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How to Build a Strong Academic Foundation in Your School

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 by Sr. Gail Mayotte SASV, Ph.D.

How to Build a Strong Academic Foundation in Your School

What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do? Answering this question before we align to standards, set curricula goals, and form lesson objectives is imperative to establishing a Catholic school’s strong academic formation of its students.

According to Archbishop Miller, part of the answer is to be “strong and responsible individuals, who are capable of making free and correct choices” and it demands “an education that responds to all the needs of the human person.”

The USCCB notes that it is, “to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world,” and therefore students must be provided “an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education” (2005).

Notre Dame ACE Academies simply defines it with two words, “college” and “heaven.”

With clarity of purpose, the specifics regarding a holistic, academically rigorous, and doctrinally sound education can take shape.  However, even with this, the implementation of strong curricula and research-based techniques remains no small task. Catholic school leaders must articulate a clear vision for academic excellence (the WHY), guide curricula decisions that flow from the vision (the WHAT) and build capacity among their faculty (the HOW) in order to provide strong academic formation for their students.

How to Incorporate the Pope's Encyclical 'Laudato Si' into Your Classroom

Sunday, September 13, 2015

 

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”

 

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A great deal of anticipation always surrounds a new papal encyclical. People wonder: Is Church teaching going to change? Will I, as a Catholic, be called to greater conversion and prayer?  Will the pope use awesome words like “sourpuss?” (The answers are pretty consistently “Never,” “Always,” and “Probably,” respectively).

Back in May, you might remember the excitement surrounding Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. But for many Catholic school teachers, that was right around the time they were grading finals, packing up the classroom, and getting ready for summer — not exactly the ideal time to read a 42,000-word encyclical.

Laudato Si, in short, is Pope Francis’ appeal to the faithful to take a closer look at how we are shaping the future of our planet, the effect of humanity on global issues such as climate change and poverty, and the protection and care for what Francis calls “our common home.” I can hardly think of something that functions as more of a “common home” than a school or classroom, so with class back in session and the Holy Father himself visiting our neck of the woods in a few weeks, here are some ideas on how the Catholic educator can incorporate some of the main messages of Laudato Si in their classroom.

What You Should Expect from Pope Francis' Visit to the US

Friday, September 11, 2015

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Oh yes, the excitement is building for Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S.! I can hardly contain my own excitement, especially when I see how so many Catholic schools and parishes are preparing for this historic visit. Of course, time is being set aside to watch many of the papal events live, especially the White House Welcome Ceremony, the address to the Joint Session of Congress, and the speech to the United Nations General Assembly. These particular events will happen during the course of the school day, providing thousands of Catholic school students the opportunity to witness history and to experience firsthand the impact that a well-lived faith can have in shaping culture.

Together with school leaders, teachers, and staff, the entire Catholic educational community in the U.S. will be richly blessed by Francis’ message of hope and mercy and by his incredible witness of service to the poor. Masses in Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia are scheduled for after school hours or on weekends, but the Francis Effect should be well under way by then; many people of good will and most Catholics will be linked into their favorite media outlet to catch every word, every gesture, every glance.

What can we do to best prepare for Pope Francis? What might we expect? Three things come to mind.

Eight Ways Catholic Schools Can Be More Welcoming to Latino Students

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

"El entusiasmo es contagioso" 
“Enthusiasm is contagious”

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Throughout the United States, Latino populations are on the rise, especially in the Catholic church. Latinos now make up approximately 70 percent of all practicing Catholics in the United States under the age of thirty-five, yet only 3 percent of school-aged Latino children are enrolled in Catholic schools. Oftentimes, Latino families can feel disconnected with their local Catholic school, many of which are designed to cater to an immigrant community of a different generation. Here are eight ways to help your school become more welcoming to Latino families:

1. Ditch the deficit mindset. Too often, when considering Latino outreach, people approach the topic with a deficit mindset, asking, “why don’t they do this the way we do?” Not a single strategy (and there are thousands) will work if you see Latinos’ growing presence in the United States as a problem. But if you believe in your heart and mind that welcoming Latino families is part of God’s providence, and see it as an opportunity, you’ll approach it with zeal, energy, and life. You’re bound to be more successful.

