Advocating for Catholic Education
You will often hear us talk about the gift of publicly funded Catholic education in Alberta. It is a gift in two specific ways. Firstly, Catholic education is a gift in its richness and attention to human formation. The focus is not just on the mind, but on the spirit and the body and every other dimension of being. Catholic education honors the sacramentality of each child as one of God’s own people.
The second aspect of this gift in Alberta is that it is publicly funded. Since long before Alberta was a province, Catholic education has been supported and funded by the government. This is a right that most other provinces and territories have lost, and that many communities around the world have never had. We can’t be complacent and assume that even though it is a right that is grounded in legislation, that the legislation can’t be changed. We need only look across our country to see that the right to publicly funded Catholic education is not guaranteed in the future.
It is critical that we advocate loudly and joyfully about this special gift. We can do that by sharing the great news of the incredible work that goes on in our schools every day, and we can do it by asking questions of our candidates as the upcoming election approaches. We are suggesting that you ask every candidate in your riding the following questions:
- What actions will you take to ensure that publicly funded Catholic education continues and is protected in Alberta?
- What actions will you take to ensure that Catholic school districts in our riding and in the province get the required funding for new schools and for modernizations and maintenance so that our students can have adequate, safe, and healthy learning spaces?
- What actions will you take to ensure that school districts get proper funding for every student?
Also with respect to advocacy, our District is part of the Grateful Advocates for Catholic Education, GrACE, network. The mission of GrACE is to inspire, invigorate and embolden the spirit of Catholic education in order to unite, engage, educate and communicate with one voice on its behalf. GrACE is a partnership of stakeholders resolutely committed to Catholic education within Alberta. Each Catholic jurisdiction in the province is assembling a highly committed team whose members include Trustees, Superintendents, clergy, parish staff, parents, members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus.
Every day is a celebration of Catholic education. Let us be grateful for our blessings and commit our support to sharing the great work of our schools!
Dear brothers and sisters, the “lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin. (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2019)
Each year, Pope Francis shares a message with us to help us prepare our hearts along our Lenten journey. His wisdom is abundant in assisting us to walk with Jesus through the desert in order to ready ourselves to embrace the unconditional gift of love that we receive through His passion, death, and resurrection.
When we think of Lent, the acts of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are at the forefront of our thoughts. Our Holy Father offers us this counsel on those acts and how they relate to our lives:
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness. You can read Pope Francis’ complete Lenten message by clicking here or visiting the Vatican website.
May you have a beautiful Lenten journey through the desert to the garden of communion with God!
Family Day 2019
The strength of the family lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love.
~Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 53~
The family plays a special role in our faith. When God sent us the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he sent him as an infant to be part of a family. It is within our family that we are nurtured, learn, and grow, eventually moving on to start our own families. They are a beautiful experience of love, hope, and mercy. In the spring of 2016, Pope Francis wrote the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on love in the family. He begins with the statement that “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church (1).” It is a reminder for us that family life is a vocation, and although it has its challenges, it offers great rewards.
As we approach Family Day, it is my great wish for all of your that you enjoy a special day with the people who fill your hearts with the joy of love
Teams, Robots, and Solving Problems
This past weekend saw 6 of our schools competing in the FIRST LEGO League Robotics Edmonton region competition. This event, which is held each January at NAIT is always such fun for our students. They take their knowledge in robotics and use that to compete in various challenges. It is the perfect example of translating learning into real life contexts. Those incredibly valuable skills of teamwork, respect, communication, time management, and problem solving are critical to student success, and, in fact, to adult success as well!
The competition is a wonderful opportunity to increase interest and understanding in STEM and is very popular. This year, approximately 500 students formed over 50 teams; they were supported by over 300 volunteers and 2100 spectators. If you are interested in participating next year or would like more information, please contact John Korassa, who volunteers as the Edmonton Director of FIRST LEGO League or Floriana Bruni-Bossio, who volunteers as the Tournament Registration Co-ordinator. I know that they will be so happy to share their passion for providing this excellent STEM opportunity to students with you.
Congratulations to St. Jerome, Sister Annata Brockman, Monsignor Fee Otterson, and St. Gabriel for winning awards and to all our ECSD teams for your great work this weekend!
Praying for each other: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
In communities, we always fare far better when members find a place of commonality and then build on those shared values as they move forward and take responsibility for building a more just world. This holds true for communities of all sizes, ranging from the family to the parish to the world.
