Category Archives: Proclaim

Catholic School Tuition, Mentoring, Help Some Inner-city Youth Succeed

PEAK mentee Rafael Garduno, center, with his mentor Jerry Silva, left, and Silva’s mentor, John Malloy, at right, at Holy Trinity High School. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

This article is by Maudlyne Ihejirika, Urban Affairs Reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, and appeared in the December 4 edition.

From knee-high, baseball had been 15-year-old Rafael Garduno’s diversion in his rough neighborhood of Brighton Park, just as for his brother before him.

Because of that love, their baseball coach referred the Latino youth to Holy Trinity High School, which boasts a strong baseball program. There, they learned of the Partnership to Educate and Advance Kids (PEAK), a program offering inner-city youth four years tuition plus mentoring.

“My brother got accepted and is a senior now. Then I applied too,” said Rafael, a sophomore at the Wicker Park school whose grades are average.

Rafael said he struggles in some subjects but is working to bring his grades up, assisted by the PEAK mentor assigned to him for four years, Jerry Silva.

Silva, a 25-year-old youth-programs manager at Gads Hill Center in Pilsen, is well-equipped for the journey. He too is Latino, grew up in the similarly rough Back of the Yards neighborhood and played baseball since he was knee-high. He’s also a graduate of PEAK.

“I wanted to be a role model to somebody else from a very similar background whom I can advocate for. Our young adults struggle with much more than academics today,” Silva said. “It may be just a 40-minute bus ride here for Rafael, but so much can happen within that time.”

Last week, as headlines blared challenges facing Catholic schools and churches — the Archdiocese of Chicago announcing the closing of three schools and consolidation of six churches — Rafael and Silva and others with PEAK met in Holy Trinity’s cozy library to tell a different story.

Founded 20 years ago by two Notre Dame grads, PEAK works to help inner-city teens access the high-quality education Catholic schools historically have offered, and get them into college. The school is run by the order Brothers of Holy Cross, whose congregation founded Notre Dame. Through a partnership with the 110-year-old Holy Trinity, it finds sponsors to cover four years of tuition for student applicants who may not excel academically, pairing them with mentors.

“There are programs and scholarships for students growing up in tough Chicago neighborhoods who somehow are making it academically. But there are many kids who aren’t making it, and they still deserve a chance,” said Executive Director Katherine Rush.

“There are so many kids who are getting average grades and test scores — or even well below average scores — who still have the potential to graduate high school, to achieve their dreams. Those are our PEAK scholars. We don’t quit on them,” she said.

The lauded program is recognized as a Gold Star mentoring program by the National Mentoring Partnership. It’s a two-time winner of the Thomas A. Demetrio Award of Excellence for mentoring; and it won the Illinois Mentoring Partnership’s 2016 Impact Award.

Its sponsorship model keeps it small — currently serving 41 students. But thanks to a $1 million grant from the John and Mary Raitt Family Foundation, it’s tripled the number of students served this year and for the next four years.

Joining Silva and Rafael was John Malloy, 37, of Lakeview, Silva’s own mentor when he attended Holy Trinity. The two have remained close. Malloy, a married father of two, is chief operating officer at Holy Trinity, and in 2007, was the school’s first staffer to serve as a PEAK mentor.

“I’d tutored in high school and college, and enjoyed those opportunities. I thought this offered a unique experience to help in a more comprehensive way,” Malloy said. “Instead of, ‘What do you have for homework tonight?’ It’s, ‘What are your hopes and dreams?’ ”

For Silva, being assigned a white male mentor was a learning experience.

“I grew up around only black and brown people, so that’s what I was used to. At the time, I was super nervous. I had no idea what that relationship was going to look like. It required stepping out of my comfort zone to establish this relationship with somebody I didn’t know, who looked a lot different from me,” Silva said.

Like Rafael, Silva’s grades weren’t great at first, but the expectations of PEAK and Malloy helped him become an “A” to “B” student, Silva said.

“I would say I shared in some of the nervousness that Jerry had,” Malloy said. “I had some concerns about how Jerry and his family would perceive me, coming in as an outsider trying to have a say in his life. It takes a long time to earn the respect of a teenager. I was appreciative of his giving me the opportunity to be a part of his life during some very formative years.”

Holy Trinity, with a capacity of 400 and currently 350 students, has bucked the trend of dwindling Catholic school enrollment, admissions growing over the past five years. Malloy credits long-term continuity of its school and board leadership and successful academic and development programs.

PEAK mentors currently include lawyers, doctors, bankers, engineers, educators, politicians, business owners, stay-at-home moms — folks from all walks of life. And they are always seeking volunteers. “It’s fun doing the matches,” said Rush. “You’re looking for things in common, shared interests.”

