Local pastor mentors entire fourth-grade class

VIRGINIA BLACK
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - About a dozen boys are sitting on the floor on this Monday afternoon, holding in their hands copies of old photos.

In front of them, the Rev. Steve Schwier has drawn a rough, markered approximation of the St. Joseph River on the whiteboard in front of him. He tosses out questions to the fourth-graders: "What do you think that big building is?" "Can you make out the names of the streets?"

Hands shoot up, and the McKinley Primary Center pupils make observations about buggies and stores and old movie theaters. Their eyes widen at the story of John Dillinger, the infamous bandit whose last robbery was at a downtown bank in 1934.

The be-sweatered man who they call Mr. Steve is chatting with the group as a mentor -- of John Hensler's entire fourth-grade class.

Schwier, the pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church on Cleveland Road, has mentored fourth-grade boys for the last few years. His mentoring career began about five years ago in a more common way, with one student over lunch and then shooting hoops in the gym once a week. But he found that more and more boys tagged along.

"Then I finally said, 'How about I do a whole class?' " he recalls.

It's an arrangement that seems to work.

Hensler, the only male teacher at McKinley, has taught a boys-only class for the last few years. McKinley has two boys-only classes, and two for girls.

"It's worked out so well that he just comes year after year," Hensler says of Schwier. "He's just great. I can't say enough good things about him coming down here to help the boys."

Schwier starts out the year spending one-on-one time with the pupils as they grow to know each other, then addresses the whole group. He shows up at school concerts and makes time for their annual trek to Camp Eberhart at the end of the year.

"They always ask if Mr. Steve is coming," Hensler says. "He's done so much for them."

Schwier says his church has sort of adopted the diverse student population of McKinley, such as raising money for after-school programs, hosting a staff appreciation lunch and holding food drives for the families.

For the 64-year-old Schwier, whose own two children are grown, mentoring seemed a natural way to contribute.

Terrence, 9, says of Mr. Steve, "It's really fun because he talks about things we don't already know."

Nick, also 9, adds, "At the winter concert, he came and saw us."

Nicole Riles, McKinley's family and community school specialist, is a bit more eloquent.

"When you walk past the classroom and he's in there, the students are attentive. They're paying attention to what he's doing," she says. "It's wonderful. Just the interaction is wonderful."

Part of Riles' job is to coordinate mentors and readers in the school. Right now, only about 10 to 12 visit regularly. She wishes more adults would take on the commitment, even as little as 20 minutes a week, to read to a child or a group or simply get to know them over lunch.

Men are especially in short supply.

"I think that you just have to love children, have that purpose in your mind and in your heart," Riles says of the only requirement beyond that of time. "I think the pastor has that."

For his part, Schwier might hang up his pastor's robes in the next several years.

Yet "I think when I finally retire, this is one of the things I'll do even more," he says. "I think this is one of the most effective uses of my time."

Recent feedback

As you might imagine, reaction to last week's column on uncovered leggings/tights was all over the place on the Tribune's Facebook page. Here's a sample:

Stacia Michalak: I'm quite sure when we look back at pictures of our teenage years we all ask "how did my parents let me walk out of the house like this?" As we may not agree with all the fashion these days, it is what it is!

Lilya Ouksel: Either put all the kids in uniforms or stop policing teenaged girls as though their thighs are sooooo sexual they CANNOT BE SEEN.

Lori L Schweizer: My 14 yr old wears them (with a kind of longer sweater) but, what's the difference between girls wearing leggings and yoga pants? Some yoga pants are super thin and some leggings are thick. It's alright to wear yoga pants and a tshirt (not long)? It's a fashion statement and if worn correctly by girls (big and small) it looks nice!

Shannon Stephens: I am 17 and would never wear this to school. I think it is inappropriate. At home is different. School is meant to mimic going to work, not lazing around the house.

Amy Chapman: It's fashion ... A trend ... If you don't like them, don't wear them. Please be nice. I'm sure your closet has things that are not for your body type but you like. It will pass. Get over yourself, it's not CANCER.

VBlack@SBTinfo.com

574-235-6321

The Rev. Steve Schwier, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in South Bend, mentors teacher John Hensler's fourth-grade class of all boys at McKinley Primary Center. "He's just great," Hensler says of Schwier's commitment. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)
The Rev. Steve Schwier, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in South Bend, mentors teacher John Hensler's fourth-grade class of all boys at McKinley Primary Center. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)

Volunteers are needed to have lunch with or read to a child in a South Bend school about once each week during the school year. Businesses and churches are encouraged to adopt a nearby school.

Background checks and a few hours of training are necessary. To apply or for more information, go to www.edfo.org/mentors.htm, or call 574-283-8072.