GREEN BAY — During the spring of last year, Katie Riesterer sent out a couple applications for teaching positions, but she was more interested in providing a year of service at her former grade school, St. Mary/St. Michael, Clarks Mills/Whitelaw. The structure was not in place for a volunteer opportunity at her alma mater, but a fortunate meeting on graduation day at St. Norbert College opened a different path to service.
Following commencement on May 12, 2013, a friend introduced Riesterer to Ellen Mommaerts, director of the Norbertine Volunteer Community. Mommaerts and Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, president of GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education), had previously discussed the possibility of a community member serving at a Green Bay Catholic school. Riesterer scheduled a meeting with Mommaerts for the following week. She later interviewed for the volunteer community at Camp Rokilio in Kiel, where she was working for the summer as camp director.
“I didn’t know anything about the volunteer community,” said Riesterer, who majored in education with a minor in language arts at St. Norbert. “It was totally the Holy Spirit bringing us together.”
“We weren’t sure how this was all going to function,” said Mommaerts. “I told Katie, ‘There will be a position for you at St. Thomas More School. We don’t know if you will be teaching full-time, but are you OK with helping with campus ministry types of things, working within classrooms tutoring kids, doing all those kinds of things?’ She agreed to that.”
Turns out Riesterer was needed in the classroom. She teaches language arts full-time to students in grades fifth through eighth.
“There were not enough kids enrolled to budget for a kindergarten, so the kindergarten teacher would have moved into fifth grade,” explained Riesterer, who is from Grimms, a small community in Manitowoc County. “So I was able to come in and free up that money so they could keep the kindergarten.”
Following the summer camp season, Riesterer moved into the Norbertine Volunteer Community house on Green Bay’s east side and began preparing for the school year.
“I had a week, week and a half,” she said. “I cleaned out the classroom. I took out a lot of old books. I have developed the curriculum. I had some lesson plans from last year (student teaching), but not much. It’s been a lot of work. Next year will be a lot easier teaching anywhere after getting a whole year in.”
Riesterer, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Manitowoc, has been resourceful in serving her students. She received a grant available to St. Norbert alumni from Old St. Joseph Church, St. Norbert College Parish, to purchase Chromebooks (tablet computers).
“I also have money for sets of chapter books for the class,” she said. “I can replenish a whole library, which is really cool.”
Riesterer explained that there is some freedom to teaching and not worrying about a paycheck.
“The coolest part is there is never a time when I’m thinking about money or I don’t get paid enough for this,” she said. “That’s never really going to happen again in my life, where you’re doing it for the kids and the mission of bringing Christ into the community.”
Parents when learning that Riesterer is a volunteer have commented, “Wow, you really believe in Catholic education,” which is affirming, she said.
Teaching and living in community with the two other members of the volunteer community have been a good fit. Riesterer tries not to bring work home on weeknights. She arrives at school early in the morning and does work on weekends.
“It’s not a stressful environment to come home to, very calming,” she said in reference to the volunteer community house. “It’s nice to talk to each other, since we all have such different jobs. It’s refreshing because I don’t have to talk about school. Everyone has a positive attitude at the house.”
The housemates contribute to the cooking and cleaning. Riesterer, who admits to having limited cooking experience, has discovered that making meals can be soothing. It’s one of many lessons from the past five months.
“I’ve learned to be more patient, finding God in quiet times because life is so busy,” she said. “That’s something I really needed. I’ve found more ways to just spend quiet time with God. I also sing a lot more. I don’t know why that is. When we are at the house, we are always playing music and singing.”
Riesterer is open to a teaching position at St. Thomas More or another Catholic school for 2014-15. Mommaerts is exploring ways to create an ongoing partnership between the volunteer community and the Catholic schools.
“We are hoping that there will be a position to offer Katie,” said Mommaerts. “We are trying to figure out ways to make people more aware that these positions do exist and we have the opportunity to partner with the Catholic schools in Green Bay to do this, particularly schools like St. Thomas More that are most in need.”
In the meantime, Riesterer continues to appreciate her opportunity to serve.
“I’ve been enjoying everything,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m burned out. One of the coolest things is I really like coming here every day.”