As for Rafael, he was thrilled his mentor was a fellow baseball aficionado.

“We already have a really close bond. We go out to eat. We go to the YMCA for baseball practice. We went to a White Sox game,” said Rafael. “We talk or text. He gives me advice on life and what I should be doing to prepare for college. It’s great to know he’ll always be there.”


Monthly Member Feature School: Our Mother of Perpetual Help School

The mission of Our Mother of Perpetual Help School is to integrate Catholic values and moral teaching with academic opportunities that challenge students to achieve educational excellence.  Christian service programs complement and enrich the academic and spiritual life of the school, thus enabling students to take an active role in our Church and in the community at large.  OMPH School believes our students are a gift from God to be nurtured in the Catholic faith.  The school works in partnership with the parents, who are primary educators of their children, to create a loving community in which the students’ faith grows as they experience Jesus in their everyday lives. OMPH School challenges all students to reach their full potential spiritually, academically, socially, and morally.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help School is accredited by the Middle States Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools, and offers classes for Preschoolers through Eighth Grade students.  Students participate in daily Religion classes, along with the curriculum established by the Diocese of Harrisburg. In addition to core classes, OMPH School offers instruction in Art, Spanish, Music, Library, Physical Education, and Computer. Our Mother of Perpetual Help celebrates the diversity of our students’ talents by offering instrument lessons, after school clubs, and an athletic program. Community Service and Outreach programs, such as monthly service projects and donations to the local food bank, are another example of how OMPH students embrace their faith on a daily basis.

Meeting the many needs for technology in today’s school setting is an on-going challenge.  Currently, OMPH School utilizes SMART Boards, a computer lab with dedicated instruction time for each class, classroom iPads, an online student data management system with a parent portal to access grades, and student computers in the library and classrooms. The use of technology is also evident in the OMPH School Lab Learner Science Program. OMPH School is the first school in the Lancaster Deanery to implement Lab Learner, the premier method for teaching science to our nation’s youth, through hands-on techniques that engage children and increase their enthusiasm for the sciences. The focus on science given by Lab Learner enables teachers and students to progress through the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) initiative while having fun!

Our Mother of Perpetual Help School: Children Believing, Believing in Children!

Catholic Students Bring Joy to Poor Children

This Christmas season, Catholic schools across the country are mobilizing students to participate in Box of Joy, a ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach that blesses poor children in developing countries by sending them gift boxes packed with small toys, treats, school supplies, toiletries and apparel. Cross Catholic adds a rosary and “The Story of Jesus” coloring book as an extra blessing for this Catholic evangelization ministry for children. For many poor children who have never before received a Christmas gift, a Box of Joy is a source of hope and a pure delight!

This Christmas, Cross Catholic set a goal to mobilize faithful Catholics to pack more than 70,000 Boxes of Joy for poor children. In 2017, 46,360 children in four countries received gift boxes. That same year, Box of Joy brought together participants from 48 states, mobilizing thousands of volunteers and receiving support from 476 participating schools, parishes and groups, including National Council for Catholic Women and Knights of Columbus.

We’ve been blown away by the positive response from Catholic schools in the United States,” said Cross Catholic Outreach President Jim Cavnar. “Students love the program because they are able to connect with children in another culture and are empowered to be part of the Church’s global mission to share the Gospel.

Box of Joy provides a service-learning opportunity that engages students, positively influencing the next generation of Catholic leaders. Through this program, students are provided with the opportunity to put their faith into action, participate in a meaningful social justice activity and live out the Corporal Works of Mercy through a hands-on experience. Cross Catholic Outreach believes that Catholic students can change the world, and Box of Joy helps them take the first step.

“What’s unique about Box of Joy is that it not only brings a special Christmas memory to thousands of poor children, but it also ignites a passion and love for others in the Catholic students and families who are packing and sending the boxes. It’s a win-win opportunity,” Cavnar continued.

Don’t miss the opportunity to participate in next year’s Box of Joy! Mark your school’s calendar now for National Collection Week, Nov. 2-10, 2019. Cross Catholic Outreach will provide all the supplies you need for this inspiring service project, including fillable gift boxes. To learn more about Box of Joy, go to www.CrossCatholic.org/BoxOfJoy or contact Tessie O’Dea at 800-914-2420, ext. 158, or by email at TOdea@CrossCatholic.org.

Enrollment in Stark County Catholic schools rises, bucking trends

The following article is a re-post of Enrollment in Stark County Catholic schools rises, bucking trends by Kelli Weir.

Stark County Catholic Schools has bucked the nationwide downward trend for Catholic school enrollment by increasing its enrollment by 118 students this school year.

Heidi Kaczynski surprised her parents when she told them she wanted to attend St. Thomas Aquinas as a freshman.

