April 11, 2008

Local speakers share insights at national Catholic educational convention

By Mary Ann Wyand

Archdiocesan presenters featured during the National Catholic Educational Association convention on March 25-28 in Indianapolis offered a variety of “how to” programs for educators from throughout the U.S. and several other countries.

“How about ‘Leave No Child Inside’?” by Providence Sister Theresa Boland addressed “place-based education,” which connects students with the community and the environment.

Place-based educational initiatives allow children to explore the natural world with hands-on experiences outside the classroom, explained Sister Theresa, the former principal of Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Terre Haute, which was closed in June 2007.

Sister Theresa said outdoor curriculum included a weather station, composting area and garden as well as butterfly, worm and bird habitats. Students also learned the importance of recyling.

“Problem-based Learning in the Science Classroom,” a presentation by Sandra Hoy, a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis, examined how sixth-grade students identify and study an authentic science-related problem in the community then present their findings and solutions.

“Throughout the process,” Hoy said, “students learn how to research, use technology, develop presentations and organizational skills, increase vocabulary and reading comprehension in science, and connect what they are learning with the world in which they live.”

“Empower Teens to Embrace Chastity,” presented by Margaret Hendricks, archdiocesan coordinator of A Promise to Keep: God’s Gift of Human Sexuality, illustrated how teenage peer mentors are “the heart” of the successful abstinence education curriculum for middle-school students.

“The emphasis of this preventive health model is on virtues, values and character formation, not physical development,” Hendricks explained. “The lessons or topics covered include the many positive reasons for saving sex for marriage. … The developmental period of 11 and 12 years of age is the critical time to begin preparing young people for the negative pressures and examples that will assault their Catholic values.”

“Critical Thinking for School and for Life” by Providence Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp was based on her doctoral research on critical thinking and moral judgment as well as her experiences as president of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.

“Engaging Your Board in Advancing the Mission” by Daniel Elsener, president of Marian College in Indianapolis, emphasized that “the Church, especially its schools and social services, will thrive through the full engagement of the laity.”

Elsener said keys to successful governance recruitment include organization, preparation, investment of time and belief in the mission in order to achieve success in planning, fundraising, accountability, relevance, marketing and communication.

“Exploring the Governance Relationship between the Catholic School and the Parish” by Father Jeffrey Godecker, the Catholic chaplain at Butler University in Indianapolis and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, explained the importance of building bridges between the parish and school communities.

“The school [staff] needs to be a whole lot more involved in the parish than what it is,” Father Godecker said. “… The school has a very specific task. It’s a labor-intensive institution. They’ve got lots to do, and lots of challenges working with students and parents and creating a really good education.

“But somehow, if faith is to be maintained, if faith is to grow once those kids are out of school,” he said, “one of the challenges for the school is keeping those kids involved in the parish, integrating students and families into the parish, and particularly those students and families that may only nominally participate in the parish.”

The role of a Catholic school must include faith formation in the classroom, Father Godecker said, and also in the parish community.

“Faith formation involves how you live that faith within a community,” he said, and requires student participation in the life of the parish.

“The principal has to be known in the parish community beyond just the school parents,” Father Godecker said. “If there is a science fair or an art show, parishioners need to be invited and some of the exhibits need to be displayed in the narthex.” †

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