October 17, 2014

Catholic Education Outreach / Gina Fleming

‘These’ are God’s children

Recently, I was approached with questions about changes affecting our Catholic schools. Like many times before, one question asked was, “How are the ‘voucher kids’ impacting discipline, learning and growth in our schools?”

As innocent as these words—“voucher kids”—can be, they inherently go against what God teaches us. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus states, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk 10:14).

Perhaps “voucher kids” is just easier to say than “children who are voucher eligible.” But I must speak more boldly for these who exude God’s pure love.

Children are children.

There are some with learning differences. They are not “special education kids,” “Downs children,” or “autistic kids,” but children whose families love them just like I love my boys, and children who deserve to be viewed for their gifts and strengths rather than their limitations.

Some children have parents whose adjusted gross income (AGI) qualifies them for vouchers. They are not “voucher kids.’ They are children who are voucher-eligible. It may sound like I’m being a wordsmith, but it speaks to the way we view the very children we serve—the way we serve these children of God.

Please, readers, help me speak up for our children! There seems to be some confusion around vouchers in the archdiocese, and I can think of no better group to help than you!

We have had an increase of Indiana Choice scholarships (vouchers) in our schools since their inception in 2011. The extension of the voucher law in 2013 allowed many of the children we were already serving to receive vouchers. There are people in our midst who want to believe that “these” children do not have the discipline, the ability, or the interest in excelling like our “other” students. This is simply not true.

What is true is that some students come to us with limited health care prior to birth because their parents could not afford proper health care. It is not their fault!

Some students did not experience the zoo, the Children’s Museum, and the dozens of children’s books that sit on shelves in many of our homes. It is not their fault!

Families of poverty often have caregivers working more than one job to support the family who are unable to provide the at-home support that other children have been privileged to receive. Isn’t this all the more reason to give these children the loving, holistic Catholic approach to teaching and learning?

Students who come to us from other schools and from other countries often need more support, more resources, and more time to grasp the English language or to simply get caught up. It is our responsibility and our privilege to serve these children and their families, for they give far more than they take. These young people give us a fresh perspective on a world bigger than central and southern Indiana. They give us hope for a brighter tomorrow. And they give us a chance to practice our faith with a true celebration of the universal Church.

With this said, I have another confession. I have so much to learn about cultural responsiveness. However, I pray that I never stop learning and growing, and I am grateful for the many resources our Catholic Church provides to help all of us grow.

Please pray for our Catholic educators, that we never lose sight of who and why we serve. Join me in praying that all continue to demonstrate courage and compassion while challenging the thought that “these” children do not have a significant role in our Catholic schools.

(Gina Fleming is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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