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HAMMOND — While students at Bishop Noll Institute are in the classroom gaining a college preparatory experience grounded in Catholic values, the students also become the teachers in an innovative program where they teach younger Catholic elementary school students life principles. 

BNI mathematics teacher Colie Zwierz is the sponsor of the RICHER program, which stands for Respect, Integrity, Caring, Harmony, Excellence and Responsibility.

Zwierz said the program has been underway for several years at the Catholic high school.

"The high school students involved in the program are scholar athletes," Zwierz said.

"These are students who are involved in numerous extracurricular activities, and their grades and attitudes are excellent. We have 13 students in the RICHER program."

The students are trained over several days on the principles and how to teach them. Zwierz said she meets with the students and explains the expectations for the program. She said most students continue in the program for three years, starting as sophomores.

The student-teachers visit fifth-graders at St. John Bosco School in Hammond and Our Lady of Grace School in Highland monthly for six months, beginning in November.

Zwierz said the students teach one of the principles from the RICHER program each month, motivating younger students with games and activities.

BNI senior Ashley Kubacki and junior Megan Sullivan said the principles they teach are the very things they've learned throughout their lives.

"The goal is that the students learn how to respect each other, think about the skills they've learned and apply it to their live as they get older," Kubacki said.

BNI senior Jailynn Thomas said she has learned that teaching is a lot harder than she initially thought. "Making lesson plans and preparing for each lesson takes a lot of time and commitment. I've also learned that I love teaching and working with students," she said.

Our Lady of Grace fifth-grade teacher Paula Kolbus said the BNI students did a great job of connecting with her fifth-graders and keeping their attention.

"In my opinion, they are taking these fifth-graders and molding them and teaching them Christian values in their classroom and the world we live in," she said. "It's a way of demonstrating faith. They've done all sorts of games with them, and the fifth-graders really look up to them."

OLG fifth-grader Colin Cyzon said his classmates are more respectful of one another.

OLG fifth-grader Martin Topp said after they learned about the principles, he sees a change in his classmates.

"When we divide into groups for peer tutoring, people are much nicer to each other. The kids are demonstrating respect and integrity. I think we see that the world is a much larger place than just ourselves," he said. 

OLG fifth-grader Layla Coglianese said the lessons are important, and everyone needs to know them to make the world a better place.

OLG fifth-grader Jolie Adams said she applies the principles to her life, and it makes her a better person.

As the BNI teens wrapped up their lessons at each school with a review of all of the principles, BNI senior Daniel Cuevas said he believes the RICHER program helps BNI students like himself have an impact on the community.

"It enhances our leadership and communication skills and connects us with younger students," he said.

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.