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An Addendum to the Discussion of GSAs

As many of you are aware, Alberta’s bishops have written to the Catholic parishes this weekend to let people know that they are concerned for the welfare of LGBTQ students in our Catholic schools–as they are concerned for the welfare of all students who are bullied.  How our schools minister to LGBTQ students though, is something they want left up to school boards rather than government legislation.

I had a good conversation with a spokesman from the Edmonton Archdiocese today.  He suggested that our district has been working quietly for years to help our LGBTQ students while adding more recently, workshops for teachers on pastoral care of LGBTQ students.  He wanted me to know that the archdiocese wants to work with trustees and the district to provide the best possible resources to our LGBTQ students–some of these resources may include but are not limited to offering safe groups for students to gather.  I know that for me, education of the student body, teachers, administration, support staff on LGBTQ issues is very much needed in our schools and know that this educational component has been added to Edmonton Catholic School’s Inclusive Communities policy.  Going forward, I will continue to advocate for groups especially for our LGBTQ students, working with our bishops to provide the best possible support we can give as Catholic schools.  I will remind them of the 2014 study out of the University of Victoria published in the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies that showed that “LGB students had lower odds of past year discrimination, suicidal thoughts and attempts, mostly when policies and GSAs had been in place for 3+ years;  policies had a less consistent effect than GSAs” (go to:  http://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ijcyfs/article/view/12856 for the abstract).

I will also will discuss with them, the study published in The Lancet which states the following:

“42% of the LGBTQ group reported seeking medical help for depression and anxiety compared with 29% of heterosexual non-transgender youth. More than half of LGBTQ respondents reported self-harming now or in the past compared with 35% of heterosexual non-trans youth. And 44% of LGBTQ reported ever having thought about suicide compared with 26% of heterosexual non-trans respondents. The survey also found that schools in particular were fearful and hostile environments for LGBTQ youth and failed badly in educational, emotional, and health information and support.”

The study goes on to recommend that “Young people, however, might not seek help for mental health problems from the medical profession. Schools should be places where young people can find information and support, but they are not for LGBTQ youth. Remedying this situation requires urgent review by schools about their policies and services for this vulnerable group.” For more information go to:  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60089-1/fulltext?rss=yes.

In Catholic schools, our groups for LGBTQ may not be called “GSAs” but that is a matter for the bishops to decide.  I recently learned that the bishops are the ecclesiastical authority who determine whether Catholic schools are Catholic or not.   This is from Canon Law 803, #3 which states:  “No school, even if it is in fact catholic, may bear the title ‘catholic school’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority”.  So we as Catholic trustees must work with our bishops to resolve the issues that arise within our schools in such a manner that meets the needs of our students but also preserves the Catholic nature of our schools as defined by our bishops.

Without our bishops we do not have Catholic schools and so we must follow their lead as our shepherds when we are ministering to all our vulnerable students.  As a trustee who believes in publicly funded Catholic education I will work with our bishops to address the concerns of LGBTQ students as well as those 38% of students who are bullied for their appearance and those 17% who are bullied for their marks.  We need school environments where students love and accept one another as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

If you want to express your opinion on this issue to your MLA go to http://streetkey.elections.ab.ca/ and enter your postal code to get their contact information.

What is a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)?

I believe that there are some misconceptions about Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) that need to be discussed given Bill 202 and Bill 10. From my research and speaking to experts in the field, I learned that though the word “alliance” is in the name, they are not political groups or groups that promote a gay lifestyle.  The word “alliance” is related to the fact that these groups bring straight and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) students together as allies.  I also learned that they are not sex groups or dating clubs but “identity clubs” for students who identify as LGBTQ and their straight friends. To put this in language that Catholics can understand:  they are pastoral care groups for LGBTQ students.  Another misconception is that they meet during school hours.  In actual fact, they meet after school on school property.

