January 27, 2012

2012 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

The Good News of Catholic education spreads through deep faith, strong academics and compassionate service

By Harry Plummer

When the florist would drop off two dozen roses in a glass vase at the school office, no one had to look at the card to know where to deliver them. Every teacher—myself included—knew that they were for the first-grade teacher, Sister Margo.

The lesson she planned began when the delivery came to her classroom door. She would get very excited about the roses and so would the children. She would put them on her desk, and let the students come up row by row to touch, smell and comment on their beauty. She would talk about where roses grow, share some poems about roses, and ask the kids to draw and write about them.

She also used them for a science lesson, teaching the children to observe and note the differences between plant and animal life, and even doing a simple experiment with food coloring to demonstrate the rose’s vascular system.

Later, while the students worked at their desks, Sister Margo would make some noise that was sure to attract their attention and, never looking up, would take the roses out of the vase, walk over to the sink, dump out the water, return the roses to the empty vase and resume her desk work.

Invariably, the shock that would run through the classroom at this action would quickly precipitate into a hand going up or a call-out asking, “Sister Margo, why’d you do that?”

She would then ask what was wrong with what she did, and always received the same reply, “But if you take the water out, the roses will die!”

She would then get up, refill the vase and say, “You’re right. Now we’re ready to talk about baptism.”

Later in the week, Sister Margo would complete the lesson by marching her students down to the parish’s weekly lunchtime soup kitchen, where the roses ended up as centerpieces or gifts handed out by the children to brighten the day of the homeless guests.

Do you think anyone in Sister Margo’s class ever forgot that lesson? I know I haven’t because it offers such a vivid snapshot of how Catholic school teachers light fires in the hearts and minds of students.

Her pedagogical method illustrates both the importance that Catholic school educators place on demonstrating interdisciplinary links between subjects, and bringing religious awareness into all human learning.

It also contains each of the elements of Catholic school education that we are celebrating this year—faith, academics and service. Let’s take a brief look at each of these as they are lived out in our Catholic schools.

  • Faith—Catholic schools celebrate our Catholic faith in word and sacrament, in service and in the ongoing development of a community spirit animated by the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord. As one of the privileged environments for the new evangelization, they have a missionary thrust and are often catalysts for bringing families into a renewed, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and his Church.
  • Academics—In category after category, the performance of our Catholic schools on academic assessments is remarkable, often significantly exceeding the performance of other Indiana school systems. Our Catholic high school graduation rate is 99.2 percent. The percentage of our Indiana Core 40 graduates is 98.5 percent. And our Catholic schools have the highest number of National Blue Ribbon School Awards of any diocese in the country. Many other academic accolades could be mentioned so if you are interested in them or other information about our Catholic schools, contact the archdiocese Office of Catholic Education at 317-236-1430 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1430.
  • Service—In a U.S. bishops’ pastoral reflection from 2002 titled “A Place at the Table,” our bishops remind us that too often the call of the Gospel and the social implications of the Eucharist are ignored or neglected in our daily lives. Our Catholic schools respond to this call by working with families to reach out to the poor and needy in a great variety of ways, completing 164,251 service hours during the 2010-11 school year. Wow!

So let’s celebrate these three inseparable pillars of Catholic school education—faith, academics and service. Like certain chemicals, when blended together they ignite a fire.

And that’s just what happens in the hearts and minds of the youth placed in the care of our Catholic schools, one spark at a time.

(Harry Plummer is executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Education and Faith Formation.)

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