The last year has taught the world that Catholic schools don’t just talk the talk of excellence, they truly deliver. We already knew a few things about the extraordinary environment a Catholic, Christ-centered environment offers. We knew that teachers and administrators are dedicated, loving, and mission focused.
But 2020 provided an opportunity for Catholic schools to shine even brighter. Amidst educational scrambling at the state and local levels, Catholic schools became places of community when isolation was the norm, places of on-pace learning while many children fell behind throughout the country, and places of solace and comfort while families struggled with health, jobs, and personal issues.
In the Diocese of Phoenix, Catholic schools have provided in-person learning options for the majority of the school year. When asked to reflect on the educational experiences of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix this last year, Superintendent Domonic Salce stated, “Guided by faith and reason and to the best of our abilities, we have carefully navigated the pandemic to enable our students to receive the best Christ-centered education possible while maintaining a safe and healthy environment for both the students and school staff.”
For the periods of time when online learning has been necessary, the creativity and dedication of teachers has been remarkable. The shift from in person to online to teaching BOTH in person while some students are still learning online has placed Catholic schools in the national spotlight, and Phoenix Catholic schools deserve nothing less than this same praise and recognition.
Kathy Mears, Interim President of the National Catholic Educational Association, stated in a recent article entitled, What Coronavirus Taught Us About Catholic Schools, “Catholic schools have placed students first in the teaching and learning processes. We have continued to orient these endeavors toward the pursuit of beauty, truth and goodness in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work, breathing life and fostering renewal in the souls of the young people entrusted to our care. It is through this unique and blessed devotion and service to God’s people that generations will be transformed.”
At Seton Catholic Prep in Chandler, Principal Victor Serna describes the quest for balance between rigor and rest for students. He shared, “Our ministry as Catholic educators includes accompanying our students so that they can nurture their God-given talents and intellect. We do this because we love our students. The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to become flexible and adaptable to the daily changes, but it is not an excuse to stop pursuing academic excellence. We have been intentional with what we do so we can find the right balance of rigor and rest for our students. Why look for this balance? Because we love our students.”
Throughout the school year, isolation and mental health of children has become a concern. Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza, Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the Diocese of Phoenix, noted, “Good mental health is supported when children are challenged to think critically, develop socially and learn new skills. The disruption of schools has allowed children to shut down and isolate themselves. This has caused children to regress, especially in their social-emotional well-being.”
Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale started preparing teachers before school opening in August 2020 to understand the additional social-emotional needs of students and made efforts to maintain community, focus on faith and uphold rigorous standards with sensitivity to the current situation. Students with learning challenges could have fallen behind in an environment where they were engaged in online learning part of the time. Crystal Brooks, Director of Academic Inclusion, stated, “Relationships are key to successful teaching, and we understand that we are educating the WHOLE child. Students with disabilities benefited from these interactions from their teachers and the learning specialists – they received an extra layer of support when it was most important.”
Catholic schools have remained strong communities of faith, academic, and activities throughout the pandemic. Arizona has some of the strongest school choice legislation in the country. Because of this legislation and school tuition organizations like Catholic Education Arizona, families who want to choose a quality Catholic education have been able to do so. St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Phoenix utilizes tax credit scholarships to help make Catholic education available, accessible, and affordable.
St. Vincent de Paul School Director, Sister Cabrini Thomas, said, “Catholic Education Arizona is the largest contributor of financial assistance for the families of our school children. Over 31% of all the tax credit scholarships is received from CEA! What a wonderful blessing it is to know that CEA is always there to provide our school families with a sense of security for their children’s Catholic education. We are so grateful that the gift of Catholic education is possible for so many children.”
If you or a family you know would like to learn more about the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix, read more here.
Catholic Education Arizona is a school tuition organization that helps fund Catholic education for nearly 45% of families in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix through tax credit scholarships. To learn more about CEA, call 602 218-6542 or visit catholiceducationarizona.org