9/7/2012

BACK TO SCHOOL 2012: A School Year of Faith!

 

COLORADO SPRINGS. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Colorado Springs began our school year on Aug. 15 — the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation.  The school year begins not only with tales of summer but with a school Mass and an opportunity to learn more about this most important Marian feast. For the second year in a row there is an increase in enrollment in our Catholic schools, up about 3 percent over last year, and proof positive that more parents are choosing an education for their children centered in faith.

COLORADO SPRINGS. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Colorado Springs began our school year on Aug. 15 — the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation.  The school year begins not only with tales of summer but with a school Mass and an opportunity to learn more about this most important Marian feast. For the second year in a row there is an increase in enrollment in our Catholic schools, up about 3 percent over last year, and proof positive that more parents are choosing an education for their children centered in faith.

At the diocesan level, three goals will guide local school initiatives — strengthening Catholic identity; providing rigorous academics; and quality training for those called to serve in our Catholic schools both as models of faith and educators.

Primary to the mission of Catholic schools is to “unite with the parish and parents to form each child into a disciple of Jesus Christ . . .” The goal of a strong Catholic identity and a true Catholic culture in our schools will drive many of our school initiatives. Catholic school teachers, like all teachers, spend eight to 10 hours a day with their students. What a privilege, what an awesome responsibility! Church documents pay a great deal of attention to the vocation of teaching in Catholic schools. Catholic school teachers in imitation of Christ, the true Teacher, reveal the Christian message for their students.

To prepare our teachers for this most noble task, we have increased catechetical requirements and training for those who serve in our Catholic schools. The second annual Aquinas Catechetical Institute (ACI) was held at the end of August to provide teachers an opportunity for in-depth study in our Catholic faith. Additional Masses and eucharistic adoration time have been added to school schedules, and students will participate in the many faith traditions of the Catholic Church. Teachers began training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and over the next few years Catholic school students (ages 3-9) will explore the life of Jesus, the Gospels, Mass, sacraments and all the beauty and mysteries of our faith in a Montessori approach. Our Catholic schools will begin to explore the National Catholic School Standards and Benchmarks published last March. These standards are critical in our ongoing effort to make our schools truly Catholic and to form students, who know the faith, grow to love the faith and live it passionately.

Like all schools across America, our Catholic schools strive for continuous academic improvement but for different reasons. Not motivated by federal and state mandates, Catholic schools believe that each student is first and foremost a child of God, and God has placed gifts in that child that are to be developed and used to serve God and serve others. To develop academic gifts, we are adding formative assessments, using data-driven instruction, aligning curriculum with (Catholic) Common Core State Standards and will continue to implement and support effective educational initiatives. Over 97 percent of first and second graders diocesan-wide in Catholic schools met or exceeded national reading and language standards last year. Our Catholic elementary-school graduates who attend St. Mary’s High School passed AP exams with a 3 or higher score at a rate of 90 percent (the statewide pass rate for high school students scoring 3 or above is 69 percent). Nationally, 97 percent of students who graduate from Catholic schools attend post-secondary education, and 94 percent of those students complete the programs. Those percentages are significantly higher than the national average. Catholic schools are providing quality academics.   

Like public schools, we are challenged to prepare our students with the 21st Century Skills program so they can be college and work ready. Catholic schools add a critical element. 21st Century Skills is simply a list of skills identified by educational professionals that answer the question, “What skills do our students need to survive and thrive in the 21st century?” The answer addresses ways students think (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision making and learning), how students should be able to work (communication and collaboration), tools students will need to work (information and communication technology and information literacy), and finally, skills for living in the world (citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility). We are changing the type of educational experiences students will have in our schools, the type of questions they will be asked, as well as the criteria used to determine mastery. We will address fewer standards but will go more in-depth.

The Diocese of Colorado Springs is preparing teachers to succeed in teaching these skills.Teachers spent the last school year and the summer attending staff development in highly effective teaching, differentiated instruction and brain-based learning. This school year began with an in-service using data to set learning targets for daily instruction and local staff development teams have presented what they learned at summer trainings. Technology is being upgraded and integrated into the instructional and learning process in all Catholic schools. We will continue to support professional development of our teachers so they may prepare our students for the identified 21st Century Skills, but we will do more.

Our Catholic schools will add the conspicuously missing elements of teaching a love for wisdom and passion for truth. Referencing Pope Benedict XVI, Ottawa, Canada, Archbishop  J. Michael Miller wrote in The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools: “Catholic schools take up the daunting task of freeing [students] from the insidious consequences of relativism — a dictatorship that cripples all genuine education” (The Catholic University of America, September 2005). He continues that Catholic school teachers are to “educate in the truth,” the Truth is Jesus Christ.

Preparing students for the 21st century means cultivating a school climate where students learn a passion for truth that defeats moral and cultural relativism. Based on faith, students will be taught not only to think creatively but to solve problems incorporating Christian virtues and their Catholic faith. They will be challenged to communicate and collaborate, remembering always to give dignity and respect to others. They will learn to use technology not only as a tool to support their academic success but as a yift from God to help evangelize and change the culture in which they live. Faith is the critical element not identified by the educational experts but central to learning in a Catholic school.

So our Catholic schools begin a School Year of Faith with a mission and determination to strengthen our Catholic identity, prepare our students to be educated, good stewards in the 21st century and eternity, and to support the ongoing formation and training of our Catholic school teachers. We ask for your prayers and are thankful for your continued support as we provide an education that intentionally includes faith in all that is taught. Catholic schools are critical to the evangelizing mission of the church. They are worth the sacrifice!

(Goodwin is Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)