Do our LGBTQ students need pastoral care in our Catholic schools?  Absolutely!  I have learned that though 5% of youth are LGBTQ, they make up 25-40% of homeless youth (go to homeless hub). (A reader has informed me that according to Statistics Canada 2.4% of the population identifies as LGBTQ.  There are 40,000 students at ECSD so 1,000 of our students would identify as LGBTQ).  LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers (go to http://www.thetrevorproject.org/).  I also know from both first-hand experience and hearing the stories of parents with gay children, that homophobia is alive and well in our schools–both Catholic and public.  A 2006 Toronto District School Board Research Report concurs (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/AboutUs/Research/StudentCensusReport-SchoolExperiencesFinal.pdf):

  • Sixty-nine percent (69%) of heterosexual Grade 9-12 students indicated they feel comfortable with the overall school environment all the time or often, compared with 52% of LGBTQ students. There are also 12% more LGBTQ students indicating they rarely or never feel comfortable with school.
  • In terms of relationships with other students and with school adults, 17% more heterosexual students indicated they feel comfortable all the time or often than LGBTQ students.
  • With regard to school safety, 71% of LGBTQ students reported they feel safe at school all the time or often, which is 12% lower than heterosexual students. On the other hand, 10% more LGBTQ students indicated they do not feel safe at school (p. 46)

Some have raised the issue that there are many reasons why students feel discriminated at school and some of these reasons far outweigh being discriminated because of being LGBTQ.  This is in fact true.  The Toronto District School Board 2006 Student Census System Overview  gives the following reasons why students most often are bullied:  (go to  http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Portals/0/aboutus/research/2006studentcensussystemoverview1.pdf)

Reasons for Being Bullied Grade 7-8 Grade 9-12
Body image 38% 27%
Grades or marks 17% 12%
Cultural or racial background 11% 14%
Language 7% 7%
Gender 6% 4%
Religion 5% 5%
Income 5% 5%

That body image and marks are top of the list for being bullied does not surprise me — these were the same top 2 issues listed by the students attending our recent District Wide Student Council meeting.  I believe that our schools need to address these issues through groups and through the curriculum just as we need to address any reasons why students would be bullied.  And our district does try to address the listed reasons for being bullied.  In regards to body image, I was recently visiting a Catholic junior high in our district which offers an onsite after school care program just for girls ages 11-15 led by the YWCA called GirlSpace.  The flyer states the following:

“Come join YWCA Edmonton’s GirlSpace Empowerment and Leadership Program.  Activites and Discussion led by female mentors from your community.  Themes:  Healthy Relationships, physical, mental, and sexual health, body image and media analysis, decision making, budgeting, bullying, your rights, and more!”

So this is an after school care group specifically for girls offered in a Catholic school to help girls become empowered.  It addresses body image and other factors that contribute to their self esteem.

In regards to being bullied on the basis of marks, our district has a whole high school dedicated to high achieving students so that they can be with other like minded students who enjoy studying and learning.  At a recent parent council meeting at this high school, parents shared how much more comfortable their high achieving child was at the school since they no longer had to deal with discrimination and bullying due to being high achievers.

In regards to being discriminated against due to culture and racial background, our district offers a wide array of special programming and groups for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students (FNMI).  If you go to https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Aboriginal-Learning.aspx you will see the myriad of supports we offer to these students — everything from culturally relevant counselling and support, to connections to elders, to programming that is permeated with the aboriginal culture.  Ben Calf Robe school is a whole school dedicated to supporting the FNMI student. Certainly there are students from other racial backgrounds who would be suffering from discrimination so we need to address their concerns as well–we can always do more.

So as a Catholic school district we offer specific pastoral care and programming to specifically vulnerable students.  We do this because we are followers of Jesus who in Matthew 25 tells us that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner, we do all these things to him. He did not suggest that we give drink to the hungry and clothe the sick – he said that we needed to meet each group’s specific needs.  So I believe that we should continue as we have already been doing in providing specific support for specific students in regards to our LGBTQ students.  This in no way goes against what we are already doing for our vulnerable students.

I also have a concern that if we do not have pastoral care groups for our LGBTQ students in our schools, our Catholic students will go to public school groups.  I have learned that this is already the case. I am very concerned about what this says about our district–it shows that our students who need support are not getting it from a Christian institution whose mission it is to support vulnerable people.  I am also concerned that in going outside our schools for support, our students will miss out on learning through our Christian lens the Christian view of the human body and sexuality.

