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January 5, 2020, Sylvania, Ohio – Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was named Eco-Educator of 2020 by Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (SAVE), an environmental organization based at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Lourdes University is sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters.
Eco-Educator is one of five awards presented by SAVE to honor those who are involved in enhancing environmental sustainability.
“It’s nice to be honored, to be recognized for this work,” Sister Corinne said. “One of our hopes for the permaculture site [at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse] is that it’ll grow as an education site. It was nice to have that recognized and brought to attention.”
Permaculture is a system of land use that takes into account environmental sustainability, working with – and learning from – natural systems. Maintained by Sister Corinne and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, the permaculture site has already been used as a venue for educating others about the environment.
Beginning in 2017, students from Siena Heights University in Adrian and Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida – both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters – spent 10 days to two weeks each spring participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE). They learned about permaculture and other environmentally sustainable practices and gained first-hand experience from working at the permaculture site. The 2020 ELE program was canceled because of the pandemic.
“It’s one of the most exciting times we have each year,” Sister Corinne said. The students “have to apply to be accepted, so they’re very motivated, and they go back to their college campuses to implement various environmental practices. It’s a wonderful adventure. It’s part of our hope for the permaculture garden being an educational site.”
In a typical Fall semester, Jared teaches a class of Siena Heights students for one hour per week, giving them opportunities to work in the permaculture site and learn from the experience. “I’m under no illusion that they’ll want to become small-scale farmers,” he said. Typically, they graduate and enter other fields. “But they have some kind of literacy about what our farming system is like,” he added. “Having a society with more literacy [in agricultural practices] seems worthwhile to me.”
In the spring of 2019, sixth-grade students from an elementary school in Lenawee County, Michigan, came to the Motherhouse to participate in the River Raisin Water Festival. Hosted by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and organized in collaboration with the River Raisin Institute, the River Raisin Watershed Council, and Lenawee Intermediate School District, the event focused on topics such as habitat restoration, marsh bird management, macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies and mayflies, and rain gardens.
Canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, the River Raisin Water Festival is in the planning stages to be held virtually in May 2021. “The presenters have agreed to work virtually with the students,” Sister Corinne said. “Our hope is to distribute the recordings to other schools.”
Along with these formal educational opportunities, Sister Corinne said she and Jared are also open to offering tours for groups and to community education programs.
Sister Corinne said she became passionate about environmental sustainability through a process of awakening. “Our lifestyles have not been healthy for the planet, and I think once you realize that, everyone gets passionate about trying to reshape lifestyles and habits and getting into a right relationship with Earth,” she said. “I think it’s an awakening.”
Both Sister Corinne and Jared have hope for the future – for a time when human beings will be more respectful to Earth and develop more sustainable lifestyles. “Humans have the capacity to be successful when they put their hearts and minds into it,” Sister Corinne said. Healing the planet “is going to require a continued and strong commitment to lifestyle changes, but if you can get people to do that, I think we can make an impact.”
“We’ve got some rough sledding, for sure, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying it’s the end of the world,” Jared said. “In these periods of history where everything changes at once and all the certainties go up in the air, it’s a time to try new things, new ways for humans to live.” He gave the example of people who, after spending almost a year working from home, “might realize they don’t have to commute an hour to the office or want to spend more time with their kids.”
Sister Corinne hopes the permaculture site can be a place where people can come to learn more about the environment and about sustainable practices. “We’ve had a lot of different groups each year that have come for touring,” she said. “We’re open to community education programs. They have yet to be developed, but are part of the vision for the site.”
For information or to arrange for a tour, contact Sister Corinne at 517-266-3420.
Feature photo: Sister Carol Coston, OP, left, who was instrumental in the founding of the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus, poses with Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability.
December 18, 2020, Chicago – Adult literacy students are known for their persistence. Many learn English as a second language or improve their reading or writing skills under challenging circumstances. For Areej, an adult learner from Bethlehem in Palestine, and her tutor, Sister Joan Mary, OP, those setbacks have been more numerous than most during just over a year of working together.
A tutor at Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, Sister Joan explained, “Areej came to me at Aquinas Literacy Center to learn English,” Areej’s first language is Arabic. “She’s very eager to learn and is just a wonderful student.”
They began their one-on-one tutoring sessions in October 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary shut-down of Aquinas. When the literacy center reopened in September, Sister Joan said, many of the tutoring pairs met remotely, via Zoom. However, because Areej did not have access to a computer, she and Areej met in person – but with a table and a sheet of plastic between them.
“We met at a time that I was given, when nobody else was there, because that’s how they managed it,” Sister Joan said. “It was very difficult. [Literacy students] have to see your mouth and hear how the words are pronounced – and I was wearing a mask, and so was she.”
Areej faced another setback when she learned that her mother – who was going to travel from Bethlehem to help her with her baby boy, Rami – was stopped at the Palestine border and not allowed to leave the country.
Still, Sister Joan said, she and Areej persisted – until Areej went to Bethlehem to be with her family. She had taken Rami for an extended visit with her mother and other family members.
The two now conduct their weekly tutoring sessions via Zoom remotely – at a distance of 6,185 miles and an eight-hour time difference. “Areej has the use of a computer in Palestine, so I’m able to meet her by Zoom,” Sister Joan said. “The cute part about it is that every once in awhile, somebody from the family comes in to see the teacher.”
When the Internet connections work, she said, the tutoring sessions work out well. “I have to hold the book up and I make flash cards and hold them up to the screen,” she said. “We’re on lesson 9 of the book and ready to go on.”
Sister Joan expects that when Areej returns to Chicago, possibly early in the new year, they’ll meet in yet a different way – remotely through an iPad. Thanks to a successful Giving Tuesday campaign, Aquinas Literacy Center raised $10,050 – exceeding its goal of $6,260 – to cover the cost of 10 iPads for use by its adult learners.
“The student has the use of the iPad during the time that they’re studying English at the Center,” Sister Joan explained. “When they leave, they hand it in like they would a rental book. It’ll be so much easier [to connect through an iPad] than in person with masks.”
The ultimate hope, of course, is to return to meeting in person – without masks and without fear of spreading the virus. Yet, whether meeting remotely in the Chicago area or across 6,185 miles, Areej and Sister Joan plan to continue their work together. “She’s very eager about learning English,” Sister Joan said.
Feature photo: Sister Joan Mary, OP, left, and her student Areej pose during an early tutoring session (pre-COVID).