Each year, from January 18-25, Christians from around the world join together as believers in Christ to pray for unity using a relevant global theme. This year’s theme, Justice and only justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:18-20), was prepared by Christians from Indonesia. Here is an excerpt from the resources from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that sets the context for this year’s theme:
With a population of 265 million, 86% of whom are reckoned to be Muslim, Indonesia is well known as having the largest Muslim population of any country. However, about 10% of Indonesians are Christian from various traditions. In terms of both population and the vast extension of the country Indonesia is the biggest nation in South East Asia. It has more than 17,000 islands, 1,340 different ethnic groups and over 740 local languages and yet is united in its plurality by one national language Bahasa Indonesia. The nation is founded on five principles called Pancasila, with the motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity). Across the diversity of ethnicity, language and religion, Indonesians have lived by the principle of gotong royong which is to live in solidarity and by collaboration. This means sharing in all aspects of life, work, grief and festivities, and regarding all Indonesians as brothers and sisters.
This always fragile harmony is today threatened in new ways. Much of the economic growth that Indonesia has experienced in recent decades has been built on a system that has competition at its heart. This is in stark contrast to the collaboration of gotong royong. Corruption is experienced in many forms. It infects politics and business, often with devastating consequences for the environment. In particular, corruption undermines justice and the implementation of law. Too often those who are supposed to promote justice and protect the weak do the opposite. As a consequence, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened; and so a country rich in resources has the scandal of many people living in poverty. As a traditional Indonesian saying goes, “A mouse dies of hunger in the barn full of rice.” (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20180621_week-prayer-2019_en.html)
One of the aspects of this week that I find most focusing is that each day is marked by a piece of scripture that challenges us to look at various aspects of our lives through the lens of the theme. Our own Canadian Council of Churches has also created resources for our schools and parishes that reflect our context. Whether you use the Canadian or international resources to guide you in your reflection and prayer this year, I hope that you get a deep sense of that commonality of the belief in justice that we share not only with other Christians, but with so many other faiths in our common home.
Giving Light to All in the House
One of my favorite things to do is to visit schools, sites, and programs to witness first hand how we are meeting diverse student needs. I had just such an opportunity earlier this week when I visited the WestJet hangar with Board Chair Thibert, Education Minister Eggen and students from our new dual credit Aviation Program. It was amazing to witness the possibilities that this type of program creates for students. The Minister shared on Twitter that “This is one of the coolest programs I’ve had the chance to tour!” (12/10/18)
We know that our children and youth have things in their lives that they are passionate about, that they devote endless hours of their personal time exploring, learning about, and practicing. Our ability to offer students a formal educational experience that allows them to take those passions and nurture and develop their abilities in those areas is at the heart of our new foundation statement of Christ-Centred, Competency Based Learning in Edmonton Catholic Schools. In part, that statement says that “Every facet of our learning system is aligned to offer an excellent Catholic education that inspires students to develop the conceptual and procedural understanding needed for successful learning, living, and working in Alberta and beyond.”
The diversity of programs that we offer enables students to capitalize on their God-given gifts and talents, and to reach the fullness of their potential. These programs allow them to be the best that they can be, and to translate their learning to real life application. And isn’t that what we are called to do as Catholics, to nurture our gifts as a tribute to God’s glory: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Mt 5:15) Our programs help students ignite their lamps, and everyone benefits from their light!
The Beauty of the Liturgical Year
As November draws to a close, so does our liturgical year. This special time draws my thoughts to the beauty of our liturgical year and the deep meaning behind our liturgical calendar.
Much like the yearly calendar, we have seasons for celebration, and each of them has its own special character and tone. Advent is our beginning where we wait patiently for our Messiah. Christmas is filled with the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth. There is comfort and rhythm to be found in Ordinary Time. Lent and the Triduum are solemn and deeply reflective; and, of course, the Easter season is one of triumph and joy!
There is also such majesty in the language. Our days are marked by Feasts, Solemnities, and Memorials. The days bring a time to honor and learn about Saints and significant events like the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, the Annunciation, Pentecost, the Assumption of Mary, and so much more. We find such rich theology to explore as we celebrate the Holy Family, the Immaculate Conception, the Passion of Christ, Corpus Christi, Christ the King, and Mary, Mother of God.
And, of course, there is the special significance of color in our liturgical calendar: white and gold for purity and joy, red for sacrifice and charity, green for hope and life, violet for expectation and penance, rose for anticipatory joy, and black for mourning and sorrow.
