2017 Innovation in Catholic Education “Promoting Catholic Identity” Finalists

Congratulations to the 12 finalists of the Innovation in Catholic Education awards. Here are the finalists in the “Promoting Catholic Identity” category, along with a bit about their program areas.

Cathedral School, Raleigh, North Carolina

“Serving God by Serving Others”

A few years ago, we felt that our service projects had become stale and predictable. Most of the projects involved collecting items such as non-perishable foods at Thanksgiving and hats and gloves during the winter months for the area homeless.

We felt like the students weren’t involved. The parent would purchase the items and send them to school. All the student did was carry the bag. Missing was the important element of critical thinking. We wanted our students to dig deeper and learn why the needs existed in the first place.

Project-based learning began to makes its way into schools around the same time, so we decided that our class service projects could be greatly improved by integrating that teaching method into our daily religion classes in the same way as we had in the other content areas.

On service project kickoff day in September, the principal holds up ten $50 bills. After the audible gasp from the excited students, each homeroom class is given $50 as seed money to help kick start their project. Completion date is set for Catholic Schools Week in late January when students present their projects to their parents at an HSA meeting. We also assemble a narrated power point each year that is posted to our website.

The benefits of this type of learning are many. The top three are:

  1. Our Catholic Identity is promoted by our interactions with different community groups.
  2. Students work on authentic issues that assist others directly and/or inform others.
  3. Students have to share what they know with an audience often using presentation skills which integrate technology.

We were hopeful that the success of the projects and the excitement that the students felt would spark their interest to do more as well as having their families become more active. We expanded our program by using a student created illustration that shows a “helping hand”. Each finger represents a different way to help.

In addition to the Class Service Projects, we offer Family Service Opportunities and School Community Opportunities.

Sacred Heart School, Southhaven, Mississippi

“Denim Days Service Learning Program”

Our school is sponsored by a religious community of priests, the Priests of the Sacred Heart. The priest have served the area of North Mississippi for over 70 years through what is now Sacred Heart Southern Mission. The mission runs 13 social service ministries including Sacred Heart School. Our school utilizes these programs as one of the cornerstones of our service learning.

Our students called this service learning program Denim Days. Each month all students learn about a ministry of the mission. Some of the ministries included the Walls Food Pantry, Hernando Thrift Store, Hernando Social Service Office, Olive Branch Social Service House, Dehon Learning Center, and the HIV/AIDS ministry.

At age appropriate levels, all students will hear about the ministry of the month. Students pray for the workers and volunteers of the ministry throughout the month. They will view pictures of the ministry and learn about the service the ministry provides to those in need. The last day of the month students host a denim day.  They may donate money they have earned on their own to the ministry.

We hope that this sustained service learning opportunity will help develop our students sense of serving those in need. We hope students will be dedicated to a life of not only giving to those in need but also to serving those in need. We also hope that should our students find themselves in need of others prayers or help they will know where to go.

WINNER: St. Ambrose School, Brunswick, Ohio

“The Homeless Project”

St. Ambrose students are also developing a Homeless Mission Operations app that will help approximately 200 homeless people who are fed through these homeless missions weekly. The Homeless Mission Operations app is used by homeless mission operators who drive the streets in these areas to find homeless in need of food and shelter.

The app involves students collecting data for locations of homeless shelters, food banks, and safe havens. The mobile app was given to homeless mission operators to collect data in the field to manage donations, resources, routes, and locations where there is need.

As the program continues to expand, St. Ambrose School will also facilitate and grow a donation network in order to provide more food donations to the homeless missions. Overall, the app will help homeless mission operators track homeless needs and manage donations. Students used geospatial technology by managing resources and the need of the homeless, using ArcGIS Collector. Geospatial analysis was performed and patterns were analyzed to find areas with the most need. As the homeless mission network expands, additional food donations from restaurants that are closer to the hot spots could be obtained in order to improve food preparation and storage needs this project can also be useful for our national audience. There are homeless families with children, teens, adults, and veterans that need help in every society.

This Homeless Mission Operations app is also scheduled to be launched to other schools that have similar mission programs. St. Ambrose School has hope that this app will grow to assist the homeless across the country. Our students have learned how to solve real world issues by using research and prototyping development. The St. Ambrose insulated homeless products and the Homeless Mission Operations app are scheduled to launch in February 2017.