She had attended public schools from kindergarten through eighth grade, performing well in her studies, particularly, math at Glenwood Intermediate as well as loving the art opportunities the Plain Local School District gave her.

“She did well at Plain Local but she was willing to give up the arts to be a part of something bigger,” explained Heidi’s mother, Amy Kaczynski.

Amy said Heidi didn’t want to be typecast into a particular career path or social group. She wanted to stay involved with multiple activities, which she said can be more difficult in a large school such as GlenOak High School. Amy believes Heidi also saw how her brother, Max Kaczynski, adjusted to going to a Catholic school. Max, now a junior, enrolled at Aquinas as a freshman.

She saw her brother blossom and get involved in lots of different things that he didn’t have the opportunity to do at GlenOak, Amy said.

Amy said while the family needed to make some financial adjustments to support the tuition for both children to attend Aquinas, she and husband, Frank, support the children’s decision because they consider the schools an extension of their close-knit family.

“It reminds me when they were in grade school with the small-group setting and you knew the parents really well and knew the students really well,” she said. ”(In most public schools), once you get into the intermediate grades and middle school you begin to lose that, and especially at GlenOak where it so large.”

The Kaczynski family is one of the reasons why Stark County Catholic Schools, which includes 11 elementary schools, a middle school as well as Aquinas and Central Catholic, has bucked the nationwide downward trend in enrollment for Catholic schools even as Stark County’s school-age population continues to decline.

Enrollment uptick

For the first time in at least five years, enrollment in Stark County’s Catholic schools is up, with 114 more students enrolled from kindergarten to high school compared to the previous year.

Aquinas saw the largest spike among Stark County Catholic schools with an increase of 50 students in its middle school and high school. Central Catholic’s enrollment also increased – for only the second time since 1998 – with 20 additional pupils this year and the elementary schools gained 40 students, with St. Michael seeing the largest increase among the 11 schools.

Catholic school enrollment across the nation has been on the decline for more than two decades,” Stark County Catholic Schools President Dan Gravo said. “Stark County experienced a similar trend. We’re thrilled that we are now a beacon of success and a testament that the president-principal model can work with a great team of people, like the one we have here in Stark County.

Mary Fiala of the Diocese of Youngstown said Stark County’s growth represents the largest increase in enrollment among all 28 schools under the diocese’s umbrella, which serves 6,801 student in Stark, Mahoning, Trumbull, Ashtabula, Portage and Columbiana counties.

The enrollment uptick in Stark County comes a year after the diocese restructured the leadership of Stark County’s two Catholic high schools by consolidating the governing boards and hiring Gravo as the president for both high schools. In July, the Diocese expanded Gravo’s role to also serve as president of the 11 Catholic elementary schools in Stark County, and added representatives from Holy Cross Academy to the Stark County Catholic High Schools’ board. Jackie Zufall, who was filling the role of Holy Cross president, now serves as vice president of Stark County Catholic Elementary Schools.

Gravo, whose role is to focus on marketing, enrollment and development, believes the increased enrollment at the high schools stems from better marketing of the schools and creating a better connection between the elementary, middle and high schools to retain students.

Aquinas and Central Catholic have begun to offer elementary school partner nights at their high school sporting events, where younger students can attend games free of charge, have the opportunity to be recognized on the field or court and can participate in activities led by older students, such as the annual Central Catholic vs. St. Thomas Aquinas Rivalry Football Game Elementary Student Tailgate.

The high schools also offer reading programs that pair older students with younger ones to improve literacy, hot lunch and recess visits that allow high school students to visit their friends at the elementary level and pen pal programs to encourage stronger writing skills. High school students also serve as referees and cheerleading advisors during elementary school athletics.

For us, it was a pre-K through 8 strategy, not just recruiting the eighth-graders,” Gravo said. “We’re looking long term so that they are thinking Central and St. Thomas from the time they are a little kids. … Just like you would in any public school system. If you’re a Little Leopard, you’re going to Louisville High School. Same at GlenOak with Little Eagles. We want to have that same setup, too.

Gravo said while some families such as Kaczynskis chose to leave public schools to join the Catholic high schools, most of the increase in their enrollment came from families whose children were enrolled in Catholic schools during their primary years. Gravo estimated 80 percent of this year’s freshman class came from the Catholic elementary schools.

Ella Salvino and Camryn Oster were among those freshmen who attended Catholic elementary schools. Salvino is attending Central Catholic and Oster enrolled at St. Thomas Aquinas. Their parents each cited the small classroom sizes, the schools’ commitment to faith and their attention to academics as driving factors in their decisions.

Kerri Salvino said she wasn’t surprised to learn about the 12 percent enrollment increase at the high schools because she’s seen the extra effort the staffs have put in to market the schools.

