Surveys conducted with parents that choose Catholic education for their children reveal that one of the top reasons they choose Catholic schools is the academic rigor. It is important for parents to know that their children are in a school where they will be challenged and are prepared for their future. The “Catholic Futures” campaign, through the Office of Catholic Schools, even uses the promise, “Forming students for futures we can’t predict.” First and foremost this preparation is built on a formation of faith but it is also acquiring the important foundation needed to be successful in the 21st Century. Technology is often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about leaning in the 21st Century, and while it is an important tool that is used to support student learning, it is equally important that children build a strong foundation in basic skills. This foundation will guarantee success for our children now and in their future.
Children at every level must be able to read and comprehend what they are reading. They must be able to write proficiently; including handwriting. Many schools have abandoned cursive writing, but children need to be able to understand documents written in cursive, including historical documents. Children must understand mathematical calculations, from basic math facts to more complex problem solving. It is also important that children learn and understand the scientific process. Geography and History are critical in expanding a deeper understanding of the world. Our students have excellent teachers that can provide instruction, guidance, and support in children learning all of their basic skills along with teaching them to be life-long learners and critical thinkers (also important in our 21st Century ).
We are so incredibly fortunate to have instruction in all of the curriculum areas set-forth by the Archdiocese of Denver Office of Catholic Schools. There is Religion instruction daily, Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, Physical Education, and World Language. You can link to all of the curriculum standards at http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/106/Curriculum-Guidelines/ to gain a deeper understanding of the academic rigor our students’ experience, including technology.
When Mrs. Zamudio, our World Language teacher, was selected by the College Board to go to China last year, it seemed, at the time, a way of gaining a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture. The benefit to the students was obvious when Mrs. Zamudio returned to share a first-hand experience of China with her World Language classes. This was only the beginning of an opportunity for our students to expand their worldview. While Mrs. Zamudio was in China she heard about the Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP), sponsored by the State Department in our country, and returned wanting to apply for to be a host school to a Chinese teacher for the 2013-2014 school year.
After completing a mountain of paperwork and interviews with the leaders of the TCLP we heard in April that Notre Dame Catholic School was selected as a host school for this school year. There were only 16 host schools chosen in the entire United States, out of many applicants. TCLP also has a rigorous selection process for teachers coming to the United States. All of the teachers selected are highly qualified, licensed and certified who teach English in their school as a second language. The expectation for the teacher is to come to this country for an entire school year, to teach Mandarin and share their Chinese culture not only with their host school but with the wider community. Outreach to the community is an important element of this program.
It was in May that we heard that our teacher was to be a 27-year-old male named Zhang Haiyang, (his first name is his family name and the second name is his given name). Mrs. Zamudio went to Washington, D.C. in early August for an orientation, to meet Zhang Haiyang and bring him to Colorado. In the short time that he has been here at Notre Dame Catholic School, Zhang Lao shi, (which means teacher in Chinese), has endeared himself to the faculty, and with school just starting I know the children are excited to be in his class.
We are blessed to have been chosen and extremely grateful to Mrs. Zamudio for her willingness to do the substantial paperwork required to be a host school. She has also made a huge time commitment as Zhang Lao shi’s mentor and will be our liaison to TCLP.
Zhang Lao shi has made a commitment coming to a strange country, leaving his school where he has taught English for five years and saying goodbye to his family. He has done this because he has a desire to spread peace and to seek respect and a deeper understanding between citizens of different countries. In an ever increasing global society our children at Notre Dame Catholic School are being given an opportunity to expand their understanding of a culture formed 5,000 years ago in the highest populated country in the world.
The 2013-2014 school year will give us multiple opportunities to learn and grow in our understanding of China, while Zhang Lao shi will be learning and growing in his understanding of our country. Zhang Haiyang has chosen “Roy” as his American name. Please come to meet him at “The Taste of Notre Dame” on Saturday, August 24th between 5:30 and 8:00, as Roy will be our honored guest.
In an increasingly secular world, isn’t it comforting to know that there are Catholic schools to support your family values and to guide children in our faith? Our children are inundated with media influences that often go against what our Church teaches. The Archdiocese of Denver recognizes the challenges we face as parents and educators and they are providing resources to help. At the Living the Catholic Faith Conference, on March 1st, there were two speakers who specifically addressed two programs that are now available to the 8th grade students in the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools. Damon Owens, the executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute in Washington, DC and Jason Evert, the author of nine books on chastity, spoke about how we as parents and educators can guide our children through these challenging times.
The Archdiocese of Denver Office of Catholic Schools has asked every school to adopt the “Theology of the Body” curriculum that was Pope John Paul II’s vision of the human person; body, soul and spirit. Here at Notre Dame Catholic School, Mrs. Candler the junior high Religion teacher, met with the parents of our eighth graders on February 21st to review the curriculum. Parents are their child’s first teacher and it was in this spirit of partnership between home and school that the meeting was held before the subject is taught.
