Educator, Build Plant Grow
“I began teaching eighth grade Religion and Social Studies at St. John Vianney School in 1977. In 2009, our pastor at the time, Tony Mancuso, introduced me this fantastic program, and I’ve been using it ever since,” says Kathleen Mary Cook, a lifetime devoted and passionate teacher of religion in the San Jose area.
Mancuso was formerly the Ethics Center's associate director of Character Education, and the program Cook so enthusiastically references is the Build.Plant.Grow curriculum (BPG), which he wrote. Weekly lessons plans integrate the teachings of the Gospel with character education and bring the Scriptures to life through literature, serving as a model for those wishing to live their best lives as Christians.
As a volunteer catechist at a variety of South Bay parishes and churches for nearly 50 years, Cook takes joy in her role as volunteer director of Religious Education at St. John’s. Build. Plant. Grow. has not only transformed Cook’s life as an educator, but the hundreds of students she has taught there over nearly a decade, many of whom have gone on to become writers, teachers, and Catechists for the BPG program itself. “I have a great passion and love for what Tony does. I don’t think he realizes the impact he has," she comments.
Cook was born and raised in San Jose, graduated from San Jose State University, and considers herself a natural teacher. Her favorite verse, “Let the children come to me,” (Mathew 19:14), is the perfect anthem for devotion to religious teaching, a passion, she proudly reflects, also shared by her family. Her son Kristopher has an Ed.D. in Catholic Education Leadership and is the professional development coordinator at Serra High School in San Mateo. Her daughter-in-law Jennifer teaches at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco. Cook’s dedication was recognized in 2015, when she won the Pope Pius X Award from the Diocese of San Jose in recognition of her 40 years of service.
“Kindness, Honor, Compassion. These are all concepts I teach with the aid of the BPG program,” Cook says, explaining that assigned readings, creative expression, and discussion all lead to a comprehensive approach her students can appreciate and understand. "Today’s students are tech savvy, so online readings and web resources are incorporated into lesson plans, keeping stride with the pace of Silicon Valley."
Books are the foundation of BPG's impact, instilling in students not only a love of reading, but life lessons and, of course, values, such as kindness and, in popular terms, "paying it forward." Cook explains, for example, that Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed is a current reading that supports the concept of Beatitudes. "Gospel from the Bible is very difficult reading. Children can read it over and over and not get it. BPG breaks it down.”
The multi-touch approach is one of the hallmarks of the BPG experience. Once a concept has been fully introduced, students have already discussed it in small groups, completed required readings, crafted a sketch or drawing, made a presentation, and written an informal report. It is this comprehensive and dynamic approach that makes BPG popular not only with instructors like Cook and her students, but with parents, who frequently participate in lesson plans with their kids at home as well.
Cook ends all her classes by incorporating learning into thoughts and actions moving forward. “What can you do now, today?" she asks her students, waiting with new anticipation each time to hear their answers.