an adopted grandparent here,” Baum says.

For all of his enthusiasm, Baum himself isn’t a member of the laughter club. “I make a fool of myself in plenty of other situations—that’s no problem,” he says. “I don’t need a special time of the day. But I’m so proud of what we do. You don’t walk in and feel like you’re in a nursing home. People enjoy themselves here. It’s not just a happy place. It’s a good place.”

Taking the Plunge

Shortly before 10:00 a.m. on Sept. 2, Brian Doherty was driving along the northwest side of Indianapolis when a white flower delivery van ahead of him swerved off the road into a retention pond.

Doherty, a 1994 graduate, immediately pulled over, removed his suit coat and dove into the water to save the van’s driver, 57-year-old Michael Bates, who police later determined suffered a diabetic seizure. Two other bystanders joined him, and what they thought would be a quick rescue operation turned into something much more complicated.

A bewildered Bates was uncooperative, the doors wouldn’t open, and as they were attempting to pull him from the open driver’s side window, the van began to sink into the 20-foot-deep water. Fortunately, they were able to unbuckle Bates’ seatbelt underwater and break through the back window to pull him out before the van became completely submerged.

To show his appreciation, Bates nominated Doherty and his fellow rescuers to the Indiana Red Cross Hall of Fame. Since then, they’ve exchanged Christmas cards and phone calls.

“Without the teamwork, he would not have made it,” Doherty says. “It was scary seeing somebody who was in such trouble, and we were not sure if we were going to be able to save him. It serves as a wake up call to appreciate life and the special little moments life offers.”

Take Two

On Feb. 11, Jim Miller, an adult undergraduate student, made good on his threat to take his international property reclamation and computer skills to Iraq and landed at Baghdad International Airport on a C130 transport plane. Now he lives in a trailer in the secured Green Zone of Baghdad and works for the U.S. State Department as an advisor to Iraqi on property reclamation and ownership issues. It’s the same work he did in Bosnia in 1996 and 2001, as detailed in the summer 2004 issue of Xaviermagazine. He expects to be in Baghdad at least a year.

School of Hope

The River Niger flows by the village of Agenebode in west Nigeria. It’s quiet here, and Sister Fidelia Nnenna Chukwu likes to stand at the entrance of the Father Piotin School, where she is the principal, and watch the water flow past. It brings her peace, especially on days when the frustrations of her job overwhelm her. “Nature is at its best here,” she says.

Unfortunately, it is the peacefulness of the geography that’s the source of her troubles. There is no road through the town and no bridge to the other side. Its residents must get there by boat, and as a result there is no development and no real economy. Though she exudes courage, optimism and hope, she admits that since returning to the school after two years at Xavier earning a master’s degree in educational administration, she’s found only frustration.

Every day, she walks across the dusty courtyard of packed orange dirt, puts on her faithful smile and welcomes the 500 children in their bright blue uniforms to the school —a long, low unfinished cement building with no windows, doors and, in many places, roof. There is no bathroom, just an outhouse with corrugated tin doors and no running water.

“It is sad to look at the environment where teaching and learning take place,” she says. “There’s no protection, no security. My office is mobile—I carry things back and forth. I have the desire to practice all that I have learned, but only God can make it real. I don’t know where to begin.”

Fidelia was the first to attend Xavier from her order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., agreed to sponsor the sisters from Nigeria who wanted to earn their master’s degrees and return to improve the schools back home.

Fidelia was at Xavier two years, but she became a fixture with her bright Nigerian clothing and her penchant for bursting into song. “She was just like an ambassador of God here,” says John Cooper, director for graduate services.

The opportunity to put her new-found knowledge to work occurred as soon as she resumed leadership of the school, started in 1991 by the village grandmothers. But she still has to deal with the everyday things that drain her emotionally.

“I feel so bad when the kids come around to ask me for drinking water and I have nothing to offer. As soon as I am able to purchase a car, I can bring in some water for them to drink.”

She’s trying to start a capital campaign for structural improvements—water tanks, roofs, doors, windows—and a daily meal. She imagines a celebration on the school grounds near the peaceful River Niger.

Radio Waves

The University sold WVXU and the X-Star Radio Network for $15 million in March to the private owners of WGUC. The University turned down a larger offer to assure the station stayed locally owned and programming remained the same.

“The sale of WVXU was a tough but very necessary decision by the board of trustees,” says University President Michael J. Graham, S.J. “The sale will allow us to better serve our mission of preparing students by helping to fund the strategic plan and campus expansion. Part of that is the James E. Hoff, S.J., Academic Quadrangle, a living-learning center that will enhance our ability to educate students in the 21st century.”