January 26, 2007

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Campaign could expand Project Exceed programs

Fourth-grader Regina Casas and fifth-grader Arturo Aguilar receive tutoring in English during teacher Laura Mull’s English as a New Language class in May 2006 at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. (File photo by Mike Krokos)

Fourth-grader Regina Casas and fifth-grader Arturo Aguilar receive tutoring in English during teacher Laura Mull’s English as a New Language class in May 2006 at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis. (File photo by Mike Krokos)

By Sean Gallagher

For the past six years, Project Exceed has launched dozens of initiatives that have honed teaching skills in Catholic schools throughout Marion County.

As a result, student performance in these schools, which was already good, has improved and been maintained.

One initiative that has helped is the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). In it, master and mentor teachers coach clusters of teachers as they review student achievement data, set goals for their improvement and evaluate possible teaching practices to meet those goals.

Another initiative has been the Office of Catholic Education’s Hispanic Outreach Program, which advises schools about ways to help new Hispanic students perform well.

Now Ron Costello, the director of Project Exceed, hopes to sustain these and other programs in schools that have already implemented them and expand them to schools throughout the archdiocese as a result of funds raised through the Legacy for Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future campaign.

Joseph Therber, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Stewardship and Development, said that this is an important part of the campaign that can aid schools across the archdiocese.

“The Legacy for Our Mission campaign proceeds will help expand and replicate Project Exceed initiatives in Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese and will allow teachers to perform at their optimum while they provide students with an unparalleled education,” said Therber.

The possibility of expanding such initiatives meets with the hearty approval of Chad Moeller, principal of St. Louis School in Batesville.

The school currently has 18 Hispanic students and dealing with their distinctive needs, which often involve language barriers and cultural differences, is a challenge.

“This is new to us,” Moeller said. “The teachers and I spend a lot of time on the phones with other schools … to see how they’re handling it.”

Because of Project Exceed, Margarita Solis Deal, the coordinator of the Hispanic Outreach Program, has helped St. Louis School and other school staffs cope with the challenges of Hispanic students and recognize the gifts they bring.

“Margarita has been a big help,” Moeller said. “She’s said that it may be possible that she could come down here and help to train teachers and maybe even teach our teachers on the basics of Spanish, which would be so helpful.”

Solis Deal said that with additional funding from the Legacy for Our Mission campaign she could expand the efforts of the Hispanic Outreach Program.

“Because schools are facing so many different issues, they can’t keep abreast of everything that is going on,” she said. “I think what this program is able to do is to really stay up to date on what is currently happening in this whole area of working with the Hispanic community.”

Costello said that additional funding is crucial if initiatives like the Hispanic Outreach Program are to continue.

“Our needs are constantly changing, given the kinds of students we serve, both in our schools and in our Church,” he said. “The Hispanic population is a good example of that. And without those additional resources, we’re not going to be able to serve those students successfully.”

Ultimately, Solis Deal wants Catholic schools in the archdiocese to help Hispanic students succeed like they have so many other students throughout their history.

“I think schools are hopefully asking a lot of questions in terms of what they need to do,” Solis Deal said, “what they need to put in place to ensure that we’re providing the same high-quality education to these new students that they’ve always provided to students for many, many years.”

When Debra Perkins became principal of St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis five years ago, the faculty was already teaching students effectively.

But in her time there, the level of performance has increased. According to Perkins, it is in part due to the school’s participation in TAP.

“When we take a look at where we’ve come from, being a good school to being a great school,” she said, “it’s because we’ve had our eyes opened, and we’ve been able to take the time and have the professional development to look specifically at what works.”

One way, according to Perkins, that TAP has done this at St. Barnabas School is by helping middle school teachers with a speciality, for example in religion or science, integrate strategies to improve students’ reading comprehension skills while still passing on the distinctive knowledge of their field.

“… We’re not just teaching science,” Perkins said. “We’re teaching all of the skills that you need to be able to study science.”

She likes what has happened at her school through TAP and hopes it can be expanded to schools throughout the archdiocese.

“We recognize that the opportunities that our teachers have been given are great opportunities,” Perkins said. “But we also know that it could be replicated anywhere.”

(Schools administrators interested in participating in the Hispanic Outreach program can call 800-382-9836, ext. 4068 or e-mail msolis@archindy.org.) †


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