Laura Andrews: the Confluence of the Academic, the Spiritual, and the Communal
It’s a weekday afternoon when my colleague Matt Rhodes and I dial Laura Andrews in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to talk with her about her experiences with Catholic education. We detect traces of a child’s voice in the background. “One second, Margaret,” we hear Laura say to her daughter, who is just over a year old. Laura has just returned home from the School of Saint Mary, which is part of the parish where she and her husband belong, and where she teaches sixth-grade language arts part-time. As Matt and I reflect on the content of the Catholic education-related conversation we are having with Laura, we can’t help but marvel at the way her seemingly seamless shifts between her direct service to Catholic schools and her attention to Margaret animate the overarching theme of our conversation: that life happens in and through Catholic schools.
ACE Advocates Region of Tulsa, where she has begun a tradition of ACE graduates and friends of Catholic education bringing meals and conversation into the home of the ACE Teaching Fellows. Gathered around the table together, these ACE teachers, ACE graduates at different stages of life, and other members of the Tulsa community represent that “confluence” that Laura has come to recognize as part of the essence of Catholic education.For Laura, Catholic education has always been about “the confluence of the academic, the spiritual, and the communal” and about the confluence of “people, so seemingly different, but still united by a common mission.” In addition to parenting, teaching, and committing to her parish, Laura leads the
From Matt’s and my vantage point, we can also hear in Laura’s explanation of this conversational meal-time tradition the echoes of Laura’s experiences in Catholic schools. Placed in Brownsville at Guadalupe Regional Middle School as a member of the 17th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, Laura had become familiar with the NativityMiguel model of Catholic schools. Hungry for a similar school character and culture after moving to Tulsa, Laura took a job at San Miguel School in Tulsa, teaching seventh-grade language arts. With San Miguel having recently adopted the NativityMiguel model, Laura had what she described as “a voice in the conversation” that was happening at San Miguel. She found strength and direction in her two previous years of experience, and the awareness she had gained of the challenges and assets afforded by the NativityMiguel model.
One of those assets—the blurred delineation between home and school—prompted Laura to access Title funds to generate a parent/student book club at San Miguel. Using Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, Laura orchestrated an arrangement in which parents read the novel in Spanish at home while students simultaneously read the English translation in school. In conjunction with the reading experience, the families and teachers gathered over a meal, sharing dishes the families had prepared, and transitioning between languages as they shared both their experiences of reading and their own migrant experiences that had shaped their reading experiences. For Laura, this was a profoundly poignant moment as a Catholic educator, through which teachers were made witness to the familial and life matters of their students. Wishing for more educators to share in this opportunity, Laura and her colleagues presented on their book club model at a district-wide conference in Tulsa the following year.
Margaret’s toddler voice enters back into our conversation, and Matt and I know it’s probably time to let Laura go. My own motherly instinct tells me we are probably infringing on naptime, and so we say our thank yous and our goodbyes, and we each return to our work. Before we do, though, Matt and I both comment on what Laura—whether she realizes or not—has done. She has done what she does so masterfully in her work as a teacher, as a parent, and as a Regional Leader for ACE Advocates: She has brought four different people, along with a host of people and places represented in the stories she shared with us, together in that “confluence” she has come to know and love about Catholic education. And in that confluence, she has put us back in touch with the mission that unites us.