COLORADO SPRINGS. Last April, as schools were transitioning to online learning, Catholic-school principals were already discussing plans for opening schools in August. The work continued throughout the summer. “Return to Learn” plans were written, rewritten and modified as new regulations appeared. We opened all the Catholic schools with four diocesan-wide goals:
1. Keep Christ at the center of our education and find a way for the students to encounter him daily-even online.
2. Remember that each child is a child of God, gifted differently, intentionally by God. Provide moral and intellectual knowledge and experiences that help the students discover and develop their gifts. Let students know they matter, and they are needed to fulfill God’s plan.
3. Keep all those in our school faith communities (students, parents and faculty) safe.
4. Keep our doors open for in-person learning and continue to form and educate the students.
By the grace of God, the dedication of our Catholic school educators, the cooperation of our Catholic school families, and the support of many in our diocese, we are meeting our goals! Schools have been open since mid-August and transmission rates of COVID (student-to-student and teacher to student) remain very low — .002%. Most children are attending in-person, with some online. Has it been easy? No. Has it been worth the effort? Yes!
Goals three and four deal with the “what” of education — how teachers provide for meaningful curriculum and instruction; develop warm and interpersonal relations with each other, their students and parents; and use their skills to effectively manage classrooms and the school.
As many parents are finding out, teaching is a craft that takes years to master. Like all teachers and administrators, those who serve in Catholic schools had to learn and deal with the “what” of education that it would take to serve students in-person and online. Most spent their summer in professional development, learning new skills and preparing for the challenges this school year has brought.
Good teachers and administrators are present in all types of schools. However, for Catholic educators, good educational practice — mastering the “what” of effective education — in itself is not enough.
Goals one and two deal with “why” Catholic educators do what they do. They are called to convey age-old Catholic beliefs and values. They are called to “Teach as Jesus Did” and become role models of faith, symbols of the knowledge, skills and values that it takes to be citizens of God’s kingdom. Being a Catholic school teacher takes courage, and all are teachers of faith.
Sometimes they are bold in teaching the faith — organizing a service project, taking the Students for Life club to pray at Planned Parenthood, or supporting students as they lead daily Advent services. Sometimes teaching the faith is subtle. Instead of asking a student, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they ask, “What do you think God wants you to do with the gifts he has given you?”
The current pandemic has created much talk in educational circles about how education will never be the same, and it is true that it has provided new opportunities for growth and change around the “what” of education. But one thing that will never change in an excellent Catholic school is the “why” Catholic educators do what they do.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude for the men and women who, despite the pandemic, daily demonstrate and believe in why they do what they do. If you haven’t had your children in a Catholic school, I encourage you to visit our website at https://ucsdcs.org/.
(Holly Goodwin is superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)