Catholic education used to be that you didn’t have to advertise because Catholic families automatically sent their children to Catholic schools,” said Salvino, a 1990 Central Catholic graduate. “But now with the cost of tuition and good public school options, that’s not necessarily the case so they have to advertise. People don’t realize how much scholarship money they can get.

The 2018 National Distinguished Principals Honorees Include Two Catholic School Principals

Among the 2018 NAESP National Distinguished Principals, Helen M. McLean from St. Andrew School in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Michael R. Thomasian from St. Anthony Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Washington will be honored.

NCEA congratulates the Catholic elementary school principals honored with the 2018 National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) National Distinguished Principals Award. Helen M. McLean and Michael R. Thomasian will attend an awards banquet in Washington, D.C. on October 12, as part of a two-day celebration.

NCEA Assistant Director for School Leadership Annette Jones, Ed.S., said, “Leadership is key to the vitality of any great school. Our Catholic schools are blessed to have exceptional principals as dedicated stewards of the faith setting the example of servant leadership and excellent academics.”

Helen M. McLean has been the principal at Saint Andrew School for the past 11 years, but she has served the school for 41 years in various capacities. As principal, she was instrumental in reversing declining enrollment and working with experts to ensure the school maintains a sustainable budget. She also managed to make necessary improvements to the school’s infrastructure. Perhaps her most notable achievement is bringing 21st century technology into the classroom, and cementing the school’s deep commitment to STEM. Ms. McLean’s efforts have resulted in Saint Andrew students consistently advancing in regional science competitions. During her tenure as principal, the school has installed a modern computer lab using the LabLearner science program making sure the school is working to achieve 1:1 technology integration. NAESP noted that by using the Instructional Support Team model, the school has been successful at identifying and supporting individual student needs and Ms. McLean has also introduced the PBIS model, putting the school into position to fully integrate the model into the curriculum for the upcoming school year. Acknowledged by colleagues as a tremendous, highly-respected leader who is always looking to move her school and parish forward, Ms. McLean is recognized both for her commitment to data-driven school improvement as well as her dedication to mentoring students and teachers alike. Ms. McLean was an NCEA 2018 Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award winner.

Michael R. Thomasian has served St. Anthony Catholic School for 18 years as a teacher, associate principal and, for the past seven years, as principal. Mr. Thomasian works hard to expand the cultural perspective of this urban school. St. Anthony offers a rigorous Spanish language program and routinely celebrates Latino cultural events and holidays. This forward thinking gives St. Anthony students a huge advantage in a culturally diverse world and also serves as an enticement to prospective students and families. As principal, Mr. Thomasian replaced the school’s outdated technology with Smart Boards, iPads and ChromeBook carts working to achieve 1:1 technology integration. He has also safeguarded teacher support in adapting the new technology by offering the faculty intensive training sessions. NAESP points out that in 2017, Mr. Thomasian introduced the Danielson Framework for Teaching to his instructors and staff in order to boost effective teaching and robust learning. Positive results have already been noticed in more motivated, engaged students and in more focused, productive staff meetings. Described by a colleague as a “humble servant leader,” Mr. Thomasian’s passion for nurturing the development of each of his students and staff punctuates his work daily.

Established in 1984, the National Distinguished Principals program of the NAESP recognizes public and private school elementary and middle-level administrators for making superior contributions to their schools and communities, specifically maintaining high standards for instruction, student achievement and character for students, families and staff.

The 62 honorees are selected by NAESP state affiliates and committees representing private and public schools. A complete list of the 2018 awardees is available online.

Catholic schools foster respectful communities through “No Place for Hate” program

The following article is a re-post of Catholic schools foster respectful communities through “No Place for Hate” program by Kelly Sankowski.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH SETON HIGH SCHOOL Students and teachers of Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg and representatives of the Anti-Defamation League hold the No Place For Hate banner that the school earned for the 2016-17 school year.

For three years in a row, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda and Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg have participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program, promoting diversity, inclusion and respect in their communities.

Stone Ridge was the first school in the Washington region to formally adopt the No Place for Hate Program before it launched in the 2015-16 school year, and both Stone Ridge and Seton have received the “No Place for Hate” banner for the three years since then.

ADL is proud to partner with two outstanding schools from the Archdiocese of Washington, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and Elizabeth Seton High School, to make their communities ‘No Place for Hate’ each school year,” said Seth Gordon-Lipkin, ADL’s education director for the Washington region. “…By becoming No Place for Hate schools, Stone Ridge and Seton have set a standard for other schools in our area that acceptance and respect must be priorities for our educational institutions in times of division.

To be designated as a No Place for Hate School and receive the banner, the schools must complete a needs assessment, form a No Place for Hate committee, sign a Resolution of Respect, and design and implement at least three school-wide anti-bias or bullying prevention programs.