On March 20th our eighth graders will be attending a “Chastity Rally”; an all day event being held at Spirit of Christ Parish. This is only for Catholic school eighth graders from the Archdiocese of Denver. The Rally will feature Mr. Everet and his wife. Again, in partnership between home and school there will be a workshop offered on the evening of March 20th for parents. They will hear the same chastity talk to enable them to speak candidly and openly with their child.
Our eighth grade students will go on to high school with a deeper understanding of the dignity of every person, respect for others and for themselves because of the opportunities they are being given now.
January, 2013 Blog
The Catholic Education Week theme this year is “Catholic Schools: Raise the Standards”. There are many ways that we set high standards in our school: in our faith, academically and in the expectations of behavior. It is important to note that the standards are set high, but we provide the support and the resources to help our students reach their full potential as we develop the whole child.
Only in a Catholic school will a child have multiple opportunities during their school day to learn about and live their faith. Our students can talk about God openly and freely. As we face many outside influences in society it is always reassuring to know that we can combat any of those negative influences with the Gospel. Our Catholic identity at Notre Dame is strong, and I feel confident that our students are able to witness their faith throughout every day.
Academics should be second only to faith formation; it is what parents’ desire for their children when they select a Catholic school. Students at Notre Dame Catholic School test above grade level in all subject areas on standardized tests. They perform well on other tests too. Seventy-five percent of our eighth graders took the High School Placement Test in December. There are two million students that take the test each year, and our students averaged in the top 26%. This is a rigorous exam taken by students entering college preparatory high schools. We want our students to be successful when they go on to high school, and it is our job to do everything we can to ensure that success by setting high standards.
Expectations must also be high for children’s behavior. My daughter wisely stated many years ago that while every student in a Catholic school might not always do the right thing, they always know what the right thing is. We are fortunate to have a community that works together to guide and support our students to act appropriately. We experience the most success when we can support family values and work with the parents in all areas of their child’s development.
Catholic Faith Formation
The month of November begins with All Saints’ Day. This is a time to not only gain a deeper understanding of all of our canonized saints, but to also understand that we are all in the “communion of saints” as we all form the faithful in the Church. In this “Year of Faith” this is another opportunity for us to deepen and grow as a communion of saints and to learn more about how we can model our lives after the many saints.
In the seventh and eighth grade Religion classes the students each selected a saint to learn about. They researched the life of their saint and made a holy card that told about their saint, wrote a prayer to their saint, and drew a symbol that represented the saint. On October 31st each student dressed as their chosen saint, presented their project to their classmates and went to classrooms to share with the students in all of the grades their saint project. It was amazing to hear how students chose their saint. There were those who selected their patron saint, others made their choice based on their admiration for the saint, one student chose Saint Dominic because he admired Dominic Vu and how he had shown such bravery when his sister died last year.
The costumes of the students were authentic and it was obvious that a great deal of time and effort had gone into dressing the part. One parent said that to see the children walking into school was a perfect example of what sets Catholic school s apart from public schools. It is reaffirming to the entire community to see the value of our students’ Catholic faith formation
All of the prayers written by the students were beautiful. Jordan Baca, a seventh grader, wrote this prayer to her saint:
Saint Seraphina, please help me to be like you. Help to have your purity, holiness, selflessness, and charity. Pray that I will always be able to do God’s will, just as you always did. Help me to desire nothing more than what I need, and help me to realize that luxuries are not necessities. I need to model your humbleness. Pray for me to know and love the Father for the rest of my life. Amen.
In this year of faith we should all be learning more about the saints and to be modeling our lives after them as Jordan so beautifully expresses in her prayer.
Catholic Faith Formation
Today, October 11th, begins our “Year of Faith” as proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI. This date is significant as it marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It is also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This “Year of Faith” concludes on November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. What a tremendous gift to all Catholics to strengthen and deepen our faith throughout this year long celebration.
Our responsibility as a Catholic school and as Catholic school educators is to lead our children to Jesus Christ. We are given a unique opportunity to prayerfully and thoughtfully combine our religious community with our learning community. This is what makes us Catholic and unique to any other school. Here at Notre Dame Catholic School we embrace the opportunity to lead our children through this “door of faith” in communion with our parents and parish community.
Our theme this year, to “Joyfully Share our Gift of Faith”, was selected because of the Pope’s declaration of the “Year of Faith”. Mrs. Josephine Tscheschke, our kindergarten teacher, wrote a “Year of Faith” prayer that was given to all parents at our Back-to-School Night. Our Faculty Retreat was centered in the theme of faith and how we as Catholic school educators can mentor and share our faith with our students. We will guide our students in deepening their prayer lives and their understanding of our Catholic faith throughout the school year.
