New innovations abound in diocesan Catholic school education

School children smile as they receive praise last spring from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and diocesan staff for their part in the “Hearts to Hospitals” Day of Service project. Preparation has begun for the 2019 campaign. Craig Pittelli photo

From Staff Reports

Just as learning is a lifelong process that builds upon past successes and strong framework for future ones, the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools continually strives to fulfill its stated mission to “provide leadership, direction, support, and service to pastors, principals, and school communities as they form students in the Catholic faith and develop each child’s potential.” A look at the department’s newest innovations and continuing initiatives can give parents clear signs that Catholic schools indeed have it all.

Preparation has begun for the 2019 Elementary School Day of Service, noted Judy Nicastro, associate director of school services. In a follow-up to last year’s successful “Hearts to Hospitals” campaign, all elementary schools in the Diocese will once again be working cooperatively to help hospitalized children and their families in Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties.

“This project combines the spirit of helping others with information and education about the cause,” Nicastro said.

In addition to collecting more than 10,000 toys and more than $13,000 in gift cards for distribution to the 11 participating hospitals last year, “students learned, at age-appropriate levels, about childhood illness, hospital procedures and medical research,” Nicastro said. “[They] wrote notes of encouragement to hospitalized children and their families, notes of thanks to hospital employees… Working with the hospitals formed a positive community partnership, with many of the hospitals involved expressing an interest in working with the elementary schools on areas outside of [the program], such as STEM education and related educational endeavors.”

Daniel O’Connell, associate director of curriculum, provided updates on two new sets of curriculum guidelines that were launched at the beginning of the school year. One, for students aged three to nine, speaks primarily to the social and emotional development of children with consideration for their linguistic and motor development. A short video presentation giving an overview of the guidelines was prepared and released for the teachers to view. The other focuses on those studying foreign languages.

In the fall, language teachers from across the Diocese were invited to a presentation in which the World Language Curriculum guidelines were presented and discussed. There was an opportunity for teachers to talk about the challenges of teaching a foreign language and to share best practices.

In addition, collaboration with the Department of Evangelization and Family Life led to a pilot retreat program for freshman in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton.

“About 50 students traveled to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., for a moving day of talks, prayer and reflection,” O’Connell reported. “While schools offer special retreats for seniors, the department felt a special retreat should be developed and offered to the young freshmen as they begin their high school journey.”

Earlier this month, guidelines for a newly revised English language arts curriculum were released. Based on the national standards and benchmarks for effective Catholic elementary and secondary schools, the curriculum was written over four years, said Dr. Margaret Boland, associate superintendent of Catholic schools.

“The mission for the curriculum is to prepare the students for success in their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills across all disciplines,” Boland stated. “The vision encompasses the mindset to guide students to become lifelong learners, to read widely, become culturally literate, to use written and verbal communication to express opinion and to demonstrate critical analysis while infusing the tenets of our Catholic faith.”

The goal of the curriculum, she said, “is to stress the value of reading critically, analytically and reflectively. It is expected that the students will gain cultural awareness by experiencing a wide variety of texts from diverse cultures, different time periods and varied disciplines.”

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