At a recent Alberta Catholic School Trustees meeting I learned of a video called “The Third Way” which features 3 adult gay Catholics describing what it was like for them to grow up Catholic and gay (go to http://www.blackstonefilms.org/films.html). They suffered greatly because they didn’t receive any support from their school, their parents or their parish.  In actual fact, they experienced quite the opposite — homophobia, rejection, and isolation.  The 3 people featured in the film, in the end did find their way back to the church with the help of caring Christian people. Once given support they chose to lead celibate lives as a way to live with their sexual orientation.  Whether you agree or disagree with their final decision of how they chose to live with their sexual orientation, the video is valuable in understanding better the struggles  LGBTQ students have with understanding their sexual identity and being accepted by others for who they are.  It is my view that we need to provide a pastoral response specific to their particular situation just as we provide a pastoral response to our girls, our FNMI students, our special needs students, our English Language Learners and so on.  We are Catholic schools – let’s witness to Jesus’ love for all people and be cognizant of Mother Teresa’s wise words:  “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”.

A Discussion of Bill 202

I have had many discussions with constituents and politicians of late in regards to Laurie Blakeman’s proposed Bill 202 and so wish to share with you some of my thoughts around this issue.

Prior to the introduction of this bill, the Board of Trustees and administration were working on updating our administrative policy on our commitment to inclusive communities in ECSD.    In our Superintendent’s words expressed in a recent communique to all schools, this policy which was developed “in consultation with high school principals, students, representatives from ECSD Human Resource Services, Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local #54- Alberta Teachers’ Association, religious education /theological consultants and an Elder Council member” will be in place in January 2015.  At the core of this administrative policy is that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, making us inherently sacred and thus we must treat one another with dignity and respect.  Because of this belief, we are compelled to provide schools which are in the words of the Policy “inclusive, welcoming, caring, respectful, [and]safe” and which promote “the well-being of all”.  The Policy emphasizes that this will be done in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church and “shall be grounded in the understanding of the person as a whole”.  The Policy then will provide a safe and inclusive community for all, not distinguishing between LGBTQ youth, youth who are depressed, overweight, etc.  There will be diversity and sensitivity training for staff and support for “the establishment of school clubs/groups/committees that focus on social justice and human rights concerns from a holistic approach”.  The ECSD Inclusive Communities Policy is very much in accordance with the Alberta Catholic Schools Trustee Association recommendations made in their document “Safe and Caring Learning Environments for Students” which again, suggests that groups be established but for no one particular group of students.  One social justice group headed up by a staff member is offered to assist all our students regardless of their particular issues.

Bill 202 states that all provincially funded schools must establish Gay Straight Alliance clubs with the name “Gay Straight Alliance” if the students wish to have these groups.  It also directs that Section 11.1 from the Alberta Human Rights Act be removed.  Section 11.1 makes it imperative that schools contact parents if there will be any discussion of religion, human sexuality or sexual orientation.  The Liberal bill suggests that the onus should be on parents to request removal of their children from classes dealing with the above listed issues.  The Bill goes on to amend Section 58 of the Education Act to include “sexual health” along with “religious and patriotic instruction” as subjects from which parents may request removal of their children without academic penalty.

It was providential that Bill 202 happened to come into the public forum at the time the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association was holding their Fall AGM.  I had an opportunity to ask our lawyer who was in attendance, a very important question:  regardless of whether Bill 202 should succeed or fail, don’t our students already have the legal right to establish GSAs in our schools due to freedom of speech entrenched in our Canadian constitution?  His answer was “yes”.  So if any students in Catholic schools wish to establish a GSA in their school, they would have every right to do so.  We as a district could fight this in court, but we would lose.  So Bill 202 simply makes the ability for students to establish GSAs in our schools that much easier.

Premier Prentice has recently suggested that the PCs will put forward their own bill on the matter (Bill 10) which would essential change nothing.  It basically reiterates the status quo which is that if students wish to start a GSA, and the school refuses, then they have legal recourse through the courts to pursue establishing one. So even if Bill 202 does not succeed and Bill 10 passes, the results will essentially be the same.  Students have the right through freedom of speech to establish GSAs in our schools and if they were to take the school district to court for refusal to allow them, they would win.

