Loyola’s Villalba Brings Faith to Life

by Lisa Cooper

Often referred to as the happiest place on campus, the classroom of religion teacher Marcos Villalba is where freshman Flyers are learning to ARISE. An acronym Villalba has taught his students from their first day, it represents the life and conduct of a true follower of Christ. Each day, Villalba inspires his students to Aspire for greatness in all they undertake, offering each thought and deed to the Lord; Respect the dignity of all by treating each other as divinely created and worthy of that honor; Interact with courage and joy by heartily participating in class discussions without fear of criticism; Serve out of love by helping each other and completing service hours in the spirit of humility and charity; and Edify one another in Christ, serving as a witness of Christ by building each other up instead of tearing others down.

Each semester, classes vote and award five students with an award for those who best exemplify the virtues of ARISE. To help each student on this journey, Villalba uses the YouBible and YouCat daily, having students read, take notes, and, most importantly, ask and answer questions.

The innovation and inspiration in Villalba’s classroom don’t stop there. He has instituted a class-ranking system through which classes compete against each other for the highest average in order to win a pizza party at the end of each semester.
“I knew that to get guys involved, there must include some level of competition,” says Villalba, “and I wanted a way to get the students to work together for the greater good of them all.”

In addition to the class average, students compete for the highest number of golden crosses. “Just like a teacher may put a golden star on a paper, I put golden crosses on the tests of students who make 100 percent.” The winning class gets a dessert party at the end of the semester. A glance at the board where class rankings and golden crosses are listed indicates that students have enthusiastically embraced this challenge.

What may be most impressive about Villalba’s teaching style is his ability to take even the mundane tasks like cleaning up the classroom after each period and infuse them with purpose. Each class gets a participation grade, and any student who leaves books out of place or trash on the floor loses points for his class. What’s more is that the Bibles in Villalba’s class are treated with particular honor.

“By ensuring that they are never left under other books or on the floor,” Villalba says, “I can use even a small thing to teach students to respect God’s word.”

The students’ favorite perk of Villalba’s class is his willingness to recognize their ideas and input on how to make the class engaging. “Every class has a president and vice president that they elect,” Villalba explains. “They are responsible for coming up with ideas about how we can learn God’s word without having to be confined to the classroom.”

His students have participated in potluck Bible studies, gone together to see Paul, Apostle of Christ at the theater, and enjoyed class at various locations on and off campus. Students also participate in a unique way by contributing to a class music play list that Villalba allows during certain times during class. During Lent, students opted to give up their play lists to learn more about the saints – a practice that has been so well received it has continued through Easter. Instead of their music, students eagerly listen to audio-dramas depicting the lives of the saints in real stories about their lives.

Villalba’s credits his love for Christ and his desire to communicate that love to students for his success in the classroom, and students recognize and appreciate his passion. Finding freshmen who are eager to talk about how much they are learning from Villalba is easy, but one statement reoccurs among them all: “We just love Mr. Villalba – he’s the best.”

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