WARWICK — School administrators and teachers convened on Monday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the annual diocesan Catholic Educators’ Symposium, which was themed “Faces of Catholic Education.”
In his keynote address, Jesuit Father Michael J. Garanzini, president of Loyola University of Chicago, told the educators that they are “instruments of God’s love.
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“I believe so much in the work you do,” the noted author and scholar said, telling those gathered that their students mature and go on to do great things because of the support they received in Catholic schools.
Father Garanzini, a respected child and family therapist, likened the school day to the celebration of Mass. He said that students arriving at school are like worshippers entering a church - they are distracted and need to focus in a calm, quiet atmosphere.
“We open up to the Word and little by little we settle in,” he continued. “We allow ourselves to be open to the mystery.”
Adding that the school day is also a time of sacrifice and celebration, Father Garanzini said students, like individuals nourished by the Eucharist, leave at the end of the day, strengthened by their faith.
Catholic schools, he said, offer an environment where “essential learning” takes place – lessons that not only strengthen students intellectually, but also spiritually, as they prepare for the future.
Father Garanzini emphasized that all children need structure and positive relationships.
To effectively learn, students need a safe environment, a predictable schedule, a set of rules and responsibilities and clear lines of authority.
Father Garanzini added that it’s crucial for parents to respect all authorities who play a role in their child’s life and said that when parents come to school acting as their son or daughter’s lawyer, the results will often be troublesome.
The distinguished university administrator told the educators that all children need care, to be treated with honesty and objectivity and “loved in the flesh” by those in authority.
“Kids need models of love,” Father Garanzini said, adding that when children are not loved at home, they seek nurturing in school, and if that fails, look to their peers.
Gang membership, he said, is often a substitute for family life. Often times, children who feel unloved fall into gangs, where they feel a sense of belonging and there is leadership.
Father Garanzini emphasized the important role that Catholic educators play as sacramental ministers who nourish and support their students.
“You are the Word for them,” he said.
Donna Corey, a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Pius V School, Providence, said she was inspired by Father Garanzini’s talk.
“I thought he had great insights,” she observed. “What he said was true to form.”
Corey’s colleague, Kathy Russell, a kindergarten teacher at St. Pius School, described the talk as “very personal.
“It will help me to communicate better with parents and to understand where they are coming from,” she said, adding that the presentation also will make her more aware of the different needs of individual students.
“It was very validating for me as a teacher,” Russell said.
During a breakout session, Father Garanzini answered questions, such as how to deal with narcissistic parents.
“They see their child as an extension of themselves,” he said. “ They think, ‘If you are giving my kid a C, you are giving me a C.’”
Father Garanzini said teachers faced with this situation must be supported by the school principal, and should never placate and back down.
“Tell them, ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the grade is a C,’” he said.
Christian Brother Robert Wickman, who works in the president’s office at La Salle Academy, Providence said the keynote address brought the educators into the world of the students and what they bring from home.
“He gave us some very practical insights about where students are coming from in terms of their needs for structure and relationships,” Brother Wickman commented.
Superintendent of Schools Daniel J. Ferris welcomed the educators, and recognized Msgr. Barry Connerton, pastor of St. Augustine Church, Providence, who was a National Catholic Education Association nominee for the 2011 Best Pastor Award; Kathleen Morry, principal of St. Augustine School, who was an NCEA nominee for the Best Principal Award; and Andrew Brassard, a middle school mathematics teacher at St. Augustine School, who was the NCEA recipient of the Best Teacher Award for the New England region.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin was the main celebrant of the closing Liturgy. Music was provided by the Educators’ Symposium High School Choir, directed by Marc Blanchette.