2. Realize that it takes work. Reaching out to Latino families and making your school more welcoming for them isn’t rocket science, but some of it is counterintuitive to how an Anglo-centered mind might work. We all have hidden biases and prejudices about how life works and about the way things are—stop for a moment to consider these biases, and think about how others might approach things differently.

3. Do the small things. Latino outreach is not just about hanging a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the office or providing a Mass in Spanish—but those things help! Make sure your school offers clubs centered around things valued by the Latino culture and, if possible, offers extra classes after school like Spanish for those who don’t speak it, and English for parents whose first language is Spanish. Make sure that all of the forms at your school are in both English and Spanish. When it comes to the small things, make every effort to show that there isn’t a dominant culture at your school, and that it’s welcoming of all cultures.

8 ways catholic schools can be more welcoming to latino students4. Look for potential community knowledge. Using the real life of your kids (and their parents) to help them learn is an excellent strategy for any teacher, but can be particularly helpful in making your school more welcoming for Latino families. Once again, ditch the deficit mindset and start thinking about the community as rich with resources. What gifts do your Latino parents have that could truly benefit your students, and how can you incorporate those gifts into your lessons? Answering this question will not only benefit your students, but will also improve the relationship you have with your students’ parents.

5. Increase your knowledge. As simple as it may sound, it makes a difference to know your stuff. Teachers and administrators should be knowledgeable in the process of language acquisition, best practice for English language learners, and culturally responsive and sustaining classrooms. Remember that many immigrant children feel as though they have to check their culture and language at the door, but you can find ways to honor and celebrate their culture and language—it’s who they are.

6. Reach out with care. An Edutopia blog argued that the number one thing you can do on a back-to-school night to connect with parents, more than providing information, is to show them that you care about their children. This is doubly true for Latino parents. Latino culture strongly values relationships, and the more trust and confianza you can instill, the more successful you’ll be in building those relationships. Show parents that you love what you do, that you love your school, and that you really care for their kids—remember, el entusiasmo es contagioso (“enthusiasm is contagious”).

7. Weave the community into the school. Your school should not be separated from the community, but rather a part of the community. Encourage families to bring their gifts and talents to the school community, and see the relationship as reciprocal. Don’t forget to ask questions, and help your students to ask questions of each other and their own families. These questions can help to validate the importance of each student’s own culture and family.

8. Invite, invite, invite. Invite Latino parents to come to school to help with refreshments after Mass, invite grandparents to attend weekly Mass with the students, invite parents to share their gifts with their children’s classrooms. But don’t just invite them once—invite, and invite again, and invite again. Make all the families in your community—Latino and otherwise—feel as though you’re not just welcoming them to the community, but actually want them there.

Latino families can be an incredible blessing for Catholic schools, bringing rich cultural experiences and expertise to the community. We should strive to continue to help these families feel welcome in our shared mission to provide as many children as possible an education that is academically excellent and authentically Catholic.


Interested in welcoming more Latino families into your school community?
Visit the Catholic School Advantage at ace.nd.edu/csa

Three Ways Teachers Can Strengthen Their Content Area Expertise

Monday, August 31, 2015 by Brian Collier, Ph.D.

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The new school year is upon us in most parts of the country and my former students are now returning to schools across this country. A friend recently asked if I had three pieces of advice for teachers as they start up a new (or another) year of teaching. The Professor in me responded gleefully because we love to be asked for advice so below is the advice I gave:

  1. Go to your professional conference this year! I know that it’s often hard to get to these conferences, but go! These conferences are a great opportunity to re-engage with the profession, particularly your content area.  Going to these conferences can be what sustains us and energizes us as educators. We can get new ideas, new tricks, and hear from others who are passionate professionals. Make sure to go to your professional conference – be it your regional conference, your state conference or even your national conference – make sure to go once a year and connect with the profession.  

