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May 10, 2011
From Boys to Men

At the end of each ”Men of Integrity” class at Central Catholic High School, a Marianist school for boys in San Antonio, an unusual scene unfolds. The instructor asks the students, “Gentlemen, what is my job?”

“To love us,” they reply in unison.

“And what is your job?” he asks.

“To love each other,” they respond. They are enacting a scene from author Jeffrey Marx’s book, Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood – the story of Joe Ehrmann, a professional football player turned minister. By the tone of their voices, the students are more than mouthing the words. “There’s real emotion, passion and sincerity in it,” says Edward Ybarra, principal and 1983 alum, who began co-teaching the class this year.

The course is the brainchild of Ybarra, in collaboration with Jordan Lee, the high school speech teacher, who drew their inspiration from Ehrmann’s life story. Ybarra says that boys are bombarded by messages of “false masculinity” that suggest that athletic prowess, sexual conquest and economic gain are the measures of manhood. But young men need to learn a different set of values that equip them to become “trustworthy husbands, loving fathers and men of integrity,” says Ybarra.

Men with a mission

According to Ybarra, building men of integrity is all encompassing.We’re doing everything possible to educate these young men to succeed, not just in their careers, but in life.”

This starts with teaching students to see beyond themselves. “We explain that when your goals are self-focused, it’s a lonely world out there,” says Ybarra. “All you think about is ‘me.’ That’s false masculinity.

“But when you become a man for others, you develop relationships and you build the values of trust, honesty and love. That’s our mission. Father Chaminade said it best: ‘We are all missionaries.’”

The course supports the Marianist mission “because it’s about Marianist education – being an intellectual scholar and helping the community,” says Marianist Father Patrick McDaid, campus minister at the school. Jordan Lee agrees. “We’re preparing these young men to be somebody who offers something to the world. Jesus asks us to improve the lives of others and, as I tell them in the first class, to help somebody else have a cool day.”

According to Lee, upperclassmen grasp the characteristics of a Marianist education, but younger students struggle with application of the principles. Ybarra says, “What better way to build a foundation than with a freshman class? This is the time to form what they will become.”

So the two created a fusion of speech class, a freshman requirement, with Men of Integrity. Every two weeks, Principal Ybarra gives a presentation on topics relating to the theme. Lee then uses the topics in teaching the fundamentals of public speaking.

The course uses religion and literature to complement the curriculum, drawing upon real-life applications for theories and themes. “It is a practical approach that offers our students tangible examples of what it means to serve and love others,” Lee says.

Real men dare to care

The Central Catholic students learn that caring for others is manly, which gives them permission to act on impulses of kindness or conscience. Trey Gonzalez III recalls seeing a classmate who often sat alone at lunch. He invited the boy to his own table of friends. Trey says that reading about a similar incident in Season of Life gave him the courage to act. He keeps a notebook of quotes from class. His favorite: “God is action.”

Trey’s classmates, Alec Boggess, Edward Ramirez and Ray Cortez, also are impressed with Principal Ybarra’s participation, saying that he keeps it upbeat and understands them because he was a student at the school. All agree that the discussions are making them better brothers, friends, sons and students – and hopefully better husbands and dads in the future.

“We’re excited because we’re imagining when these freshmen are seniors,” says Ybarra. “What type of school is this going to be four years from now, when every student has completed Men of Integrity?” He is considering ways to expand the program to upper grades to reinforce the message: Real men dare to care.

Patricia Padilla is a freelance writer from San Antonio.

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