Nurturing Excellence: Exploring Whole-Child Education in U.S. Catholic Schools

Written by Molly McMahon, Ph.D., director of leadership programs, Roche Center for Catholic Education, Boston College

Nurturing Excellence: Exploring Whole-Child Education in U.S. Catholic Schools

Whole Child Education is not just a buzzword for Catholic schools, it is the beating heart of our communities. From their establishment, Catholic schools have been integral in providing a holistic education. Since 2012, the rise in social media, multiple financial crises, never ending school shootings, extreme weather events and a global pandemic, all contribute to the soaring mental health issues and the crisis of loneliness in our country today. The children walking into our classrooms are as complicated as the world around them. As a society, we are at a pivotal moment knowing that a comprehensive response from the adults vested with the care of children is a moral imperative. As the Roche Center sought to draw from the successes of holistic education in Catholic schools, it became clear that a shared definition did not yet exist, despite the strong articulation of values and long history of success.

The Roche Center Framework for Whole Child Education in U.S. Catholic Schools is a collaborative product in conjunction with more than fifty practitioners, scholars and philanthropists spanning the national landscape. The Roche Center Framework places the student at the center, recognizing the dignity and sanctity of each child. Knowing that a truly holistic education not only addresses a child’s cognitive development, but also their spiritual, social, emotional and physical development. As such, all five domains were placed in a continuous circle around the outside of the child with dotted lines representing their interconnectedness. We know that strong core beliefs as well as the interplay with the larger society around each child is at the foundation of how we attend to each of these domains.  Following this conceptualization, a group of researchers dove into a year-long research project seeking Catholic schools nationwide that could help bring each of these domains and their essential elements to life with practices that are responding to the current needs. The Whole Child Education Playbook includes the most up-to-date practices, research, resources and firsthand accounts from schools on how they are succeeding in the development of the whole child in this new landscape.

The Whole Child Education Playbook for Catholic schools encompasses not only the latest research in demonstrating the interconnectedness of our social, emotional and cognitive development, but the physical needs of our students, and the spiritual longing for meaning, purpose, values and belief.  In our Catholic schools, the intentional formation of students’ spiritual lives and living relationship with God, gives them hope and grace. Inspiring case studies of schools already doing this work will ignite and invigorate your work. The practical tools and applications can be applied at your school. The checklists will guide your school teams toward asset-based action plans. Whole Child Education is already flourishing in U.S. Catholic schools, cultivating students who are intellectually engaged, spiritually connected, morally grounded, emotionally resilient and socially responsible.

Want more of Whole Child Education?

Join Dr. Molly McMahon and Dr. Michael Boyle for a post-convention session at NCEA 2024 Convention on Thursday, April 4, 2024, 2 – 4:40 PM.

They will introduce a year-long dive into best practices for Whole Child Education in Catholic schools. Join enriching discussions and collectively reimagine ways to support students in your Catholic schools. Register for this event when you register for NCEA 2024 convention, and choose to add-on to your registration.