    While you’re at the conference make sure to talk with veterans and new teachers alike, both have great ideas. Make sure to let others know where you teach and that you’re a proud teacher – if you’re a Catholic school teacher don’t be shy but announce yourself – if you’re a homeschool teacher share your success stories and favorite methods – if you’re a public school teacher share freely what is working in your community system. Be bold and share widely our colleagues are our colleagues regardless of where they teach – we all teach children and that’s what is important.

  2. Focus on inquiry! All content areas really can connect through inquiry if they’re being taught well. A really great teacher I know has really pushed his students to do inquiry based learning and has had great success. Make sure that students leave your class knowing that they should look at the whole world around them and be asking, “why is that there?” or “why does that work in that way?” or “what is going on when that Gospel was written?” They should be filled with the ability to ask questions and then a confidence that they can, through work, figure out answers to really just about anything.

  3. Read some books! Model for your students that you’re continuing to learn. I know there isn’t a lot of time during the year for reading, but showing that you’re an expert in a field by talking about what you’re reading is so very important. It also lets students know that the expectation for successful adults is that they be reading some things. If you really don't have time for a book how about pointing them to other things you’re reading for instance I’m currently reading national newspapers that I could share with students, but also always reading America Magazine, Notre Dame Magazine, Social Education (the Social Studies Journal) and The Western Historical Quarterly. I regularly throw in things in class that I learned from reading these articles or from the books that I’m reading or even from the podcasts that I regularly listen to such as This American Life or Reply All, or even Serial when it is in session.

For me all of these podcasts, journals / magazines, and a myriad of books make up my intellectual life and are part of who I am. I want my students to know that my thinking and decisions are ever-evolving and I want them to showcase that kind of thinking and evolution of the mind too, so we as the adults in their lives have a responsibility to read and then to talk about it with students when the moments are right.

I’m wishing all of my friends returning to classrooms in the K-20 world a successful start to a new academic year. I hope you’re able to find time to hone your expertise through connecting with colleagues, focusing on inquiry, and modeling that you’re a citizen of the mind.

 

Brian S Collier, Ph.D. teaches with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.  He is @collier_brian on twitter and can be found at: www.brianscollier.com

Crux, Cuomo, and the Cardinal: Will School Choice Save Catholic Schools?

Monday, August 31, 2015

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About a week and a half ago, right around the time most of our nation’s schools were gearing up for another school year, the Catholic news site Crux published a helpful story, “Catholic schools look to tax credits to save them” by Michael O'Loughlin.

OK, so the headline is a little ominous.

On the one hand, even if tax credits magically became legal in every state in the union, many Catholic schools wouldn’t necessarily be off the proverbial “chopping block"—they’d still need strong and robust community engagement to increase enrollment, excellent instruction, high academic standards, and so forth. But on the other hand, if all tax credit and voucher laws were to suddenly evaporate, it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world for the Catholic educational system either. Indeed, advocates of Catholic education have a few others ideas that, together, we hope, will continue save our schools (e.g., excellent teacherstransformational leaders, the Holy Spirit).

What the article does do is give a pretty concise overview of where school choice stands in many states, in particular New York. O'Loughlin then explains how these policies—school choice programs, vouchers, tax credits—help families with kids in Catholic schools as well as the schools themselves.

The fascinating thing about what’s happening in New York is that you have Cardinal Timothy Dolan standing side by side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on what, in some circles, is a pretty divisive political issue. These two haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on every issue, but when it comes to school choice, they’re in lock-step.

I sat down with ACE’s Director of Education Policy, and asked him: What’s up with that? In other words: What is it about school choice that has a Catholic cardinal and a democratic governor joining forces?

Schoenig offered a few thoughts.

Educational Choice is Good For Everyone

The most interesting (and what Schoenig calls the most “elegant”) part of the Education Tax Credit (ETC) and programs like it is that it will help support education in all three educational sectors: public, charter, and private. In the Empire State, nearly $40 million would go directly back to public school support (after school programming, instructional materials, supplies, etc.) more than $50 million would fund scholarships for low-income students, and $70 million more would come back to families in the form of tax credits that allow them to send kids to the school of their choosing. The design of the bills like these as a “tri-sector” credits expands the conversation from simply helping private schools specifically to broadening educational choice overall.