A few weekends ago I was preparing a speech for Catholic Education Sunday for St. Charles parish and did a little extra reading about Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver.  I came across an interview he did with the Catholic World Report (I have underlined the quote of most importance to my discussion here):

CWR: The number of children attending Catholic schools has declined tremendously in the United States over the past 50 years. Has Canada seen similar declines?

Archbishop Miller: In most provinces, no, because the way we fund schools is different in Canada. The government pays all or part of the tuition, including for Catholics attending a Catholic school. In British Columbia, where Vancouver is located, the government has been funding schools for 30 years. There’s a greater risk that they might try to influence what is taught, so we only accept 50 percent of our funding from the government, to prevent them from interfering more.

So the Archdiocese of Vancouver purposely chooses not to be funded more than 50% by the government so that they can have more say over what they teach in their schools.  Father Stefano Penna stated something very similar to this at the recent Catholic Education Forum held November 20th at St. John Evangelist Parish.  When you receive money from the Queen, he said, you are beholden to her.  Our Catholic schools are 100% funded by the Government of Alberta — the same is true for Catholic schools in Ontario and Manitoba where GSAs are legislated for Catholic as well as public schools. The more we depend upon the government to fund our schools, the more we give away our right to freedom of religion.  Freedom of religion is also entrenched in our Canadian constitution but when we are beholden to our government to fund our Catholic schools, we are more at their beck and call.  I would suggest that this is the crux of the matter surrounding GSAs in our publicly funded Catholic schools.  If we were less beholden to the government for funding, we would not be having this discussion.

Provincial Achievement Test Results: A Detailed Discussion

Recently our district published our PAT and Diploma Exam results in the Western Catholic Reporter and the Edmonton Examiner.  Because the numbers published in these ads do not show the nuances of our results, I thought it might be of interest to the public if I published them here.  Please note that since our province is phasing out the PAT exams in favour of Student Learning Assessments (SLATs), there is no discussion of Grade 3 results since Grade 3 students in our district did not write the PAT exams in the 2013/2014 school year. The results given are for the Acceptable Standard which means students scored above 50% and Standard of Excellence which means scores above 80%.

The results are published according to different groupings such as:

  • just the students who showed up for the exam (called a partial cohort)
  • the results from students who showed up combined with those who did not (these latter would have received a 0)
  • students who wrote the exams in English
  • students who wrote the exams in French
  • all students who wrote the exams in English and French
  • the results according to each grade (3, 6, 9 and 12/diploma)
  • the results according to year so that we can see whether students are improving or not from one year to the next

This year ECSD students had a high participation rate in the exams compared to the province across all subjects (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies).  For example, in subjects written in English, here are the average participation rates compared to the province: ECSD Grade 6:  94.78% versus Province:  89.73%; ECSD Grade 9:  93.48% versus Province:  88.53%; ECSD Grade 9 Knowledge and Employability:  93.9% versus Province 84.10%. So how does our district compare to the province?  For ease of comparison, I will show the results for only those students who wrote the exams (partial cohort) and results for exams written in French and English (aggregate results).  It goes without saying that if our district had a higher participation rate than the province, then our students would have received fewer zeros so if we want to compare “apples with apples” then let’s compare results for just those who actually wrote the exam. Beginning with Grade 9 students, you will see that these students are awesome!  These numbers show that the ECSD Grade 9 students’ results were consistently higher than the province for both standards except Standard of Excellence in Mathematics.  Congratulations to all teachers and staff who were instrumental in providing these results for our district. These numbers are very encouraging!

