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Saint Thomas Academy’s Zenner Wins First Place in the University of Notre Dame 2020 Teaching Human Dignity Contest

Kevin Zenner, the chair of the theology department at Saint Thomas Academy, has received first place in the curriculum resource category of the University of Notre Dame Teaching Human Dignity contest. The contest was sponsored by the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity in the McGrath Institute for Church Life.

Contest applicants were challenged to develop instructional plans and materials that address life and human dignity issues to create a rich, powerful learning experience for high school students. The contest elicited over 60 submissions from pre-service and in-service educators teaching grades 9-12. Submitted materials covered a variety of subject areas including English, theology, math, science, social studies and Spanish.

Zenner’s curriculum resource, “Get a Job! Project,” helps students more fully understand homelessness and poverty. Many students don’t comprehend how far a paycheck needs to stretch and think that those who are homeless could just get a job at McDonald’s. This project has students find an actual advertised job for a fictitious Mary with her two children. They must also find healthcare (online) and account for groceries for a week based on a developed menu, daycare and a vehicle to transport the family. Once they go through this project, they realize that a fast-food salary cannot pay for daycare for the children. This leads to discussions on how to help those who are poor, how to help with daycare, obtaining additional education, and what the state should do to keep children out of the cycle of poverty.

The contest judges, all current or former teachers, were especially impressed with Zenner’s resource:

“The project might prove challenging for students, but in a way that is meaningful and with enough support that they should be able to rise to the challenge.”

“This resource allows for nuance and discussion while presenting the Catholic perspective in a clear, persuasive and forthright way.”

“Get a Job! Project is an immersive experience into how many factors play a role in helping someone find meaningful work. It will help students acknowledge realities about their own communities and help them learn to engage on this issue with empathy and understanding.”

As part of the first-place prize, Zenner’s curriculum resource, “Get a Job! Project,” will be included in the Office of Life and Human Dignity’s Teaching Human Dignity series. The Teaching Human Dignity series empowers teachers to incorporate life and human dignity issues across subject areas using existing curriculum standards. This collection of free resources includes units, lessons and expert guides, as well as a variety of other resources, such as infographics and videos. These materials provide teachers from every subject area with the creative material and support they need to present a life-affirming message.

“The Office of Life and Human Dignity is committed to engaging educators to promote a culture of life, and we are incredibly grateful for the many wonderful submissions we received from hardworking teachers,” said Jessica Keating, program director of the Office of Life and Human Dignity. “We’re looking forward to working with educators again in the 2020-21 contest to develop innovative and creative pedagogical resources that uplift the dignity of every human being.”

Teachers interested in receiving the new Teaching Human Dignity resources when they become available, can email