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Catholic School Students, Achievement, and Motivation

on Wednesday, 02 February 2011.


By James Frabutt, Ph.D., and Anthony Holter, Ph.D., Remick Leadership Program.  Janine Bempechat and colleagues explored beliefs about academic achievement among a sample of low-income, urban adolescents enrolled in Catholic schools.  Their 2008 article, Beyond the Rhetoric: Understanding Achievement and Motivation in Catholic School Students, describes a longitudinal project in which students were interviewed in depth about the role of education in their lives, their teachers’ goals for them, and family and peer support for learning.  Qualitative analysis of interviews and focus groups with the students revealed three major themes, outlined below.

  1. A Culture of Caring Pervades Catholic Schools.  Students routinely mentioned the caring and family oriented environment of their school, noting that teachers were interested not only in students’ academic success, but their emotional and social well-being as well.  One student explained: “It’s like they care for you so much at this school, they make sure they don’t want nobody, you know, to fall down in their grades and fail and not be able to, you know, reach their goals in life” (p. 171). 
  2. Students Believe They Must Take Personal Responsibility for Learning. Students explained that goal setting, consistent effort, and persistence were the drivers of academic performance.  When their academic achievement was poor, students tended to attribute this to internal factors (e.g., “I wasn’t careful in my work”) rather than external ones (e.g., “That teacher doesn’t like me”). One female student clarified, “I mostly think that effort is something that you put in, and it shows if you have effort, it shows if you don’t have effort” (p. 172).
  3. Adaptive Achievement Beliefs Pervade Catholic Schools.  Students explained that “mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of learning.”  When a student encounters an instance of academic failure, it need not be debilitating and lead to feelings of helplessness. In dealing with the academic challenges of high school, one student said “failure is not really something bad; I would try my hardest to do it again” (p. 173-174).

The authors summarized that “when given the opportunity to express their views, these Catholic school students focused on their teachers’ commitment to them as learners and articulated mature and sophisticated views about their learning” (p.174).  They further concluded that a better understanding of Catholic school students’ apparent motivational advantage can enhance educational reform efforts more broadly.
Bempechat, J., Boulay, B. A., Piergross, S. C., & Wenk, K. A. (2008). Beyond the rhetoric: Understanding achievement and motivation in Catholic school students. Education and Urban Society, 40(2), 167-178.

Indy Advocates Event Swells to Include Parishioners

on Wednesday, 02 February 2011.


From ACE Advocate Regional Chair Gary Asher. 

January, 2011.  The day began by participating in the regular Saturday morning parish Mass, which was well attended and provided a spiritual beginning to the day.  The priest was very welcoming and asked us to tell the congregation a bit about who we are and what our mission is. So the Mass also provided an opportunity to get the word out about ACE Advocates.

The service to Holy Spirit school was very successful. Originally we were to paint only the school's computer lab. But as the school and parish communities heard about the project, they became very excited about helping us.  The event blossomed into a group of parishioners (including professional painters) joining forces. 

As a result the school was able to get all the classrooms in the primary building painted. The success was not in what we, members of ACE Advocates, were able to physically accomplish but how we as a movement were able to inspire others to join in service to the school. 



Notre Dame ACE Academies Teacher Receives Tucson Values Teachers Award

on Wednesday, 02 February 2011.

From the Tucson Values Teachers Initiative

Congratulations to Fran Fritton, third grade teacher at St. Ambrose Catholic School, a Notre Dame Ace Academy, who is the Tucson Values Teachers December recipient of the Teacher Excellence Award!  She was nominated by Jan Knox, a former colleague at St. Ambrose.

Hats off to to Principal Martha Taylor who pulled together a tribute  that included the entire school - and a sign of color and congratulations for Fran.

Fran was also featured on the KVOA Teacher Feature segment in an interview with Martha Vazquez.  The feature was created just for the Teacher Excellence Award program. 

Congratulations, Fran!  One could see immediately from the faces in her third-grade classroom that Fran is adored.  She is one great teacher - a consensus also shared by her colleagues and administrators.

To learn more about the Tucson Values Teachers Initiative, click here.

Fr. Nuzzi Begins New Year on Capitol Hill

on Wednesday, 02 February 2011.

Fr. Ron Nuzzi participated in the swearing-in of the 112th Congress in Washington, DC, January 4-5. New Speaker of the House John Boehner from Cincinnati held an ecumenical prayer service at St. Peter Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, where Remick Leadership alumna Jennifer Ketchum is principal. S

Speaker Boehner, a Catholic school graduate and alumnus of Archbishop Moeller High School, extolled the value of his Catholic education during the prayer service and later spoke of Ash Wednesday services, Lent, and his Catholic upbringing during his first speech as speaker from the House chamber. Fr. Nuzzi also celebrated a Mass for Catholic members of Congress and their guests at St. Stephen Church.

The Future of Catholic Schools: St. Joseph Academy in Kenosha, WI

on Wednesday, 02 February 2011.