The Resolution of Respect includes several points that students promise to adhere to, which vary depending on the age level. For older students, they promise to seek understanding of people who are different than them, speak out against prejudice and discrimination, support those who are targets of hate, promote respect for people, believe that one person can make a difference, and recognize that respecting individual dignity and promoting intergroup harmony are the responsibility of all students.

Last year, Stone Ridge hosted a Peace Day in the fall and a Multicultural and Diversity Festival in the spring. In the Upper School, they regularly host brown bag lunches where the students get together at lunchtime to discuss difficult issues. After there were several hate crimes in the area following the 2016 election, the school decided to engage in a positive way by hosting an “artivism” day where students created projects in different mediums expressing their thoughts about various social justice issues.

“I love how the festival and Peace Day illustrate the beauty and magnificence of all cultures, and how awesome it is that we encounter so many different types of people and perspectives in America, which is a melting pot of diversity,” said Stone Ridge senior Nia Williams.

At Seton, they host movie viewings for students to learn about and then discuss different topics, such as civil rights, and also host “Chat and Chew” gatherings for students to share snacks and discuss issues that are important to them. They also recently hosted a door-decorating contest on the topic of women’s empowerment, where each study group chose a woman they felt had a big impact on the world and decorated a door to teach about their life.

Genesis Severino-Ellis, a senior at Seton, said she appreciates the No Place for Hate program because, “this program gives me a voice – it lets you speak out on issues that impact you on a personal level.”

Stone Ridge senior Cecilia Gadina said participating in diversity programming at the Stone Ridge has showed her that even if you don’t see eye to eye with somebody, “they always deserve respect.”

Based on advice from students and teachers at these two schools, the Catholic Standard compiled some tips for how to celebrate differences in school communities this school year:

DON’T limit discussions about diversity and inclusion to special events.

Karl Austin, a middle school science teacher at Stone Ridge and a leader of the program there, noted that through the growth of the diversity club in Stone Ridge’s middle school, he has seen how “having these conversations be part of the regular academic week is really important.”

Elizabeth Seton’s “Chat and Chew” gatherings and Stone Ridge’s brown bag lunches are both examples of how they incorporate these discussions into more regular, casual gatherings.

“It gives them a safe space to talk about current events, because when they talk about them on their own, often they don’t feel the same responsibility to be respectful, to be civil as they do when they are doing it in a more formal context,” said Lauren Brownlee, the director of social action at Stone Ridge.

She noted that since the students who help put the brown bags together always present articles for people to read before the discussion, “they are not going in with whatever sense they had on the issue, they are starting with some shared text. People feel empowered to engage where otherwise they wouldn’t know a lot about a topic.”

Before entering into these types of discussions, Brownlee said it is important to teach students tips for dialoging with people who have different opinions, such as: affirm you heard what was said, be transparent, cite shared values, respond from a place of compassion, ask questions, and focus on facts.

“Disagreeing with people has taught me to see the good in others…there is more than what we disagree on,” said Gadina. “Their values may line up with what I value.”

DO use Catholic Social Teaching as a lens for difficult discussions

“Because we all share foundation of Catholic social teaching, that really helps to unite us as a community as we talk about hard things and do justice work together that sometimes can be controversial,” said Brownlee. “Certainly across the country people don’t all agree on it, and in our school not everyone agrees on how exactly things should go… [But] we have those shared principles as we analyze and respond to things.”

Angela Rohan, the director of student activities at Seton, said she felt this program fits well with the school’s Catholic identity, which emphasizes the dignity of all people.

I think this program hits on that over and over,” she said. “It helps us understand more, reach a greater level of respect for all people.

Austin said the principles of the No Place for Hate Program fit well with several of the goals of the schools in the Sacred Heart network, especially goal three and goal four: a social awareness that impels to action and building of community as a Christian value.

“All people are children of God. They are loved regardless of who they are,” said Gadina.

DO allow students to be the leaders.

It is important to empower students by listening to what they need, said Rohan.

It is not my school, it is their school. I’m here to serve them, she said.

In addition, she feels it is important to let them lead, because they are so close to stepping into the world on their own as adults, and this allows them to start learning how to speak up for themselves and what they believe in.

Brownlee said it is important to expose students to justice and advocacy at a young age, because “having that skill set is really important to responsible citizenship; having ways to let your voice be heard. It is also a part of faithful citizenship we hear about in the Catholic community…it is giving them those skills now so they continue to use them and hone them and advance them as they get older.”

DON’T be afraid to speak up and get involved – or even start a No Place for Hate program at your school.

Gadina said it has always been important to her, “To understand different perspectives and learn from people who are different than myself,” so as soon as she got to Stone Ridge she started getting involved in different diversity related activities there.

