New CSO directors focus on student wellness, education during pandemic

November 24, 2020

The Catholic Schools Office gained two new leaders to help guide thousands of Catholic school students and their teachers to success. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald).

HOUSTON — As schools around the Archdiocese continue to provide for students’ academic, emotional and spiritual needs during the pandemic, the Catholic Schools Office added two new directors to continue to support the network of Catholic schools.

Brandon France, Director of Educational Technology & Data

How do you see educational technology progressing in our Catholic schools?
I see educational technology enhancing 21st-Century learning that promotes critical thinking, communication, collaboration, as well as creativity. Our teachers can enhance their teaching with technology so that students are prepared not only for the content they receive in the classroom but also for what comes beyond our schools — college and future jobs. It will help students become better able to work collaboratively with others, learn to troubleshoot issues as they come and overcome adversity. That’s what I see the educational technology in our classrooms doing — helping our teachers promote the overall wellness of our students.

What’s ‘hot’ in the world of educational technology right now?
I think something that’s hot in the world of educational technology right now would be the concept of blended learning. COVID-19 has definitely pushed Catholic schools to move into either fully remote or a hybrid version of learning. Blended learning allows students ownership of their assignments, creativity and what can be done in the world of assessments. It also allows for technology-based lesson plans, whether that’s student self-guided assignments or teacher prepared asynchronous lessons that let teachers support the students as needed. I believe it’s something that is not necessarily new, but something we’re being called back to do, and I think we’re doing it quite well.

Is there a goal that you have for this academic year?
To create a central hub, not just for our technology specialists but also for all of our teachers, where they can get professional development or resources they can use and apply in their classrooms and to their lesson-planning. I feel that in this position, I’m able to support and serve the school communities as a direct point-of-contact for educational technology and professional development offered for teachers. I’m looking forward to providing webinars dealing with educational resources, products the schools are working with, and helping schools with their Student Information Systems.

Why educational technology?
It’s the future; it’s really where everything is going. I believe it helps to keep us connected, especially in our faith. Whether that’s through virtual Mass settings or through the virtual classroom or Theology courses, educational technology is going to push us to be better; it’s going to push our students to be better. It’s also going to prepare them for what they can expect in the job market and in their careers.

What is your favorite thing about the Archdiocese so far?
My favorite thing would be the hospitality I’ve received from everyone here. It’s been a very warm welcome, and everyone’s so willing to help serve their school and their community.

What is your go-to piece of tech?
I would have to go with my laptop. It’s sturdy, it does what I need it to do and it’s portable, which opens up the possibilities of what I can do with it.
Is there any advice you’d offer to parents in terms of navigating their children’s use of technology right now?
Right now, parents will want to be aware of Apps that hide other Apps or functions that encourage kids to keep their data secret from their parents. This could like an alarm clock App, but beneath that, the App could be hiding other Apps that you might not allow your child to download, so I’d be aware of that. I’d also encourage to be aware of kids’ social media platforms — who they’re following, what they’re following and also the type of information and data that they’re putting out there, even from a photo that may contain personal information they might not realize is visible. For example, I’ve even seen something as personal as a social security number posted to social media. Be aware of what is posted because even if the account is private, it can be found.

Regina Abanathy, Director of Child Nutrition

What would you like parents to know about the Child Nutrition program?
The Child Nutrition Program is a federal program designed to meet the needs of families who need additional support to supplement their child’s daily mean intake. The program, in our Catholic schools, supports those schools with families who have been identified as possibly benefitting from the services. It allows students to receive meals either free from cost or at a reduced cost. What I want parents to know about this program is that it is not just for the students that qualify by meeting the eligibility requirements; it is for all students so that they can have access to two meals and a snack during the day.

Are there any tips you might offer parents to help increase student wellness?
Sure! It’s important to help boost good habits, healthy lifestyles and understanding what wellness means and that it starts with a balanced diet.

  • Find resources like the website or ChooseMyPlate App, which are excellent resources for families who are looking for meal and snack ideas.
  • Utilize cooking as family time and make it a family activity.
  • Understanding the difference between processed foods and whole foods in order to use that information to make the best decisions for planning their child’s meals.

What is a fun and healthy snack option you’d recommend?
Fruit or apple slices with nut butter are a healthy and fun snack. If you’re allergic to nut butter, sun butter is a great alternative. It’s made from sunflower seeds and is not from a nut. So are raw vegetables, like carrots or celery, that you can dip in a low-calorie ranch or other fun dip. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent go-to snack because they are easy to purchase already prepared or can be easily prepared yourself and are easy to store. It’s also easy for the kids to just grab the snack and go. Fruits and vegetables are always at the top of my list as a fun go-to snack.

How can families promote wellness?
Essentially there are two things to start with — diet and exercise. Those two together, that’s it in a nutshell. Eighty-five percent of it is nutrition, and sometimes people don’t really realize that, but it’s all about our dietary intake and movement.

Is there a fun way that families can empower children to unplug and increase outdoor activity?
One fun way is to get active together. Making it a fun day where you can walk or move together in a park or have fun as a family. Keep them moving and focus on putting down the games or devices and focus on incorporating movement. When we exercise, we’re engaging different muscles, and that helps us to remain flexible and strong. Kids are resilient, but movement and exercise help kids to avoid certain ailments that can occur as flexibility diminishes over time.

How do you define the importance of nutrition and wellness?
One of my taglines is ‘Health is Wealth.’ There is nothing more valuable than your life and your health.