Staying sharp in the school year

August 13, 2019

Mariana Carbajal, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Jerome Catholic School in the Spring Branch area of Houston, organizes her classroom’s reading bookshelf Aug. 1. Carbajal said she’s looking forward to seeing familiar faces in her new batch of students this year. (James Ramos/Texas Catholic Herald)

HOUSTON — School is back in session for the 2019-2020 school year for the 11 Catholic high schools and 49 Catholic primary schools in the Archdiocese.

To prepare for the new school year, Archdiocesan teachers met for a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) workshop on Aug. 6 at St. Jerome Catholic School in Houston. National speakers came to speak to the teachers, administrators, nurses, and counselors. They also discussed the need to support social and emotional learning.

A follow-up Oct. 14 in-service is being planned for all primary schools. Catholic schools incorporate religion to the STEAM approach.

“The traditional science fairs will turn into STREAM fairs this year as we seek to support our schools in implementing strong STREAM programs,” Catholic Schools Superintendent Debra Haney said.

Haney said the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Education Department launched its fourth cycle of accreditation for Texas Catholic schools. That means that all schools will be evaluated in a new way over the next seven years.

“This new cycle brings about more accountability and incorporates the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools,” she said. St. Helen in Pearland and St. Agnes Academy will be the first to undergo this new accreditation process, she said. The new system allows the schools to focus on continuous growth models and consistent improvement via “a systematic approach.”

The school year will also focus on new curriculum and technological initiatives. Haney said they will be producing “what we call content specific Teacher Guidebooks for English Language Arts and Math, and we plan to publish the other subject areas in upcoming years.”

These guidebooks will include items such as the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills); National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools; Catholic curriculum standards; Catholic Identity Curriculum Integration (CICI); Works of Mercy; Catholic social justice teachings; and differentiation and accommodations for students with special needs.

Haney said they also have several teachers and technology coordinators that are completing a special certification with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Those completing the program, which offers additional strategies for integrating best practices into efforts, will be among the first in the nation. Schools would then receive the title of “Innovative Catholic School.”

Dr. Mazie McCoy, principal at Corpus Christi Catholic School which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, said this will be the second year the school has an operational STREAM lab.

“We have a STREAM Lab coordinator who works with all students grades kindergarten through eighth,” she said.

For the upcoming year, McCoy said Corpus Christi’s teachers were trained in the “Lucy Calkins Method.” Calkins, the founding director of a teaching college at Columbia University, is said to be one of the most influential literacy educators in the country. She is one of the originators of the “workshop” method for reading and writing instruction, which centers on independent student work in combination with teacher modeling and one-on-one and small-group guidance.

“We are implementing Readers and Writers Workshop in our elementary curriculum, which support explicit instruction and will provide rich opportunities for practice,” McCoy said.

St. Martha Catholic School in Kingwood is overcoming obstacles for both teachers and students. The campus flooded on May 7. Principal Jessica Munscher said the school is still in the process of rebuilding but hopes to be ready in time for school.

“We plan to continue in our mission to meet children where they are at academically so that every child can be successful,” she said. “We have two academic excellence teachers on staff this year that will work as instructional specialists to help teachers differentiate and support students who need remediation and accommodations as well as [gifted and talented] challenges.”

P.J. Jackson, principal at St. Jerome Catholic School in Houston, said new this year the school’s early education programs will emphasize action-based learning, which she said, “is a process of embracing children’s need to move and the science of physical activity in terms of how it relates to children’s ability to learn and enhance their learning.”
The school’s pre-kindergarten to second grade classrooms were set up to utilize this method, she said.

“We’re always excited with new and returning students because so much growth happens over the summer and that’s part of what we have hope for what you can become. You know, at this age and stage... they’re really still becoming the person Christ wants them to be,” she said. “It’s just exciting to be around young people who have so much growth potential to become the best version of themselves. It’s true in the light of Christ.”

Khanh Pham, principal at Our Lady of Fatima in Galena Park, said the school’s goals for the school year include increasing enrollment, expanding overall growth on the standardized tests and to increase parents/volunteers participation.

“(We want) to focus on our school niche in the art and music program, to hopefully bring home the Steps for Students David Guite Spirit Award and to grow together in faith with our parish and school community,” he said.

He said this year the school is adopting the new Sadlier Phonics to Reading program for grade pre-kindergarten to third grade. The school’s computer lab was updated with new machines, including iPads and Chromebooks.

Dr. Emilie Robert, the new principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Hitchcock, said their focus is to meet the needs of the community better and, expand to add seventh and eighth grades.

Robert said the school will be training teachers with the “Love and Logic Discipline Program,” to enhance their classroom management skills.

A new learning program was also incorporated into the school’s technology curriculum, allowing students to practice skills in their school subjects.

Suzanne Barto, principal at St. Laurence Catholic School in Sugar Land, said the school is focusing on the overall mental health and well-being of our students, staff and families.

“We have a new (program) that will teach the students about how to handle conflict, bullying, anxiety, good choices and more,” she said. “Parents will benefit from speakers we bring in to talk about concerns with the different age groups and resources. For the staff, we are making lounge areas more relaxing and adding a staff leadership team to allow them more input into initiatives.”

Barto said they are currently reworking the middle school math program to allow some students to work at a much faster pace and have purchased a new resource textbook series for kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We are starting a one-to-one program in our sixth grade, which will allow those students to take a Chromebook home that is assigned to them through eighth grade,” she said. “This should help with accountability and allowing more use of technology, where appropriate.”

Haney said the Catholic Schools Office will also continue their focus on evangelization, forming passionate disciples, religious and leaders for the Church who will evangelize through sacred Scripture, are practitioners of faith traditions, and are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

Hungry Minds
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is currently in 13 Archdiocesan Catholic schools.

The NSLP, School Breakfast Program (SBP) and Afterschool Care Program (ASCP) are federally assisted meal programs that provide meals and serve nutritious, low-cost or free meals to students in public and non-profit private schools in Texas.

Lunches meet federal nutrition guidelines, and are reimbursable to schools based on number of meals served.
The 13 Catholic schools that are in the program are: Assumption, Holy Ghost, Holy Family in Galveston, Our Lady of Fatima in Galena Park, Our Lady of Lourdes in Hitchcock, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Queen of Peace, Resurrection, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Christopher, St. Joseph in Baytown, and St. Pius V in Pasadena. †