January 11, 2019

Teacher’s creation of ‘STARS’ program leads to Celebrating Catholic School Values honor

(Editor’s note: On Feb. 7, the archdiocese will present Celebrating Catholic School Values Career Achievement Awards to Pat Musgrave, Virginia Marten and Jerry and Rosie Semler. In this issue, The Criterion features Musgrave.)

By John Shaughnessy

Pat MusgraveThe moment will always stay with Pat Musgrave—reminding her of the potential of her students while also reaffirming the difference she has made in their lives.

The moment happened during an all‑school assembly at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where Musgrave led its special education program for 24 years.

“I worked extremely hard to develop a program where students could have a Catholic education, attend school with their siblings and peers, and feel safe and accepted. I knew that had been achieved during a pep session at Roncalli,” she notes, referring to the moment that involved the school’s principal, Chuck Weisenbach.

“There was a young man with autism that struggled with the sounds at the pep sessions, but loved the energy. We worked it out that he would attend, but be on stage where the sound was not coming directly at him. Mr. Weisenbach happened to be on stage with the student at the time that one of the faculty members was energizing the crowd with a dance from Napoleon Dynamite.

“The student on stage was shouting directions to the faculty member when Mr. Weisenbach told him to go out onto the floor and show him how it was done. As the student joined the faculty member on the floor, the entire student body erupted into cheers and stood in unison to cheer him on. This is when I knew that the program at Roncalli had achieved success.”

‘The biggest success story’

That moment revealed many of the goals that Musgrave had for her students: to make them realize they have strengths, that they could have success, and that they are a valuable part of their community. It also revealed her willingness to have them take risks—a quality that defines her, too, says Roncalli’s president Joseph Hollowell.

“In 1993, she took a calculated risk and accepted a position at Roncalli where she would be responsible for creating a special education program from scratch,” Hollowell notes. “The common sentiment was that a successful special needs program could not be done in a Catholic high school. There certainly were no models in the state of Indiana to emulate at that time.”

Twenty-five years later, the special needs program at Roncalli that is called STARS—Students That Are Ready for Success—“may be the biggest success story in our school’s history,” says Hollowell.

The program that started with five students in 1993 at Roncalli now serves more than 150 students, representing about 15 percent of the school’s enrollment.

“Expanding the scope of the students we serve here has been uplifting, enriching and beneficial on many fronts,” Hollowell says. “It also has been challenging. However, Pat never flinched.

“Today, Catholic educators come from all across the country to observe and learn from the Roncalli STARS program. Pat’s efforts have truly impacted our nation’s Catholic schools.”

A life of promoting acceptance, faith

While coming to Roncalli can be viewed as a risk, Musgrave viewed it as an opportunity—an opportunity to influence the students she loves in an educational setting where she could also live and model her Catholic faith.

Before arriving at Roncalli, she had taught in public schools for 15 years.

“I knew that my degree in special education would make it difficult to teach in the Catholic school system as there were very few programs,” she says. “When Roncalli decided to start a special education program, I jumped at the opportunity.”

A leap into a Catholic faith community was also a significant part of the move for her.

“I wanted to be in a community that had the same faith values as I had,” says Musgrave, a member of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis and a 1973 graduate of Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville.

“I had 12 years of Catholic education. I always felt it was a very good, very challenging education. It also challenged me to serve others.”

Beyond leading the students in the STARS program, she also strived to connect with the other students at Roncalli. Before retiring last year, she also served as a costume coordinator in the theater department, an adult leader on service trips to Appalachia, and an adult leader on spiritual retreats.

As much as she contributed to Roncalli, she is equally grateful for the influence of the students and staff who touched her life during her 24 years there. And she is especially thankful for her husband of 41 years, Dennis.

They’re all part of her lifetime journey of trying to add a measure of understanding, acceptance and faith to the world.

“It’s been very rewarding,” she says. “I felt like a member of the family at Roncalli. I just enjoyed being part of a community that allowed me to talk to the kids about my faith and their faith—to talk about morals and values.” †

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