ECSD % Provincial %
English Language Arts Acceptable Standard 89.5 86.4
Standard of Excellence 21.2 17
Mathematics Acceptable Standard 77.2 74.4
Standard of Excellence 17.7 19.1
Science Acceptable Standard 85.2 81.5
Standard of Excellence 28.2 24.7
Social Studies Acceptable Standard 78.1 73.6
Standard of Excellence 25.1 23.0

The Grade 9 Knowledge and Employability results however are mixed.  What is the Knowledge and Employability program?  According to Alberta Education “The Knowledge and Employability courses are designed for students who meet the criteria and learn best through experiences that integrate essential and employability skills in occupational contexts. The courses provide students opportunities to enter into employment or continue their education”.  This program applies to students in grades 8 – 12.  The following are the results for this group of students (the exams are only written in English and reflect the results of only those who wrote the exams).

ECSD % Provincial %
English Language Arts Acceptable Standard 86.0 78.4
Standard of Excellence 7 4.4
Mathematics Acceptable Standard 69.0 73.6
Standard of Excellence 12.1 16.9
Science Acceptable Standard 71.9 75.5
Standard of Excellence 8.8 17.6
Social Studies Acceptable Standard 71.2 73.3
Standard of Excellence 8.5 12.7

The 2013-2014 results show that our district surpassed the province in one subject only – English Language Arts. Looking at the results going back 5 years to the 2009/2010 school year, our K and E students were above the provincial acceptable standard 14 times throughout the past 5 years and only below it 4 times.  On the other hand, in the Standard of Excellence category, the results were below the provincial average 15 times across the 4 subjects and only above 4 times (we tied with the province one time). Is there cause for concern?  I would prefer to see that our K and E students were at least at provincial average in both standards.  I would suggest that these students may need additional resources since this year our scores were lower than the province in 3 out of 4 subject areas and in both standards.  I also believe this because our scores on the Standard of Excellence have been consistently lower than the provincial average over the last 5 years.

 

Here are the Grade 6 results (again only those who wrote the exam and in English and French):

Grade 6 ECSD % Province %
English Language Arts Acceptable 90.7 90.6
Excellence 19.7 19.5
French Language Arts Acceptable 95.4 90.1
Excellence 15.9 15.9
Mathematics Acceptable 82.1 81.1
Excellence 15.4 17.0
Science Acceptable 84.0 84.2
Excellence 24.2 27.6
Social Studies Acceptable 79.0 78.7
Excellence 16.5 18.6

These results show that our Grade 6 students score around the provincial average — either slightly above in some cases or slightly below.

 

The results for our Grade 12 Diploma students are as follows.  The results presented are the average diploma marks which combine the results from the Acceptable Standard as well as the Standard of Excellence.  The results below also reflect the full cohort (those who wrote the exams and those who did not and received zero) as well as the exams written in English and French:

ECSD %

Provincial %

Above/Below Provincial Average

English Language Arts 30-1

65.0

64.1

above

English Language Arts 30-2

66.8

65.9

above

Social Studies 30-1

64.2

64.5

below

Social Studies 30-2

62.8

64.3

below

French Language Arts 30-1

65.8

68.2

below

Mathematics 30-1

61.1

63.9

below

Mathematics 30-2

60.2

60.1

above

Science 30

68.1

67.5

above

Biology 30

68.0

68.9

below

Chemistry 30

66.1

68.2

below

Physics 30

67.8

68.8

below

So out of 11 possible subjects, ECSD grade 12 students’ diploma marks were above the provincial average in 4/11 subjects and below the provincial average in 7/11 subjects.  As you can see by the numbers, the differences are very slight in comparison to the province showing that our students are on par with the  province.

In regards to the PAT results for our students in French Immersion, again I will not comment on Grade 3 French results because the PATs are being phased out beginning with this grade.  The grade 9 French marks were mostly all above the provincial average as mentioned was the case for the combined results of English and French.  The good news story this year was the improvement in our French Grade 6 marks.  For a number of years, our Grade 6 French PAT results lagged behind the province but this year great gains can be seen:

ECSD %

Provincial %

French Language Arts Acceptable Standard

95.4

90.1

Standard of Excellence

15.9

15.9

Mathematics Acceptable Standard

86.6

85.3

Standard of Excellence

15.5

16.9

Science Acceptable Standard

87.4

84.1

Standard of Excellence

18.1

19.7

Social Studies Acceptable Standard

84.0

75.1

Standard of Excellence

13.0

11.1

Comparing the results from 2012/2013 school year, the percentage of Grade 6 French Immersion students increased in all subject areas for both the Acceptable Standard and the Standard of Excellence.  In the case of French Language Arts and Social Studies, these increases were over 10%.  In Science and Mathematics, these increases were over 8% so these results are very good news.