At first, she said she was nervous and hesitant to speak up in meetings, but she saw how passionate the older students were and “it really helped me to break out of my shell,” said Gadina.

She is now in several different groups on campus, and said she has learned that “even though some conversations are difficult to have and you may not see eye to eye, it is really important to forge bonds with people and stand up for what you believe in and what you care about.”

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STONE RIDGE SCHOOL OF THE SACRED HEART
Stone Ridge students hold the No Place for Hate banners that the school earned during the 2017-18 school year. In the back, they are joined, from left to right, by Catherine Ronan Karrels, the head of school; Malcolm McCluskey, head of the upper school; Karl Austin, chair of the middle school science department; Giovanna Basney, a middle school math teacher; Cindy Sabik, former head of the upper school; and Seth Gordon-Lipkin, ADL’s education director for the Washington region.

Coming home: Catholic students find meaning teaching at alma maters

The following article is a re-post of Coming home: Catholic students find meaning teaching at alma maters by 

Alumni from Cardinal Newman High School, returning as faculty. Many Catholic school students return to teach at their alma mater – drawn back by the bond of community and religion.

Anxious thoughts flooded Joe Molina’s mind.

He was navigating his first day of teaching Spanish at Cardinal Newman High School, a Catholic school in West Palm Beach.

Cardinal Newman was no ordinary school. Molina was a student at the school nine years earlier. That spring day, he was overwhelmed and reached out to his mentor and former teacher, Susanne Escalera, for help. Now a fellow colleague, she told him to take several deep breaths and relax. He then could face the classroom.

Those kind words reminded Molina where he had found himself: back at home.

Molina’s story is not uncommon. Many Catholic school students return to teach at the very schools they attended. They are drawn back, in part, by the bond of community and religion. Molina forged relationships at Cardinal Newman that have lasted nearly a decade.

As a student, Molina overcame his hurdles in calculus with the help of a teacher, Christine Higgins, who is now the principal. And when he tore his ACL and dislocated his knee cap in high school football, his coach, Don Dicus, stood by his side, reminding him that no matter how hard it gets, it was essential to go forward.

Now in addition to teaching Spanish, Molina is the football coach at Cardinal Newman, hoping to teach the same values he learned in high school to the next generation of students.

Molina is not alone. James Herzog, who works on education policy for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, visits Catholic schools throughout the state and is constantly meeting teachers who were once students at the schools where they now work. He thinks part of the reason is that these alumni can sense the difference they can make as teachers.

Heather Gossard, senior consultant at the National Catholic Education Association, said while there are no national statistics on the number of students who return to teach at the schools they attended, she estimates that as many as one in 10 Catholic school teachers are themselves graduates.

When they are asked why they return, invariably it is a uniform answer,” said Gossard. “They believe what they were given during their four years of education was so life-altering that they in turn want to give back. It is a force and something that strengthens our school significantly.

At Cardinal Newman alone, there are 10 alumni who returned to the school, where 72 of 481 students take advantage of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which helps low-income and working-class students pay tuition. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, administers the scholarships.

Molina said he hopes to give back to his students.

“I had plenty of teachers who gave back to me,” he said. “I try to do the same thing. You know what is expected here and what is expected of students.”

Further, Molina said he appreciates that the school allows him to not only teach a core subject but also the development of the student’s mind, body and spirit.

You have to educate the whole person,” he said. “You can’t just sit there and strictly focus on Spanish.

Although Molina taught at another school in Palm Beach Gardens prior to teaching at Cardinal Newman, he always knew he wanted to return.

Wes Logsdon also shared the same feelings.

A 1998 graduate of Cardinal Newman, Logsdon said Newman always had a special place in his heart: “It is family.”

He referred to his teachers as parental figures. Many members of his family have attended the school.

Currently the dean of students at the school, Logsdon said he appreciated the lessons he learned from his teachers.

The teachers are not there to just teach the subject matter but to help you grow overall and make you a better person,” he said. “You are going to come out of Newman with respect for others.

Jana Schulle, who teaches English at Cardinal Newman and graduated from the school in 1982, said she was inspired to pursue an English degree when one teacher on the yearbook staff encouraged her as a student to enter a writing contest.

At Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville, Kristin Kersch also returned to her educational home.

Kersch, who graduated from the middle school in 2003, said she felt compelled to teach in an environment where she could speak freely about her faith.

Like Molina, her boss taught her when she was younger. “She likes to tell the story that she was the first teacher to give me a B,” she said, laughing.

Because she learned so much from the teachers at her school, Kersch said she believes she must live up to that same benchmark in the classroom.

You really feel like you were important and mattered on an individual level,” she said. “I felt like I really have to do a great job for those kids because that is what they did for me.

During the school’s observance of Sept. 11th this year, Kersch said she remembered sitting in the classroom she taught at as a student learning the horrifying news from her teachers. Those memories bring meaning and semblance to her teaching experience.

