In 2018, Precious Amoah, a Brilla College Prep Middle School scholar, was chosen as the first Scholar of the Week for her sixth-grade class. Precious accepted her award in front of cheering classmates and staff. Some of her friends actually started crying for Precious out of joy and pride. Scholar of the Week is always an honor, but why did Precious evoke such an intense reaction from her teachers and peers?
Because many people who loved Precious knew just how far she’d come.
Beginning Brilla in first grade, Precious could not imagine she would be Scholar of the Week. She struggled academically and behaviorally. By fourth grade, she began to imagine a different future for herself. “I just thought, ‘I want Scholar of the Week.’” Two years later, she decided to work for it. “After fifth grade, I reflected on my actions and figured it was not the way to get Scholar of the Week. I changed my actions and began the new year excited about school.”
Our belief that human dignity is at the core of education means we view every child as a future “Scholar of the Week.” We know our scholars have the capacity; they just need to know they have it, too. But that realization doesn’t happen overnight—it takes time and intentional relationships. Seton Teaching Fellows, Brilla’s staff, peers, and Precious herself were all committed to building those personal relationships. As Precious transitioned to middle school, each of the regular and reciprocal relationships bore good fruit.
“She connected with female Fellows in a strong and significant way,” says John Lane, who managed the first middle school El Camino program. “It was a kind of passing off of the baton with the Fellows. Someone always stepped up to the plate and stayed connected to Precious.”
Teresa Blackman was one of the first Seton Teaching Fellows to establish a close relationship with Precious. “She developed a true love for Precious and always knew there was something more for her,” says Tess Lane, the national director of recruitment for Seton Teaching Fellows. Teresa hoped Precious might be able to participate in El Camino after working with her one-on-one in fourth grade. So, in fifth grade, when El Camino was just beginning at BCPM, Teresa encouraged her to sign up.
This decision ended up being a significant turning point for Precious.
“Precious is really special,” says former Fellow Kayla Keller, one of Precious’s El Camino teachers. “There was no one who had her kind of wisdom at her age. I don’t know why, but she is wise beyond her years. She would always surprise me. I learned early on not to expect to understand everything about her and not to anticipate how her day would be or what the day would bring. And her humor! She has a very dry, extremely clever, and socially-aware sense of humor.”
Precious also has tremendous empathy and insight.
Kayla explains that while she was Precious’s El Camino teacher, one of her friends was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. When they were discussing the life of Blessed Chiara Diamo and the concept of intercessory prayer, Kayla decided to tell her class about her friend so they could all pray for her and ask Blessed Chiara for a miracle. Kayla’s friend passed away that spring, and the next time the class prayed together, Precious said, “Saint Michelle, pray for us.” Kayla gently explained that her friend wasn’t a saint yet, but hopefully would be one day. “Then can we ask Holy Michelle to pray for us?” Precious replied.
Kayla’s brother passed away unexpectedly the following year, and her El Camino class gathered to pray for him. At the end of their prayer time, without any prompting, Precious added, “Holy Michelle, pray for us. Holy Joe, pray for us.”
To this day, it’s a request Precious still includes at the end of her prayers when she prays with other Seton Teaching Fellows.
One of the Fellows Precious continues to have a relationship with is Katie Fallon. Precious was in Katie’s seventh and eighth-grade El Camino classes. When Katie noticed that Precious would take a city bus home in the evenings at dusk, she offered to walk Precious to the bus stop and wait with her until the bus arrived.
“From there, we formed a bond,” Katie says. At first, Precious was pretty quiet, but before long, she had come out of her shell, and they were telling jokes and talking about everything, from My Little Pony to their favorite television shows.
Katie knew Precious was in El Camino for a few years, but had not received any of the sacraments. In the past, whenever a Fellow asked if Precious was interested in pursuing the sacraments, there was usually some hesitation on her part. However, once the El Camino class began discussing their Confirmation saints, Precious raised her hand and said confidently, “I want to get confirmed, too.”