ACE Consulting Helps Shape a Model Worth Watching

In Need of a Vision. "A people without vision will perish."

This ancient proverb rings true in every age, but it seems particularly well suited for the state of 21st Century Catholic schools in the United States. With a population of over 70 million that has collectively reached levels of social stature and wealth unimaginable by previous generations, the American Catholic community does not lack the resources to sustain and strengthen its school system.

What is lacking in too many places is the vision of what can be possible, and the willingness to reaffirm age-old values through creative means. 

 For well over one hundred years, the one-parish-one-school model dominated the U.S. Catholic education landscape.  Ethnic enclaves, especially in the urban core of industrial cities, served the needs of immigrants and formed generations of people who were both Catholic and American – a feat thought by many to be impossible.  
Today, we see an American Catholic landscape altered in important ways.  Changing demographics, financial realities, and an evolving commitment of American Catholics to their schools have left many empty classroom seats and the closing, moving, or merging of hundreds of schools.  In many places, parents, pastors, principals, and teachers exhibit nothing less than heroic virtue as they work to keep their schools strong and accessible, and they are increasingly turning to novel school configurations in order to offer the finest Catholic education to their community.
Vision in Kenosha: St. Joseph Catholic Academy. Kenosha, Wisconsin, is not unlike scores of cities, suburbs and small towns across the northern United States.  Waves of Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries built parishes and schools, seeking to maintain their faith and culture.  Good jobs were to be had in the city’s successful automobile manufacturing industry, and the community generously made their faith manifest by investing in bricks and mortar for parishes and schools.  Today, ten parishes minister to Kenosha’s Catholic community, and creative thinking is leading to innovation in the diverse Catholic school system of this region.
In order to better serve the people of Kenosha, three parishes joined forces in 2010 to establish St. Joseph Catholic Academy, a Pre-K through 12th grade Catholic institution.  By combining St. Mark’s Elementary School, St. Joseph Inter-Parish Junior High, and St. Joseph High School, the new Academy provides increased options and resources for families, and currently enrolls 660 students.  The curriculum includes the state of Wisconsin’s only Pre-K Catholic Montessori program, an enhanced arts instruction, and other programs seen infrequently in Catholic schools.
Bob Freund, the Academy’s founding president, says that St. Joseph Catholic is a product of parents, pastors, and educators who have a great vision for what is possible.  “Our community is committed to ensuring that Catholic education remains available, faithful, and excellent.  We believe that we can accomplish more when we collaborate.”

And St. Joseph Catholic is certainly doing exciting things.  With a school-wide commitment to Catholic identity and critical thinking skills, the Academy is leveraging resources in ways that would have been impossible amongst three distinct, much smaller schools. 
“Our campus minister works with the entire Academy, coordinating prayer, liturgy, and service for the every single class.  That’s very important for our mission as a Catholic school, especially as we work to keep each student connected to their family’s parish,” said Freund.  Children in kindergarten through fifth grade are exposed to four world languages, studying Spanish, French, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese for nine weeks each year.  And the Academy integrates technology into teaching:  building on a program already in place in the middle school, soon each student in grades six through twelve will have access to a laptop for use during the school day.
With one administration, one business office, and a streamlined curriculum, St. Joseph Catholic is able to achieve efficiencies – educational and financial - that were elusive in the past.  And, parents are pleased:  the Academy saw a 20 percent enrollment increase this year over the total number of students enrolled at the three separate schools during 2009–2010. 
The road to the Academy’s current configuration was not always easy, and resistance was met in some quarters.  Freund and other community leaders realized that an outside, objective study of the possibilities would be immeasurably useful to the success of this emerging institution.  “We invited ACE Consulting from Notre Dame to perform an assessment of our situation, and their study was absolutely invaluable.  Commissioning the ACE Consulting report was the most important thing we did as we considered this transition.”  ACE Consulting examined local demographic trends, facilities, finances, as well as the perceptions of the local Catholic and parent communities.  “Their unbiased analysis provided a perfect road map for us.  I can’t tell you how often we refer to their report.”
Currently, St. Joseph is reaffirming its commitment to the vision of offering a high quality Catholic education to all families in Kenosha who desire it by launching an ambitious strategic planning exercise.  Focusing on the areas of Catholic identity, academics, leadership, development, and facilities, the new Academy model is charting a bold path toward the future. 
Freund believes that the tenor of conversations in the community about Catholic education has changed dramatically over the last two years.  “The mood had always been about survival.  Now, the feeling can be described as confidence.  We’re excelling.  We’re moving forward.”
No one formula or school configuration will serve every situation, family, or parish.  But the vision of making Catholic schools faithful, excellent, and accessible – which is the work of the entire community – is a vision well worth pursuing.  Collaboration between multiple parishes will increasingly be an important strategy worth watching.

Utilizing the nearly two decades of experience in educating teachers and leaders through the ACE program, ACE Consulting helps operationalize the work of the Alliance for Catholic Education to make a system-wide difference in Catholic education. Learn more by visiting the ACE Consulting website.