At the beginning of every semester, Linda LaPlume works with her students in order to create a curriculum which reflects their interests. Recent topics have included Catholic environmental ethics and the importance of family heritage on individual identity.
“The important thing is to see every child as being intellectually capable, and to make it so that everything is of the child’s creation,” LaPlume says. Her dedication to innovative approaches to early childhood education has earned her this year’s Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Catholic Education.
LaPlume, a Smithfield native and a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Hope Valley, began her career as a Catholic educator in 1996. Although she worked at two other diocesan schools before coming to St. Joseph’s in West Warwick, she has never considered teaching any grade besides kindergarten.
“I wouldn’t go to any other level,” she says, laughing. “If you want to see a child look up at you in awe, all you have to do is sit in on a kindergarten class.”
In LaPlume’s classroom, students are allowed to “feed their interests” in order to develop a lasting love for learning.
“If you don’t form a foundation at a young age, they can lose their sense of curiosity,” LaPlume warns.
Intellectual curiosity isn’t the only virtue which LaPlume hopes to inspire in her young charges through her lessons — she also strives to encourage them to make as much of a difference in the world as possible. One cause which is particularly important to LaPlume, and one which she has worked extensively to promote at St. Joseph’s, is caring for the environment.
“Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Linda has led not only her class but the whole student body with efforts to reuse and recycle,” says Father Gregory Stowe, the pastor of St. Joseph’s. “Through her coordination, we are beginning a composting program for luncheon waste which normally goes into the dumpster.”
Another environmental program which LaPlume has spearheaded is the construction of a pollination garden on school grounds. Working with Principal Erin Clark, and drawing on funds provided by the Alan Shawn Feinstein Foundation, LaPlume hopes the garden will serve as a suitable habitat for a colony of mason bees, important pollinators that could help to make the entire town of West Warwick a little greener.
LaPlume’s approach of both teaching and learning from her students has made her a fixture in the St. Joseph’s community, and Father Stowe hopes she will continue to bless them for many years to come.