The weekly spelling test was a staple of my elementary school career. In preparation for the written assessment, the teacher lined us around the classroom, presented a word to be spelled, and, if spelled correctly, offered an opportunity for an extra point for either the boys’ or the girls’ team, if the word could be defined and used in a sentence.
As we begin a new school year, a slightly modified procedure was used at Spirituality Day, the annual convocation with Bishop Malooly celebrating Mass, a presentation by a keynote speaker (Dr. Robert Wicks this year), and remarks by the superintendent.
In my overview to the 700-plus Catholic school educators at St. Mark’s High School for this occasion, four vocabulary words were presented for the new school year – Catholic, challenging, caring, and joy. Educators were given a definition of each word and encouraged to speak and live the words in their schools.
• CATHOLIC – It seems obvious to state that Catholic schools are Catholic. However, in defining this term for educators, they were reminded that Catholicity is not an appendage to the curriculum or an insertion during the day. Rather, it is the lifeblood of the school, coursing through every experience of the students’ day. Therefore, educators in Catholic schools must be intentional about the Gospel mission of our schools – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19).
In the Diocese of Wilmington, intentionality is pre-eminent in Catholic schools. This year the diocesan-wide theme in Catholic schools is “Lead me, Lord.” Through prayer, instruction, worship, service, interactions, and environment, Catholic schools invite students to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Catholic schools support the baptismal commitment of parents, the first teachers in the ways of faith. They offer parents the means to fulfill the words of the church Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “The Council also reminds Catholic parents of the duty of entrusting their children to Catholic schools wherever and whenever it is possible and of supporting these schools to the best of their ability and of cooperating with them for the education of their children” (Gravissimum Educationis, 28).
• CHALLENGING – In the Diocese of Wilmington, academic excellence is a hallmark of the Catholic school. Rigor in instruction and assessment ensure that graduates of Catholic students do not simply advance to a next level, college or career, but, in fact, lead in whatever choices they make.
In Catholic schools elementary students score above national averages in standardized testing; secondary students surpass state and national averages in SAT scores.
Much has been debated locally and nationally about the Common Core curriculum Catholic school education.
The truth is that Catholic schools across the nation have always used state standards and standards from national curriculum associations in teaching. Standards are skills and certainly Catholic school students must be proficient in the skills that their counterparts in state and private schools meet.
However, in Catholic school classrooms, more than meeting the standard occurs. Faith is integrated with instruction in every discipline. Students move beyond the minimum level, when they demonstrate proficiency, to deeper levels of understanding. There is a curricular focus on the humanities, the sciences, the arts, and physical education. Catholic schools are not obligated to state or national assessments of the Common Core. Catholic schools teach the skills of the Common Core and more.
• CARING – Catholic schools witness faith through action. Service, within and beyond the school community, marks the Catholic school as a place where actions speak louder than words. Through ongoing and intensive service encounters in parish, community, and national venues, Catholic school students live the adage attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
• JOY – Above all, Catholic school educators were called to embody a sense of joy in their vocation. They were invited to hold the model of Pope Francis before them as one who, in his humble service to others, emanates joy in the Gospel. Principals and teachers were reminded in the Pope’s words that, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).
Throughout this school year there will be many opportunities for you to assess Catholic schools on their vocabulary words. Look for them by visiting Catholic schools and reading about them in The Dialog. Let me know how we score.
DeAngleo is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Wilmington.