Convocation discusses combining Common Core, Catholic values

Thu, Oct 9th 2014 01:00 pm

On Oct. 3, teachers of elementary, middle and high schools throughout the diocese welcomed keynote speakers from across the country to the Catholic Educators' Convention at the Hamburg Fairgrounds. The theme was "Cultivating Our Roots in the Common Core," during which speakers stressed the importance of using the entire school day, and all subjects, to instill Catholic values in students.

The morning's speakers included three diocesan educators, Martha Eadie, the principal of Our Lady of Black Rock in Buffalo, principal Kimberly Suminski of Notre Dame Academy in Buffalo and Alana Schrader, theology teacher and campus minister at Notre Dame High School in Batavia.

The convocation also welcomed Dr. Elizabeth Frangella, a teacher, school psychologist, principal, and assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment in the Diocese of Rockville Center, and Cheryl Canfield, who was a teacher for 21 years, a principal for 11 years, and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Diocese of Syracuse for eight years. Former superintendent, teacher, principal and curriculum director Sister Leanne Welch, PVBM, of Dubuque, Iowa, also spoke.

Eadie and Suminski have implemented the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative in both Our Lady of Black Rock and Notre Dame Academy. The two principals attended a conference in Nashville, Tenn., and Secretary for Catholic Education Carol Kostyniak spoke about the initiative and looked for volunteers to start using this new initiative, and Eadie and Suminski both volunteered.

Eadie said in 2012, a document called "The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary Schools and Secondary Schools" was published. This was "a collaboration among educators and religious men and women," for the purpose of collectively "developing a common framework of agreed-upon universal characteristics of Catholic identity for Catholic school excellence."

"With this new framework and the fact that Catholic schools around the country were adopting the new Common Core standards, there was an apparent degree of direct connection between infusing Common Core and Catholic identity into the curriculum; thus, the CCCII was created," Eadie said. The goal is to ensure the schools' curriculums combine the rigor of Common Core standards, to enable students to be college and career ready, while also giving them understanding of core Catholic values and themes.

Schrader, who is completing a master's of divinity program at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, said, "My role is to be the link that connects teachers with the sources they need to infuse their lessons with Catholic identity." She attended the workshops at Our Lady of Black Rock and Notre Dame Academy, spoke with teachers and thought about suggestions to help. Today, she offers teachers binders full of resources and modules that they may select from, edit and use for in their lessons.

Schrader said, "I went home and I started thinking, 'How can I best provide something for teachers that is a real resource?' What I was seeing was teachers working really hard and diligently, but what I was seeing was a disconnect between the teachers and where they were trying to go in terms of those sources, and how best to access them." In a third grade English language arts class, in which the students were learning 'reduce, reuse, recycle,' she suggested teaching them about what happens to sacred objects.

"It's actually quite different from the standard 'reduce, reuse, recycle,'" Schrader said. "For a sacred object, we would never reuse it or recycle it, so what better time to teach that idea that a sacred item is different? It doesn't get recycled in the same way." They talked about Holy Water being poured into the ground, the Blessed Sacrament being disposed of properly if someone dropped it, and holy texts and vestments being burned and buried when they become too worn. Plastic objects are broken and buried.

Frangella and Canfield, both of whom have traveled to Albany to help them understand Common Core learning standards, co-presented on ways to infuse Catholic values into Catholic school curriculum. Canfield said the Common Core learning standards require students to critically think, and they both emphasized that in a Catholic school, teachers of all subjects must also become religion teachers.

"When (we were asked to present), we sat down and thought, our job was to show you infusing religion into lessons, as well as infusing the core subjects, or any subject, into religion," Canfield said. "(We) talk about the challenge we have to demonstrate our Catholicity to an increasingly skeptical world."

"Cheryl is going to walk you through how we would use this lesson in religion, and add in literacy into that, English language arts," Frangella said, presenting a chart on teaching the Good Samaritan and Good Shepherd to different grade levels. "We want to think about, if we were teaching a first grade lesson, reading information, what is one of the standards that we want to be teaching the students?"

Frangella and Canfield's presentation included several hands-on exercises the teachers in the audience completed, during which they spoke among themselves on how to include Catholic teachings and social justice themes into different subjects, from literature to physical education.

During her speech, Sister Leanne also stressed the importance of implementing the Common Core learning standards in all facets of Catholic education. She said there are two ways teachers can include Gospel values: via spontaneous opportunities to mention Catholic teachings if a student asks a question, and via planned lessons, in which teachers may plan Gospel values ahead of time into the teachings. This way, which the students may have more time to think about the meaning afterward.

Even if teachers may think Gospel values have no place in mathematics, Sister Leanne said a math teacher could use bar graphs to show the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, or, similarly, the distribution of food supplies in different areas of the world. "You are a math teacher; you're supposed to be teaching math. This is not time for a 30-minute homily on the unequal distribution of food in the world, but using that content will highlight the message," she commented.

Bishop Richard J. Malone commented that Jesus Himself was a teacher, like the convocation attendees, even though He had no tools to work with. He had no smart boards, no iPads, and he gave no grades. His only test was "ancient and well worn," and "His students were the lame, the blind, the deaf, the outcasts, the poor, and His method was the same with all who came to hear and love Him, the bishop commented, but "He opened ears with simple truth and opened hearts with love, a love born of forgiveness."

"A gentle man, a humble man, He won no honors, no gold awards for His expertise, and yet this quiet teacher from the hills of Galilee has fed the needs, fulfilled the hopes and changed the lives of millions, for what He taught and brought heaven and earth, in God's heart, to humankind," Bishop Malone added. "(I) thank all of those schools that so graciously opened your arms to the students and many of the teachers who came to you from the schools that, sadly, we had to close a few months ago. I know of that from many, many reports about how you really just warmly and joyfully reached out to welcome newcomers."

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