Katie explained that Precious would need to receive the other sacraments first, and Precious was eager to do so. So Katie called Precious’s mom—who came to the United States from Ghana—to ask for her permission. Her mother agreed.
“I think her mom saw the impact the Seton Teaching Fellows had on Precious, and there was a trust created there,” John Lane explains. “She saw that it was good for her child. Everything that happened with Precious was relational. Katie walked her to the bus stop daily—the comfort her mother must have felt when she found that out.”
Precious was also very close to the Lanes and would have likely asked them to be her godparents if they hadn’t recently moved to Cincinnati to start Romero Academy at Resurrection. El Camino staff often encourage disciples to ask someone local to be their godparent so that the two can maintain an in-person relationship. Katie Fallon planned on staying in the area after her initial year of service as an STF, and she was honored when Precious asked her to be her godmother.
Katie took Precious on a shopping trip to pick out a white dress to celebrate the upcoming occasion. Soon Precious’s mother noticed the impact this relationship had on her daughter: “She loves her godmother. She loves so many teachers. She’s happy always, especially with her godmother.” Her mother also notes that since El Camino, Precious has attended church regularly and “commits herself to good things at home and school.”
When the Lanes heard that Precious would be receiving the sacraments, they knew they had to support her. John returned to the Bronx from Cincinnati to attend the Confirmation ceremony for the first eighth-grade class. He sat next to Precious and saw that “she had grown into a young lady. It was really, really powerful.”
“She came into the Church as a young adult,” John continues. For a disciple who had long seemed more mature than many of her peers, “it seemed fitting for her in a lot of ways.”
Precious and Katie have remained close. They see each other most Sundays at St. Rita of Cascia parish in the South Bronx. “Her attendance at Sunday Mass is supported by her relationship with Father Pablo as well,” Katie says, “and she is active in the youth group.”
Today, Precious recognizes El Camino had a profound impact on her spiritual life: “It made me pay more attention to God, especially once I finished El Camino. I used to never go to church every Sunday. Now, I want to go to church every Sunday. And most of the time, I want to see the Eucharist in adoration and go to confession.”
Precious is now a tenth-grader at Celia Cruz High School of Music, a specialized high school focusing on the arts. To attend this magnet high school for New York City youth, Precious had to prepare a detailed application and audition for the arts program (in music and dance).
During Precious’s time at Brilla and El Camino, those who loved and mentored her witnessed her growing in virtue—and once again, they saw her becoming more herself. Tess Lane describes her as “very intuitive” and “emotionally aware of the person in front of her. She’s hilarious. Magnanimous—she draws you in. There’s a depth to her that not many people have in middle school. When Precious would experience challenges, she was always so authentic. She would always be exactly who she is.”
Precious herself recognizes that middle school was a time of transformation demonstrating just how far she’d come. She claims that Brilla “made me tougher” and “helped me with my self-control. In fifth grade, I was very impatient and didn’t have solutions for handling strong emotions. Then, there was a social worker who taught me different things to do to help me keep patience. The school really humbled me because, in eighth grade, the friends I made along the way helped me to figure out who I really was.”
This level of self-knowledge that acknowledges inherent dignity and encourages children to—in the words of St. Catherine of Siena—“Be who God meant you to be” is an essential part of Seton’s mission.
And who Precious is happens to be someone others take tremendous joy in being around, both peers and adults alike. “Precious was never a ‘charity case’ for anyone,” Tess insists. “It was always a reciprocal relationship.”
She has “an incredible heart and wants to respond uniquely to each person,” Kayla adds.
Because intentional relationships and careful mentoring continued even after her time at Brilla, Precious was honored as a unique child of God. What an incredible example of what it means for Seton Teaching Fellows “to sign up to love”—and to be loved.
Looking back at that first awards day in sixth grade, John and Tess Lane reflect, “There were very few dry eyes in the house. She maturely stood up and was proud of herself.” From that point on, Precious “never backtracked. Scholar of the Week showed her she could do it.” And the knowledge that every child is precious will continue to animate all we do.