What brings students back to teach is their connection to one another, said the Rev. David Carr, the president of Cardinal Newman High School. “They say, ‘We are glad to be home,’” said Carr.

Catholic schools promote kindness as antidote to bullying, anxiety

The following article is a re-post of Catholic schools promote kindness as antidote to bullying, anxiety by Theresa Laurence • Catholic News Service.

Students at St. Edward School in Nashville, Tenn., make some noise during a Sept. 13 pep rally at the school. The pep rally began as a kickoff event for the school’s kindness campaign, in which all schools in the Diocese of Nashville will be emphasizing kindness throughout the year, as a way to boost students’ self-esteem, empathy and social connections. (CNS photo/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)

In recent years, Catholic Charities school counselors have noticed an unsettling trend of more anxiety and less empathy among their young students.

A variety of factors, including increased screen time and social media usage, more homework and extracurricular activities, along with less recess and unstructured free time, is leaving children “missing out on connection-with each other and with their communities,” according to Catholic Charities counselor Melissa Smith.

“It sometimes seems like we’re putting out fires, and we wanted to be proactive instead,” said fellow Catholic Charities school counselor Amy Sturm, who began brainstorming the idea for a “kindness campaign” last spring. “We knew we needed to give kids active opportunities for them to be kind and connect with others.”

That realization has prompted all schools in the Diocese of Nashville to kick off their own incarnations of a yearlong kindness campaign.

We’re very excited that the schools are running with this,” said Rebecca Hammel, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville. “This is a very intentional effort to be who we’re called to be by Christ.

By designing the kindness campaigns to run in all schools in the diocese for the entire school year, the counselors are hopeful that it will have a lasting and positive impact.

“It’s like preventive medicine,” said Smith, who counsels children and families at St. Edward School. If schools actively embrace a culture of kindness, she said, “hopefully we’ll avoid some anxiety, bullying and friend trouble,” and ultimately have less anxiety and depression among young people.

Some schools, including St. Edward, have been utilizing anti-bullying programs such as Olweus for years, but “we wanted to put a more positive spin on the language,” Smith told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.

“Even the littlest ones can understand acts of kindness,” said Marsha Wharton, principal of St. Edward.

At the school, which is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse schools in the diocese, “the kids are accepting and respectful of all different kinds of people,” she said, and the kindness campaign is an ideal way to reinforce respect for other cultures. “It’s a strength of St. Edward that the students learn to be kind and accepting of people different than them.”

“We’ve seen a decline in civility in the larger society and we don’t want that to be reflected in our schools,” said Smith.

Kids are hard-wired for kindness, but they do need to be shown models of kindness, she added.

The school counselors designed the campaign to intentionally weave empathy and kindness back into the schools and to better meet the social and emotional needs of students. But they knew it had to be accessible for teachers and parents and fun for students to get the necessary community buy-in.

Sturm, the counselor at Immaculate Conception School in Clarksville, helped design a kindness campaign kickoff event with the theme of “Mission Possible,” held earlier in September. The children were given cards identifying each one as an “official agent of kindness,” and given envelopes bearing special “missions” like “make someone else smile.”

“The kids were so excited to have these little missions,” said Sturm. “This will really help them become ‘agents of change.’”

At St. Edward, Smith helped organize a pep rally to kick off the kindness campaign and held an evening session with parents to talk about how they can model kindness at home as well as help their children cope with tough issues.

For this to be successful at school, we also have to promote a culture of kindness at home, she said.

Smith, along with other volunteers, plans to post affirming messages in the school restrooms. “A lot of times when kids get overwhelmed, that’s where they go, and wouldn’t it be nice when they went in there if they saw a note that says, ‘you are loved’?”

Each school may have their own twist on promoting kindness this school year, but “they are all taking the initiative to lift other people up,” Hammel said.

Generally, each school will set up a “kindness committee,” made up of teachers, parents and students to organize events or activities that help enrich the kindness experience on each school campus throughout the year.

Schools are encouraged to start and end each day with an intentional focus on kindness such as a short prayer, quote, or student recognition.

Catholic Charities counselors have also designed an online “kindness toolkit” full of age appropriate resources including books, videos and activity suggestions. The toolkit will have information readily available to teachers to implement in their classrooms.

At the heart of the kindness campaign, for all children in Catholic schools, “we’re called to love our neighbor,” Smith said. “And we show God’s love by how we love one another.”


Laurence is a staff writer at the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

Forty – Four Catholic Schools Awarded The 2018 National Blue Ribbon School Award

Catholic schools from 17 arch/dioceses in 13 states will be honored for overall academic excellence in Washington, D.C.  

