PROVIDENCE — During National Catholic Schools Week and throughout the year, Catholic classrooms not only serve as a space for well-rounded education, but also as a space to experience joy inspired by their faith. Daniel Ferris, superintendent of Rhode Island Catholic Schools, shares that it’s the source of the joy that makes Catholic schools special.
“When Catholic school educators bring the joy of Christ into the classroom, the students know it. Children, whether in first grade or seniors in high school, can sense the joy of Christ. It makes all the difference in the world and it’s why the Catholic school classroom is like no other.”
In his continued support of Catholic education, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has explained that all the members of the Church and community have been enriched by the contribution of Catholic schools, by providing a sound education, forming future leaders, instilling solid moral values and inspiring young people to generous service and concern for others.
“Catholic schools are irreplaceable as a means of evangelization, of sharing our faith, for students and families alike,” he said. “We are proud of our schools and very grateful to all those who contribute to their continuing success.”
National Catholic Schools Week 2019 will be observed in dioceses around the country January 27– February 2. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, nearly 1.8 million students are currently educated in 6,352 Catholic schools in cities, suburbs, small towns and rural communities around the country.
The CSW theme of “Catholic Schools: Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed,” focuses on the important spiritual, academic and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Gospel. Ferris explained that for all students, this education is the beginning of a lifelong quest for truth, exceptional college preparation and formation to live as purposeful and productive members of society. And in Catholic schools, that means, most of all, learning about the Catholic faith.
“Walk into any Catholic school in the Diocese of Providence and you will walk into a culture of learning that issues from the deeply personal, lived faith of the part of the faculty and staff,” Ferris said. “It’s what we want, too, for the students. Put children together in a classroom, on a playground or sports field and there are bound to be occasions that prompt lessons in kindness, thoughtfulness, and friendship, just as there will inevitably be good lessons in compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”
In areas of serving those in need, the test question that every student in Catholic schools never stops answering: “How can I serve others with the gifts and talents God has blessed me with?” is one that Ferris says that the students get an A+ on every time. He also added that “Character Education” emerged as a trend several years ago in public and charter schools, said Ferris, but it never left Catholic schools.
“In Catholic schools, leadership is still, and always will be, connected to virtue,” he said. “Leadership is not a learned technique. It arises out of firmly grounded moral convictions and it strives to move others to what is right and good. That’s Catholic education in a nutshell; it’s what makes Catholic education a matter not only of this life but also the next.”
As school communities enter into the second half of the school year special initiatives and programs, continue to flourish, such early childhood programs, Blended Learning, STEAM instruction and an effort to support Collaborative Professionalism.
Recently, the Catholic School Office has seen an interest in expanding early childhood programs to families with children as young as 18 months. All Catholic elementary schools currently have pre-kindergarten classrooms with three and four-year-olds.
“I’m sure in the coming years we are going to see more programs in our Catholic schools for toddlers, and possibly for infants as young as six months.”
For many schools in the diocese, a personalized approach to learning, not to be confused with individualized learning, has been the bridge to Blended Learning. With the professional development support of the Highlander Institute, as of last week there were 15 schools in the Diocese engaging their students in Blended Learning.
“This has brought increased use of technology in the classrooms and allowed for a differentiation of instruction that is rarely so easy or effective,” said Ferris. “Quality differentiation of instruction through Blended Learning has, in turn, helped create more inclusive classrooms, a goal of many of our Catholic schools. Blended learning allows students across the full horizon of abilities to receive the instruction they need.”
Integrated STEAM instruction continues throughout the diocese which has two schools that have received the STEAM certificate and are now recognized STEAM Academies, as well as six Catholic elementary schools in the process, and this spring the first diocesan Catholic high school will gain STEAM Academy status.
The Catholic School Office is also partnering with Providence College PACT director and researcher Dr. Michael O’Connor to support Collaborative Professionalism in Rhode Island’s Catholic schools.
“The best teachers are collaborative teachers,” said Ferris. “They know that for a student to be fully educated and to reach his or her potential, it takes more than one good teacher. Catholic school teachers often intrinsically understand Collaborative Professionalism. Because Catholic education is a ministry of the Church, we understand that every Catholic school is a community -- a community of learners and believers. Sharing a common vocation and ministry is a core value. Collaborative Professionalism gives us the research to support our common efforts.”
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