As we journey through this “Year of Faith” I pray that we will actively get involved and make the commitment as adults to revisit the purpose of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. I invite you to read the opening speech of the Council given by Pope John XXIII. The speech can be found at http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/teach/v2open.htm.
May we all have abundant opportunities to enrich and share our faith throughout the “Year of Faith”.
May 2012 Blog
Rigorous academics are the reality and the expectation in Catholic schools. While the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Denver take pride in setting the bar high in all curriculum areas, there is, however, one area that consistently is the lowest in our Iowa Test of Basic Skills, it is Math. When the Office of Catholic Schools underwent the review of the Math Curriculum the highest recommendation was for Math in Focus, the series that teaches the Singapore Math method. Here at Notre Dame the two decisions we needed to make was first would we adopt the new series and if the decision to adopt was made what grades would be selected for the 2012-2013 school year? We have undergone a year-long process of review to ensure that we are making the best decision for our students. The review process included: A webinar with a Math in Focus representative for all of our math teachers. The Archdiocesan Educator’s Conference was held at Nativity in October for math teachers to gain a deeper understanding of the Singapore method. Ann McPherson, the Math Curriculum Chair, and I attended an evening meeting with representatives from Math in Focus. This meeting helped us to gain an understanding of the success student’s experience, internationally, with the Singapore method and the materials needed to adopt the program. A teacher from St. Vincent’s came to a Math Curriculum Meeting to demonstrate and model teaching the series. Our first and second grade teachers attended a two day workshop, “Singapore Math: Strategies That Work in Every Classroom” in February. There were budget discussions about the cost of the new series and amazingly we had an anonymous donor who donated money to cover the cost of the books and materials. We had a lengthy discussion at our April Math Curriculum Committee meeting in which we decided to adopt Math in Focus for the 2012-2013 school year. It was decided, based on many factors, to begin with our kindergarten, first and second grades.
Mrs. Daly and Mrs. Schafer have spent a half day at Good Shepherd observing the series being taught and getting questions answered. There will be an ongoing commitment to professional development for the teachers to provide the support they will need to make this major paradigm shift in how math is taught and how children learn. The books and materials will be ordered soon in order to provide our teachers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new series. I am grateful to our teachers for their willingness to learn an entirely new way of teaching Math; it will be a big time commitment in planning and instruction. Ultimately, our hope is that all children will experience success in math and our standardized math scores will improve.
Quality Assurance Review
On March 27th and 28th we are having our Quality Assurance Review for AdvancED accreditation. Various stakeholders have been working on this since the beginning of the school year, and with the visit just around the corner it might be helpful to review why we are going through the accreditation process. Simply put, it is about continuous improvement. We want to ensure that we are meeting the Standards for Quality Schools established by AdvancEd and to demonstrate quality assurance.
This is an internal review conducted by principals and teachers from the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The team will be lead by Colleen McManamon, principal from Most Precious Blood. Ms. McManamon’s team will be: Jan Altevogt, principal from St. Thomas More; Barb Markulik, assistant principal St. Thomas More; Mary Bartek, principal from Good Shepherd; Patty Cisle, assistant principal Good Shepherd; and Lexy Tokarski, teacher at Most Precious Blood. I know you will join me in making the team feel welcome. We are fortunate to have this outstanding group of professionals reviewing our self-study.
The Notre Dame Catholic School teachers have completed a self assessment of the seven AdvancED standards. They have gathered evidence to demonstrate how we are meeting each of the standards. As part of this process we have written a school improvement plan. It is the visiting teams’ responsibility to review all of the documentation of the self assessment, conduct interviews with representative groups of stakeholders, review student performance data and observe practices and operations at the school. The team will provide an oral report at 3:30 on March 28th in the Parish Hall for all stakeholders. They will complete a formal written report that will be submitted to the Office of Catholic Schools for review. That report will be made available to us either at the end of this school year or at the beginning of the next school year. Because the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools are all accredited as a district, not individually, the data gathered from this visit is what the Office of Catholic Schools will use for their district accreditation visit in 2014.
The purpose of the Quality Asssurance Review is to:
- Evaluate the school’s adherence to the AdvancED quality standards.
- Assess the efficacy of the school’s improvement process and methods for quality assurance.
- Identify commendations and recommendations to improve the school.
- Make an accreditation recommendation for review by the Office of Catholic Schools and by the national AdvancED Accreditation Commission when they accredit the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools.
Let’s look forward to this visit as an opportunity to celebrate our strengths and to identify areas where we can improve to make our school even better.