Teaching professionals unite in purpose at Educators' Symposium

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WARWICK — Nearly 900 clergy members, principals and teachers from throughout the Diocese of Providence attended the 2014 Educators’ Symposium at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on March 22.

Daniel J. Ferris, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said he was pleased with the turnout, as well as the fact that Bishop Thomas J. Tobin concluded the event by celebrating Mass.

“He’s the primary educator in the diocese, and to have him with us is always a great treat,” Ferris said.

As he began Mass, Bishop Tobin thanked educators and priests for their commitment to Catholic education. He also praised their dedication to students.

“I’m very grateful for the work that you do every day on behalf of Christ and his church,” Bishop Tobin said.

The event began with a keynote speech by Karen Ristau, Ed. D., past president of the National Catholic Education Association, and included award presentations, as well as three sessions of seminars.

During her keynote speech, “United in Purpose,” Ristau pointed out that promoting a Catholic world view enables educators to put their beliefs into action as ministers of God. Teachers and administrators throughout the country, she said, stand together “even though we are physically miles apart.”

“Jesus called us all to be his disciples,” said Ristau. “Sometimes I think it’s so fundamental that we don’t give our discipleship enough attention or we don’t think of ourselves in those terms. But what Jesus taught us and asked us to do shapes how we conduct our schools and how we teach.”

Judy Devine, national consultant for W.H. Sadlier, Inc., reiterated Ristau’s point during her presentation, “Today’s Math Classroom: Standards, Practices, Shifts.” As a former teacher and principal who worked in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Dioceses of Arlington, Va., and Allentown, Pa., Devine spoke of how vital it is for teachers to shift from a “teacher-centered” classroom to a collaborative classroom, one in which students are more engaged.

A prime way to do that, said Devine, is to have students explain and justify the methods and processes they use to solve math problems.

“If they explain and justify, they’ve understood the concept,” she said. “When I first started teaching, I was so intent on, ‘I’ve got to get this covered,’ that I didn’t make a lot of time for the children’s input. But the more I allowed them input, the greater the understanding they had. That’s really important in today’s math classroom.”

She also noted the value of having students work in groups, as well as the importance of visual aids and virtual manipulatives when teaching fractions, decimals and percentages. This, Devine said, bridges the gap between concrete and abstract learning.

“Our children today are visual; they need to see the concept to understand,” said Devine. “When they look at visual manipulatives, it allows them to see all the sides of a figure.”

Teachers at All Saints Academy in Middletown attended Devine’s seminar because they were interested in learning updated methods and to see if there are any new strategies that would enhance not only their teaching skills, but their students’ understanding of math.

While fourth grade teacher Gay Gullison, said she enjoyed the way Devine emphasized peer teaching, Meredith Shafley, who teaches math to sixth, seventh and eighth graders, said she’s confident Devine’s advice will help in the classroom. Fifth grade math teacher Nancy Devin said the presentation “seemed to validate what we do at our school,” noting that they often use visuals.

Other educators said Dr. John Sotis’ seminar, “The ADHD, Learning Disability and Autism Epidemic: Causes and Interventions,” was equally helpful. Sotis, a chiropractic physician, spoke about how research shows that functional disconnection syndrome, which occurs when one part of the brain develops late or incompletely than the rest, is mostly epigenetic, meaning that they are caused by environmental factors rather than genetic influences.

“It’s that functional disconnect that’s responsible for it, not bad genes,” he said. “The very, very least of it is genetics. All the reliance on technology, bad diet and a sedentary lifestyle is a perfect storm. It’s promoting this epidemic in neurobehavioral disorders across the globe.”

Sotis said encouraging children to exercise more by going outside to play, as opposed to incessantly playing video games or watching television, as well as eating healthier foods, help diminish symptoms. Medication, he said, has its place for a while, but is not an effective, long-term solution. Getting to the root of the problem is far more successful.

Following Sotis’ presentation, Maria Carnevale, who teaches at St. Joseph School in West Warwick, said she is “highly impressed by the methods” Sotis explained. She attended his presentation in the past, and has recommended people to him.

“I’ve seen the results,” said Carnevale.

That’s good news for other teachers, especially Julie Frega and Pam Sullivan. Frega, an English teacher at LaSalle Academy, said she has several students with dyslexia and ADHD, and is interested in learning more about strategies to use in the classroom.

Sullivan, a teacher at St. Philomena School in Portsmouth, is thrilled to be able to better direct parents.

“This is not a hopeless situation,” she said. “It’s something that can be addressed, and hopefully from a holistic approach because so many parents don’t want to put their children on medications.”

Educators also commended other seminars such as, “Bearers of the Word: The Call to Discipleship and Evangelization,” “Teaching Tiered Study Skills,” “The Internet: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,” and more.

Roger Parent, principal of St. Kevin School in Warwick, attended the event with four of his staff members. He thought the seminar about the Internet was particularly interesting, as well as essential for educators.

“Sometimes kids don’t know that the stuff they post is always out there,” Parent said. “We have to teach them Internet safety and protocol.”

As noted, the event also included a brief awards presentation. Father Francis C. Santilli, pastor of St. Philip Church in Greenville, as well as Father Edward J. Wilson, Jr., pastor of SS. Rose and Clement Church in Warwick, were recognized as the 2013 and 2014 National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Distinguished Pastor Nominees, respectively. Jack P. Rezendes, principal of East Providence’s St. Margaret School, was honored as the 2013 Distinguished Principal Nominee, while Lisa Lepore, principal of Cranston’s St. Mary School, was acknowledged as the 2014 NCEA Distinguished Principal Award. She will receive the national award next month in Pittsburgh at the NCEA national convention.

Additionally, Theresa Ducharme, an eighth grade teacher at Woodlawn Catholic Regional School in Pawtucket, received a round of applause for recently being named a recipient of the Channel 10 Golden Apple Award.

“Thank you for all you do for Catholic schools,” Ferris said of the educators. “It’s greatly appreciated.”