In summary, I hope that  this more in depth analysis gives a good understanding of where our district stands in comparison to the province for grades 6, 9 and 12.  I reiterate, that except for the Grade 12 results, the numbers I have mentioned in my analysis are for those students who actually wrote the exams.  Because of our higher participation rate, our marks would of course be higher due to fewer zeros being given for non attendance. By removing the attendance factor, I believe a true picture of our students can be seen and therefore we learn where we must direct additional resources.

Catholic Education Forum: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 7 pm at St. John Evangelist Parish

What is Catholic education? Why is it needed? Who should care?

Members of the Catholic community are invited to discuss Catholic education and the significant role it plays in the saving mission of the Church.  Father Stefano Penna, Vice President of Newman Theological College, will lead the forum and discussion. The first of two evening sessions will take place on Thursday, November 20th at St John the Evangelist Parish (9830- 148 Street).  There is no charge and no registration.  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at 587-879-5612.

Catholic Education Sunday, 2014

One of the traditions my husband and I have established in our household is to read to our children at bed time—this includes reading from a children’s bible.  Last week, my 6 year old son Vincent asked me enthusiastically if we could read the story about “the man on the road”…I didn’t quite know which one he meant.  “You know”, he said, “the one about the guy that came along and helped the guy on the road”.  “Oh” I said, “you mean the story about the Good Samaritan”.  “Yes, yes!” he exclaimed “that’s the one!”  It struck me that he learned the story of the Good Samaritan in his grade 1 class at his Catholic school and it left a deep impression on him.  Meanwhile I was so happy that as a Catholic parent I had the school as an ally in teaching my children the beauty of our faith.  How very blessed we are in this province to have the opportunity to send our children to publicly funded Catholic schools!

So on this Catholic Education Sunday we take time to be grateful for our Catholic schools and pray that all of us – clergy, parishioners, parents, trustees, administrators, students, teachers and support staff — will work together to realize our schools’ evangelizing mission and that our schools may be true, authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.

Last February I had the opportunity to attend the Alberta Catholic School Trustee’s Symposium on Catholic Education with Dr. Reginald Bibby and Archbishop of Vancouver Michael Miller.  They gave presentations on how our schools can be agents of evangelization and how we can be assured that our schools are authentically Catholic.

Reginald Bibby who is a Sociology professor from the University of Lethbridge, spoke of the great opportunity that we have as Catholic schools to reach out to latent and inactive Catholics.  So many people today he noted, are searching for ministry rather than a church.  He suggested that those families that are struggling with divorce, poverty, raising children alone, could benefit from services we provide through our schools. Professor Bibby suggested that if we want to touch people’s lives, touch their families – give them grace through our schools to make their lives easier.  By doing this we are witnesses of how faith improves lives.  I believe that our school district does a lot to be such witnesses by, for example, providing after school care programs in the Schools as Community Hubs initiative.  This program offers a place for older students to be involved in constructive and edifying activities until their parents return from work.

Another initiative is the Graduation Coach model where each aboriginal student is mentored through their transition from junior high to high school and then through their high school years.  This program has led to our aboriginal graduation rate going from 19% in 2009 to 60% in 2013 at one school alone.  These are only 2 examples of many that I could share with you today, that show how our schools reach out to those in need and which in elevating the student, elevates the whole family.  The family then sees how faith does improve their lives.  Is there more that we can do to evangelize our students and families?  Absolutely!  I believe we should always strive to improve our schools’ ministry to others.

At the same symposium, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller suggested that there are 5 marks of Catholic education which can be used to evaluate what makes our schools authentically Catholic. These 5 marks include:

1. Having a Christian understanding of the human person so that our students are taught of their “transcendent dignity”.  They are taught how to live in this world, but with their eyes fixed on the goal of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Miller notes that the Catholic vision of our schools “rejects understanding the role of education as merely an instrument to prepare future generations for the needs of the marketplace.”  Our schools he suggests “foster the life of the soul” and relate career choices to a person’s unique vocation in Christ.