The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) joyfully proclaims that 44 Catholic schools will be honored with as 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools at a two-day event in Washington, D.C., November 7 – 8. This year, Catholic schools are 44 of the 49 private schools recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools.

As Catholic schools work toward the common mission of integrating knowledge with faith in the lives of young people, the honor of being named a National Blue Ribbon School reaffirms their excellence and showcases these schools as extraordinary communities,” said NCEA President/CEO Thomas W. Burnford, D.Min. “It is with great joy that we celebrate and witness these schools’ noteworthy accomplishments.

For 36 years, the National Blue Ribbon has been given to public and private K-12 schools nationwide.  The program evaluates student achievement with measurable characteristics that help identify not only the high achieving schools – Exemplary High Performing Schools, but also those schools that have achieved despite difficult odds – Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools.  For a complete explanation of the program, please visit http://bit.ly/2yxICbM.

As many as 420 schools can be nominated each year.  This year, 349 schools were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools. The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) nominates the private schools for the award and the states’ commissioner of education nominates the public schools. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program serves three main purposes: to identify the highest achieving schools in the country; to make criteria available to all schools to help them evaluate their current quality status and uncover areas for improvement; and, perhaps most importantly, to facilitate the exchange of information between the award-winning schools and those looking for solutions to problems.

NCEA applauds the following Catholic schools which earned the distinction of being 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools:

  • Saint Mary’s School, Simsbury, CT
  • Christ the King School, Atlanta, GA
  • Holy Redeemer Catholic School, Johns Creek, GA
  • Saint James Catholic School, Savannah, GA
  • Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Catholic School, Orland Hills, IL
  • Queen of All Saints School, Chicago, IL
  • Sacred Heart School, Winnetka, IL
  • Saint Bede Elementary School, Ingleside, IL
  • Saint Francis de Sales School, Lake Zurich, IL
  • Saint Francis Xavier School, Wilmette, IL
  • Saint Therese Chinese Catholic School, Chicago, IL
  • Resurrection Elementary School, Dubuque, IA
  • Magdalen Catholic School, Wichita, KS
  • Bishop Brossart High School, Alexandria, KY
  • Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Burlington, KY
  • Our Lady of Lourdes School, Louisville, KY
  • Sacred Heart Model School, Louisville, KY
  • St. Cecilia Elementary School, Independence, KY
  • Saint Joseph School, Cold Spring, KY
  • Christ the Teacher School, Fort Lee, NJ
  • Our Lady of Mercy Academy, Park Ridge, NJ
  • Saint Catharine School, Spring Lake, NJ
  • Saint Dominic School, Brick, NJ
  • Saint Helena School, Edison, NJ
  • Saint James Elementary School, Red Bank, NJ
  • Saint Jerome Elementary, West Long Branch, NJ
  • Saint Leo the Great School, Lincroft, NJ
  • St. Thomas the Apostle School, Old Bridge, NJ
  • Transfiguration Academy, Bergenfield, NJ
  • Saint Ignatius Loyola School, New York, NY
  • Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School, Liberty Township, OH
  • Notre Dame‐Cathedral Latin School, Chardon, OH
  • Saint Andrew‐Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School, Milford, OH
  • Ancillae‐Assumpta Academy, Wyncote, PA
  • Mater Dei Catholic School, Lansdale, PA
  • Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School, Maple Glen, PA
  • Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Doylestown, PA
  • Saint Joseph/Saint Robert School, Warrington, PA
  • Saint Jude Catholic School, Chalfont, PA
  • Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School, Southampton, PA
  • St. Mary Magdalen School, Media, PA
  • Saints Peter and Paul School, West Chester, PA
  • Saint John Paul II Catholic School, Houston, TX
  • Blessed Sacrament School & Early Childhood Center, Alexandria, VA

For more information about the Blue Ribbon Schools, visit the NCEA web page.


In service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NCEA strengthens Catholic school communities by providing professional development, formation, leadership and advocacy.

Fatima showcases new technology at Cyber Sip and See

The following is a re-post of Fatima showcases new technology at Cyber Sip and See.

Our Lady of Fatima School is showing off its new classroom technology.

The Catholic school in Lafayette hosted its Cyber Sip and See event tonight for parents and alumni to see the hands-on equipment that students and teachers use on a daily basis.

Among the gear showcased by students and teachers were iPads, computerized whiteboards and robotics equipment.

School leaders say donations from Fatima alumni helped pay for that gear.

We wanted to show our faculty, our parents, our grandparents, and any of our alumni what their money is going to. So when you’re donating to our technology department, we want everybody to come into our classrooms and see where the money, if they’re donating, is going to the new boards and the new iPads. We want everybody to realize this is where the money is going, and it’s worth it, said Beth Resweber, Blue and Gold chairman and member of the OLF Foundation.