Middle school kids like to experiment, and occasionally they try out new words. Those words, the ones you can’t put in a newspaper, that sometimes crop up on playgrounds.
Which is what happened at St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic School in Grosse Pointe Park. When the school’s new principal Sister Kathy Avery heard that there was some swearing on the playground, she decided to draw from her experience elsewhere to take a direct approach to stopping it.
After mass late last month, she had the fifth- through eighth-graders stay in church a little longer. Then she informed them she had a zero-tolerance policy for swearing.
And to make sure the kids knew exactly what she was talking about, Avery read a list of words and phrases that she was banning, including a few that would make many grown-ups blush.
“It got a little quiet in church,” Avery said.
“Sometimes I think children don’t know what words to use, they use them because they’ve heard them from other people,” Avery said. “I think they knew that I drew the line.”
The students told their parents about the lecture. And in the St. Clare community, known for being a bit conservative, some parents were shocked, but others applauded.
“In a way you would think a nun would shy away from something like that, but she’s very open with the children, very clear in her messages,” said Margaret Roache, chairperson of the school commission, whose sixth-grade son was there when Avery read the list of banned words.
“When I asked him to give me a sample of it, he said, ‘Oh, no, I can’t say it!’ ” Roache said. “I thought it was great.”
Avery isn’t surprised that the students listened. She’d done the same thing in two previous schools, in Sioux City, Iowa, and Pikesville, Ky.
“I’m not saying that it’s an easy thing to do, it’s just something that I thought was absolutely necessary,” said Avery, who also has banned the words stupid and boring. “I’m not saying we had a terrible language problem. It’s just that you start hearing words — and they’re offensive.”