Home Education and Careers McAuley Educational Support Program aims to increase success for students at Christ...

McAuley Educational Support Program aims to increase success for students at Christ the Teacher Catholic School

Kelli Colella (right), seen here with Shelly Gallo and Davena Williams, has been named an assistant principal at Christ the Teacher Catholic School. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

GLASGOW — Christ the Teacher Catholic School is taking a big step this year to give students who might need it a boost designed to increase their chances for success in the classroom. The McAuley Educational Support Program (MESP) is the only program of its kind in a diocesan or parochial school in the Diocese of Wilmington, its leaders said.

McAuley coordinator Shelly Gallo said she was working in a different school years ago when she went to St. Edmond’s Academy to see what their program looked like, and she made a lot of calls around the country asking about educational support programs in a Catholic school setting. Her previous school didn’t have the resources to go forward, so all of her research “just sat on a computer for about five years,” she said recently.

Last year, Christ the Teacher principal Steve Adams and assistant principal Kathy Lee told Gallo they were ready to move forward with MESP, and when schools open on Aug. 30, it will be up and running at the multi-parish school. Gallo will be working primarily with McAuley teacher Davena Williams and school counselor Kelli Colella as the program gets off the ground. So far, 18 students in grades 4-8 are enrolled in MESP.

A lot goes into identifying and enrolling a student into the McAuley program. They must have educational testing done by the Christina School District, and based on the results, as well as discussions with teachers and parents, Colella writes an action plan. Her role in the process is invaluable, Gallo said.

“Our program is kind of unique because many of the programs I looked at and researched do not incorporate the counselor, but I felt she was a key piece because she is the one who has been involved in these children’s lives since they started here,” she said.

The program has many facets, one of which is executive functioning, Gallo said. That incorporates things like time management, organization, long-term assignments and things of that nature. All of the enrollees in MESP will have a social-emotional checkup at least once a month.

“We’re going to help them at the beginning to organize their binders, and then we’ll be doing binder checks on a regular basis,” Gallo said. “These calendars (on the wall) will be filled with assignments from Google Calendar.”

All teachers will put the students’ assignments online.

“When the students come in — most of them are one-to-one — they’re going to go right into their Google Classrooms. We will be co-teachers with all of their teachers from grades 4 to 8.”

Gallo and Williams will help students in the program figure out how to organize and how to study. Much of that is modeled after a program at Salesianum School, Gallo said.

Two days of each week, Gallo and Williams will leave the MESP classroom next to the library and spend the day in other classrooms. They are going to visit the reading classrooms, Gallo said.

“Research has been done … if they can’t function in the English language, it’s very difficult to them to take Spanish or some other type of foreign language,” she said.

Colella said that is one of the things she likes at MESP. “The McAuley program is really an extension for these kids of what’s going on in their room. It’s not something truly separate.”

McAuley students will report to the MESP classroom during some other class periods. It will be built into their schedules, so they will be leaving and arriving at classes at the same time as the rest of the children.

For Gallo, this initiative is somewhat personal. She left Christ the Teacher at one point to homeschool her own children and some others “to kind of get them on par for where they need to be.”

“And then you created a program that would have benefited your kids,” Williams added.

“It’s kind of born out of that,” Gallo said.

The MESP classroom will have a testing center, and students whose action plans call for it will take their tests there. Gallo said it will provide a quieter setting without a lot of distractions for those children.

Williams, who has been teaching in the diocese for 10 years and is entering her fifth year at Christ the Teacher, is grateful to have been added to the McAuley team.

“I have always gravitated toward the students who are having a more difficult time. I loved school, but it wasn’t easy for me. I feel like I can put myself in their shoes,” she said.

To identify students who could benefit from the additional support, she and Gallo looked at the educational testing that was on file. Nearly all of the students who are participating this year already had that done.

“Once we started kind of promoting the program, teachers – with evidence – said, ‘This child may benefit from this.’ Or, ‘I’m seeing this from this child. Can we investigate it a little bit more?’” Colella said.

They also did some classroom observations, evaluated the steps the school had already taken, then approached the parents via a Zoom meeting. After explaining what they had observed and explained what the McAuley program was about, they asked parents if they would be interested.

“When we did the Zoom, all three of us (Gallo, Colella and Adams; Lee was absent) walked away knowing this was God’s intervention,” Gallo said. “No one wanted to speak up, but finally one mother did. She talked about the experiences that I had in my own home. The very same experiences and the frustration and the tears. She just couldn’t thank us enough.”

Another piece to MESP is coming, perhaps as early as next fall. Christ the Teacher plans to add a reading specialist for kindergarten through third grade. They will spend this year gathering data from the younger children to see what help is needed most and who will benefit most.
The fee for the McAuley program is $500 to cover the cost of materials and classroom furnishings. Williams said she and Gallo have been teachers in a room full of students, so to have an opportunity like this is special.

“Only in my wildest dreams would there be another trained adult there to help with students who need extra support. And so, I think that since Shelly and I have that experience, it’s going to benefit our classroom teachers,” she said.