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Catholic Schools Week: 3 Ways to Celebrate All Students

Saturday, January 30, 2016 by Jennifer Dees, M.Ed.


Beginning tomorrow, Catholic school communities across the country will seize the opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary gift that we have in Catholic education. Most schools mark this festive week with special liturgies, open houses, and fun activities for students and families. As we began to prepare for the week with our own children's schools, my colleagues and I in the English as a New Language team wondered how we might ensure that students and families from every tradition feel included in the celebration.

Since their inception, Catholic schools have served side by side with Lady Liberty as beacons of hope for immigrant families and those on the margins of society. Research shows that the poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains they experience in Catholic schools.

Still, many of our communities are experiencing a transition. Nearly one in four students in our schools are English language learners. With these students and families at the heart of our work, we couldn’t help but think about Catholic Schools Week from their perspective. 

Here are three approachable, simple ways to honor the universality present in your Catholic school:

Celebrate Each Family's Roots

One thing you can do with your school is to invite each family to create a family crest. Ask that families include parents, grandparents and sibling in the conversations about their crest, reflecting on memories, traditions, and values that are of particular importance to their story. Send home a template of the crest and encourage visual representation. Display the varied crests in the main hallway of school all week long. The display can be referenced as a beautiful reminder of the richness of the school community and make all who enter feel welcome. Consider extending this project to the whole school as well as creating a larger school crest that reflects the school’s roots.

Celebrate the Unity in Diversity

The rosary is a devotion practiced by Catholics around the world. Use this prayer to celebrate the linguistic diversity of your school by orchestrating a living rosary that incorporates various languages and different images of the Virgin Mary. Encourage students to learn prayers in many languages and invite multilingual members of the parish and/or school community to lead a decade of the rosary. Reference the experience of the early disciples at Pentecost when everyone heard God’s call in their own language. We take on a modern day example of this story as we stand in the formation of the beads and pray the living rosary in languages spoken and understood around the world.

Celebrate Holiness from Each Corner of the Globe

From the Ugandan Martyrs, to St. Martin de Porres, to Mother Teresa, holiness abounds in people from every continent. Holiness looks like the students in our schools and the families from which they come. Make an effort to celebrate the diversity through a focus on the communion of saints this week. Invite each class to select a patron saint and seize the opportunity to research his or her story, country of origin, language, patronage, prayers, etc. Place a large map outside the school’s office and place a mark where all the saints lived. Be sure to also include saints from the religious order that founded your school. Celebrate these holy men and women so students are better able to appreciate the depth and breadth of holiness.

What works in your school? Do you have some ideas to share with other teachers? Include them in the comments below, and Happy Catholic Schools Week!

About the Author

Jennifer Dees, M.Ed.

Jennifer Dees, M.Ed.

Jennifer Dees is a Coordinator of the English as a New Language Program and a core member of our ENL Professional Development Team. She received her undergraduate degree in 7-12 social studies education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and her M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. In addition to coordinating the ENL program, Dees also teaches courses in the education department at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Her interests include linguistics and early literacy. Dees resides in Mishawaka, Indiana with her husband and five kiddos.