Catholic school students at several grade levels are learning about organ and blood donation, studying the working of the human body, finding out about careers in medical and non-profit organizations, and hearing the stories of local people touched by selfless acts of donation. These learning opportunities are made possible by schools’ partnerships with Unyts, Western New York’s only organ, eye, tissue and community blood center.
Organ and blood donation are in keeping with the teachings of the church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity” when the donor or a proxy has given consent. In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II called organ donation an act of “self-giving love for others,” noting that it can offer “a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.”
Unyts is partnering with several STREAM pilot schools in the Diocese of Buffalo, including the Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls, Nativity of Our Lord School in Orchard Park, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew, Ss. Peter & Paul School in Williamsville, St. Joseph School in Batavia, and St. Mary’s School in Swormville. Unyts’ six-module program ties in with several aspects of the STREAM model, which emphasizes science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics.
Students learn about the functions performed by human organs, as well as the reasons for organ failure. They also learn about the components of blood and how they work in the body. Nutrition and creating healthy habits are another focus of the program. Unyts arranges for guest speakers to visit classrooms and talk about how they or a loved one benefitted from an organ or tissue transplant, or for family members to relate the stories of organ donors. Professionals from Unyts also speak to students regarding careers in the medical industry and the non-profit sector. The programming concludes with an opportunity for students to share their newfound knowledge by creating a public presentation or display.
“As a STREAM school, we are always seeking out different avenues to enhance the learning experience in our classrooms,” said sixth-grade teacher Mary Champoux of the Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls. “The Unyts program, under the guidance of Mrs. Tiffany Alexander-Childs has provided a link for my students to better understand the work of Unyts, as well as look ahead and consider this type of work as a career path.”
Champoux continued, “The lessons are specifically planned to enhance the required curriculum, and done so in a way that actively engages the students to fully explore the modules. My students are actively involved in discussions and demonstrations, and look forward to preparing for the next topic. The impact of this program was evident from the first meeting. This program has created a desire to learn and connect this learning to real world experiences.”
“Feedback has been fantastic, and there’s been a high level of engagement at the schools,” said Ryan Daley, Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Unyts. “We hope to expand to additional classroom-based programming in more schools next year.”
At the high school level, many students are involved with the Donate Life Club, a Unyts-sponsored program that allows students to create an educational campaign to increase awareness about donation. This club is a service and leadership club as well, and an opportunity for students to earn community service hours. Students also have opportunities to establish themselves as giving members of the community through the support of blood drives and through blood donation. All blood donated through Unyts stays in Western New York to help local patients in local hospitals.
Among the schools with Donate Life clubs are Bishop Timon-St. Jude, Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, Canisius High School, Cardinal O’Hara, Immaculata Academy, Mount Mercy Academy, Mount St. Mary Academy, Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and St. Mary's High School.
“I believe Mount Mercy Academy's partnership with Unyts has benefited our students, school and community,” said Assistant Principal Catherine Adair Luhr, who serves as advisor for her school’s Donate Life Club. “The program assists students in recognizing the need to give back through organ, tissue and blood donation. Through our participation in Unyts, the young women of Mercy have become more compassionate members of society by giving the gift of life.”