The rhythm of the liturgical year adds so much to the learning and to ethos of our schools and District. Whether through the color of the cloths on our classroom prayer tables or through the celebration of our namesake feast days, our students, staff, and families see and experience symbols of our faith everywhere, and that is glorious!
This is an exciting week for Edmonton Catholic Schools as we all prepare to celebrate our 130th Anniversary Liturgy of the Word in our schools and sites. It presents us with such an excellent opportunity to think about how much our District has grown and changed over the years, but it also presents us with an excellent opportunity to reflect upon how much education has changed.
We have moved from small schoolhouses to virtual classrooms, from slates to digital tablets, and from reading, writing, and arithmetic to a vast array of subjects for study. Teaching and learning are now all about innovation, inquiry, and unlocking every aspect of a student’s potential as a child of God.
We were so fortunate to have 3 Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus as our founders, but as our District has grown and religious orders have used their members in so many other vital roles, we have also been blessed to have so many lay Catholics embrace their vocation to help our students come to know and love Jesus.
I could really write for hours on all of the ways that education has changed in the past 130 years, but there is one point that I think is of greatest importance. Through God’s grace and the passion, commitment, and perseverance of our staff and families, one thing has remained constant in the 130 years of Edmonton Catholic Schools – Catholic education is publicly funded in the Province of Alberta. Let us use every opportunity to share the great news of our work so that this gift remains for generations to come!
We Are a Responsive Learning Organization
It goes without saying that a school district is all about learning, but there are depths to that learning that aren’t immediately apparent. Certainly, we focus significant attention on the learning of our students in the classroom and our staff as professionals, but we also focus significant attention on our learning and growth as an organization.
At our Public Meeting of the Board last night, we presented our Student Learning Accountability Report. This report provides an overview of the various measures of our performance from Alberta Education, including the Accountability Pillar, October 2018, and our Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Examination Results.
Much like assessment and feedback in the classroom inform teacher practice, so will we use the results from those measures to plan our next steps in improving our performance. District and school staff are now looking at our results in the many areas that are presented in the accountability report and are setting goals for growth. This affects how we provide services, allocate resources, and determine professional learning, among other things.
In fact, results and feedback such as we presented in the Student Learning Accountability Report drive our planning for continuous growth at the District and school levels. We have great information at our fingertips, and we are constantly looking at how we can strategically go from good to better to best. Learning doesn’t just occur at the student level; it is at the heart of what we do as a responsive learning organization!
My journey to the role of Superintendent started many years ago when I was a classroom teacher. Becoming a Catholic teacher was a dream because it allowed me to combine several of my passions – faith, children, learning, and literacy – into living out a vocation. Now, many years later those foundations are still integral to my work. I will focus on literacy for this blog.
This past week was Read-In Week. It is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to return to the classroom to be with students and to foster a love of reading. Literacy is fundamental for life. It is incredibly difficult for people who struggle with reading and writing to navigate our world which is so rooted in text. How can you apply for a job if you can’t read the application or write about yourself?
I am really proud of all of the amazing work that Edmonton Catholic Schools does in the realm of literacy for all ages. We haves strategies in place to identify and support struggling readers from a very young age, and our teachers across the District work on planning for literacy in their subject areas in order to build competency and confidence for all. As our language programs expand, our teachers implement best practices in literacy into learning the target language of their program.
We also have tremendous programs in place to help newcomers to Canada. Our junior and senior high school students benefit from our Newcomers Program, which the Edmonton Journal featured in an article earlier this year. Edmonton Catholic Schools also has one of the largest Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs in the city.
Our One World…One Centre (OWOC) is another outstanding example of the innovative work that we do in ensuring that everyone has access to the best possible literacy and learning opportunities. During the month of August, OWOC welcomed 273 students to Edmonton Catholic Schools. This included completing the registration documents with families and fulfilling the funding requirements for Alberta Education. In addition, assessments were completed on 247 of these students so that they would meet the ESL funding requirements. During the month of September, OWOC welcomed an additional 122 students and 97 assessments were completed. It makes all the difference to a student and to a school when that child arrives to class with their literacy needs already having been identified!
I am always excited to see where our journey to promoting literacy for all takes us. Our work in this area is so very empowering to our students, and we continue to be so innovative in this area.
One of the most loved authors of all time, Dr. Seuss, offered us what is, perhaps, the best explanation of why literacy is so important to us:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut)
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