2. A second mark of Catholic schools is that they are permeated with a Catholic world view. Everything that students come to believe and accept is determined by the attitude, the stance toward life which the school fosters in them.

3. Thirdly, an authentic Catholic school has faith permeated throughout the curriculum so that students think and evaluate facts in light of their faith and its values. So the curriculum would help students reflect on the problems of our time, including those where injustice, poverty and the denial of human rights are widespread and systemic.

4. Fourthly, an authentically Catholic School has teachers and staff who are personal witnesses of the Gospel. Reverend Miller cautions that children and young people “are quick to perceive any discrepancies between word and deed.  They thirst for authenticity”.  So it is important that the adults in our schools live according to their own faith in and love for Jesus.

5. And lastly, authentic Catholic Schools are shaped by a spirituality of communion which means that the educational mission of our schools is carried out in a spirit of cooperation between students, parents, teachers, support staff, bishops, administrators and trustees. By working together in a spirit of a shared mission, our schools move from being institutions to being a true community in Christ.

Archbishop Miller suggested that we can use these 5 marks to evaluate our Catholic schools in an effort not to be punitive but for the sake of moving from “good” or “very good” to “great”. For your information, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Associations is currently considering using Archbishop Miller’s 5 marks as a way to do a province wide evaluation of our schools. As a candidate for school trustee I ran on the platform of ensuring that our Catholic schools are true authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.  After a year as a school trustee, I can say that our district works hard to ensure our Catholic identity.  It does this through morning prayers, social justice activities, school masses, Faith Development days and Newman Theological courses for our teachers, to name a few.  But is there more that we can do to enhance our schools’ Catholic identity?  I believe there is and I ask you on this Catholic Education Sunday, to pray for our students, our staff and our trustees, that we may work together so that in the words of Pope Francis, our Catholic schools may continue to be “a precious means for making a contribution to the progress of the Church and of society as a whole”.

Archbishop Miller has written a book in which he discusses Catholic education.  It is called The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools.  Another book that he referenced at the Symposium which may be of interest is Challenges for Catholic Schools in Canada by James Mulligan.

Two of my fellow trustees and I are organizing a Forum on Catholic Education at St. John Evangelist Parish(9830 – 148 st.) on Thursday, November 20, 7 pm.  All are welcome and there is no charge and registration is not required. There will be an address by Fr. Stefano Penna, Vice President of Newman Theological College followed by a panel discussion and questions from the floor.

Success for FNMI Students: Graduation Coach Initiative

A couple of weekends ago I gave my Report Back to the Community to Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples during which I spoke of the wonderful success we have been having at ECSD with improving our 3 year graduation rate for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students using an innovative model called the “Graduation Coach Initiative”.  I shared with the congregation information from our district website:  “since its implementation in 2009, the FNMI Graduation Coach Initiative at St. Joseph High School has increased the three-year graduation rate of FNMI students from 14.9% to 60.4% by supporting the transition of students from junior high and retaining students as they progress through high school…the role of the graduation coach is to provide mentoring and guidance to FNMI students to ensure they are provided with a nurturing and safe environment that supports them as they find a sense of competence and achievement”.  I received great applause from the congregation showing a great desire for their children to succeed in our school system and graduate with a high school diploma.  After mass, a young man approached me to say that he was a teacher from Saskatchewan, visiting our district to learn more about how we implement the Graduation Coach Model so that he could bring this model back to his district.  We can be very proud of the work that our district has been doing with our FNMI students and even see ourselves as leaders in this area.  This truly is something to celebrate!

The ECSD website goes on to say that graduation coaches are available in many of our high schools including Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop O’Leary, and St. Francis Xavier as well as St. Joe’s.

For more information about this program go to (https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Graduation-Coach-Initiative.aspx).  For a full list of supports that we offer our FNMI students go to https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Aboriginal-Learning.aspx

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