Six Things You Should Know about Catholic Schools in 2015-2016

Monday, August 31, 2015

"This isn’t just about implementing a new reading program or raising more funds. There is real tension between old and new, and it must be resolved."
Andy Smarick
 

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The start of the 2015-16 school year is an exciting time for Catholic schools—perhaps even a “renaissance of inner-city Catholic schooling,” according to education reform leader Andy Smarick. As teachers return to their classrooms, parents send their kids off to school, and most importantly, our nation’s children commence another year of growth in mind, body, and spirit, here are six things you should know about Catholic schools this year.

1. Catholic schools are in a state of resurgence, innovation, and renewal. Emerging are new networks of Catholic schools, new governance models, new instructional approaches, and new financing mechanisms that allow parents to choose the best education for their child. Regional, consolidated, or interparochial schools are developing shared, collegial governance structures, and state legislatures around the country are looking for ways—tax credits, vouchers, education savings accounts—to help support and finance full parental choice in school selection for their children.

2. Catholic schools are leading the way in implementing innovative strategies, adopting a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) focus as part of a strong Catholic identity to advance the continual enrichment of the curriculum. A high-quality academic program prepares children to become responsible citizens and contributing members of our society.

6 things you should know about catholic schools3. Pope Francis loves Catholic schools, so much so that he is taking time to visit Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School in East Harlem during his visit to the U.S. While the Pope's visit is sure to headline international media attention, his love for children and his esteem for Catholic schools will be mostly clearly seen in this school visit, which the Vatican says he insisted on.

4. Catholic schools anchor communities, promote social justice, and are one of the most precious gifts of the Church and they exist only through the incredible sacrifice and the dedication of the mission-driven men and women who answer the call to teach and lead within them.

5. Teaching the whole child and respecting all persons and all gifts remain a unique theme of all Catholic schools. Catholic schools engage, in the words of the Congregation of Holy Cross' founder Blessed Basil Moreau, in "the art of forming youth—that is to say, to make of youth people who are conformed to Jesus Christ, their model.” Catholic schools engage in full human formation, so that, as Moreau wrote, "the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven." Catholic schools will continue to teach and live the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

6. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “there is no greater work than to form the minds and hearts of the young.” Catholic schools are committed to both a religious and academic mission. In a world where values are progressively more and more secular and humanistic, Catholic schools are privileged to teach the faith and nurture in students a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I Have Given A Lot, But Gotten So Much More

Sunday, October 27, 2013 by Meet Ally Jeter, ACE 20

20-oakland-jeterAfter almost 15 years of being desperately focused on my own education, I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and felt like all I had done in that time was coming to a bleak end. As a junior at the University of Notre Dame, I watched as my friends and peers snatched up internships and offers for paid summer research positions at various institutions. I didn't know what I wanted to do in my impending future, but I knew what I didn't want to do.

The ACE program seemed like a new and unexplored option: an opportunity to try something that I thought I may be able to do effectively and be passionate about. For that reason, I decided one day in the basement of Haggar Hall (the Psychology department at the university) that this was the direction I wanted my life to go in, at least for this transient period in my life. If I had the chance to be in a classroom and to interact with children every day, I would do everything I could to seize that opportunity. With that decision on that day, I committed to the application process and shortly after, I was able to commit to three years with the ACE program through my acceptance into the ACE internship that would precede my two years of teaching service.

Fast forward to one and a half years later: I am now a 21-year old, self-contained 3rd grade teacher in charge of 19 Oakland, California kiddies. I struggle immensely- but I love the students I teach without reservation. I attend my students' cross country meets, cantor at the school's weekly masses, and work to manage a school newspaper. I wouldn't change it or backtrack in any way.

I chose to do the ACE program because of the proverbial "desire to give back." In this short amount of time that has been my teaching career (about 2 months), I have given a lot of myself but gotten so much more from the people and community that surround my placement in Oakland. Now, I wake up and stick with this because it is so formative to the person that I am looking to become, and I have 19 children who form and shape who I am becoming as well.

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