Congratulations to the 12 finalists of the Innovations in Catholic Education awards.
We set out to search for the schools with the best innovations in Catholic education, and 100 schools responded with descriptions of effective, creative programs and projects. This year’s awards will be offered in four categories for innovative projects in:
- Promoting Catholic identity
- Curriculum and instruction
- Technology integration
- Total community involvement, including fundraising
In the spring issue of Today’s Catholic Teacher, one grand-prize winner will be announced in each category, and those four winning schools will each take home a trophy and the $1,000 prize! All 12 schools will receive large indoor/outdoor banners and copies of the awards publication. Subscribe today to be among the first to know the names of the winning schools!
A member of our judging committee noted that it’s difficult to narrow the field to 12 finalists and uplifting to see what Catholic schools are doing today. All 100 schools who entered this year’s contest deserve to be commended for their efforts.
The opportunity to read all these entries is to celebrate Catholic schools today. Creativity, imagination, and excellence in curriculum development is outstanding. I am so proud of our Catholic schools and particularly those who struggle against significant financial difficulty today.
Here are the finalists in each category:
St. Columba School in Durango, Colorado, is proud to be promoting Catholic identity in serving as stewards of God’s creation. The school is one of the first schools in Durango to be carbon neutral in electrical use. In September 2019, St. Columba School installed a 216-panel solar farm on the rooftop of the elementary building, providing power for the entire campus, including the school and all church buildings. The school’s solar farm models stewardship of resources, and produces carbon-free energy that will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to be dedicated to support Catholic education and the call as intentional disciples to the New Evangelization.
St. Joseph’s Catholic School in West St. Paul, Minnesota, has incorporated Catechesis of the Good Shepherd into the religion curriculum. This program supports a classroom teacher’s understanding and commitment to both imparting knowledge and assuring the retention of that knowledge with the need for self-guided time to come to know and love the person of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd allows students to have a deep and profound encounter with the loving person of Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Mass and sacraments, and come to appreciate the seriousness and richness of the Catholic intellectual life. The students are evangelized and catechized simultaneously.
St. Pascal Baylon Catholic School in Highland Heights, Ohio, put a Catholic spin on the “Only One You” trend found on the internet by involving students in a project where they could collaborate with their buddies and contribute to a project that involved the entire school community. After reading the book “Only One You” with their buddies, the students created rock fish that are displayed within the school as a reminder of each student’s irreplaceable contribution to the community. The Catholic social justice teaching of solidarity was the driving force of this school-wide project. It helped students appreciate and respect the differences of others as well recognize their own uniqueness while at the same time fostering a sense of community within the school.
Curriculum and Instruction
Madonna High School in Weirton, West Virginia, developed a roadmap for educational excellence which included Healthcare, Engineering, Legal, and Business career tracks. The career tracks are a combination of current courses offered, courses from a community college, AP courses, an internship and a series of MOOCs (massive open online courses). With limited funding, the school needed creative solutions that leveraged resources to provide students with a strong advantage and help them take their next step in life. Once a MOOC student passes the course, the student’s name is added to a national registry that is searchable by universities; this gives students a competitive advantage when applying to college.
Southern Tier Catholic School in Olean, New York, has adopted a strong emphasis on character development and social-emotional learning to assist students struggling with a host of social-emotional needs, including relationship skills, respect, problem-solving, empathy and self-esteem. The school’s emphasis on the whole child through sessions with social workers, data-driven social-emotional assessments and interventions, and partnerships with the high school and the Seneca Nation of Indians has had amazing benefits. Teachers say students are getting along better and there are fewer conflicts on the playground as a result of the social-emotional work they’ve been doing.
St. Ambrose School in Brunswick, Ohio, implemented a real-world problem-based learning experience. Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers formed a partnership with a local contractor. SilverApple, an education partner with Saint Ambrose School for the past four years, facilitated the partnership between the school and the contractor, and provided training for teachers to effectively plan and implement the Baby Boomers Project. Students helped to design communities for the aging Baby Boomer generation, learned about the construction industry, studied the needs of an aging population, and created virtual-reality and print presentations of their designs for actual housing customers.
All Saints Catholic School in Canton, Michigan, offers a Lego robotics elective class for seventh- and eighth-graders. Students taking the elective are paired with a teammate and assigned programming challenges, such as a maze course and a final project that encourages students to think creatively to make their robot perform a unique task. The robotics class provides a fun way to integrate science into the curriculum and to encourage students to explore STEM as a potential career choice. The school has also expanded its extracurricular robotics program over the past five years to reach as many students as possible.
Maternity of the Blessed Mary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is creating a video series to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the parish. The Video Project is a vehicle not only to celebrate the Parish’s anniversary but to teach the students in a unique manner, hands-on from start to finish. This project provided them with the unique opportunity to not only bring history to life, but to experience a sense of accomplishment at completing a job and doing it well. Having the students see their research come alive on the screen featuring their fellow classmates and themselves is by far more impactful than any book or lecture, and was a labor of love dedicated to the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish.
Saint Augustine of Canterbury Roman Catholic School in Kendall Park, New Jersey, has raised the bar for STREAM integration in the classroom by incorporating coding and robotics into curriculum areas where they normally wouldn’t be expected to appear, such as reading, language arts, and social studies. This initiative builds upon the success of the school’s participation in Code.org’s annual Hour of Code campaign and includes the addition of programmable “micro-bots” such as Ozobots and Sphero to the classroom, exposing digital-native, tech-hungry students to these concepts and technologies across the learning spectrum before they reach middle-school age.
Total Community Involvement, Including Fundraising
All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, Iowa, has had a Veterans Day celebration at the school since 2012. It has grown every year in attendance and is known as a very moving and emotional day for veterans, active service members, and students. Veterans and active service members are escorted by student ambassadors into the classrooms and interact with the school’s very diverse population of students. The veterans and guests are treated to a homemade lunch served by the middle-school students. The K-8 students, with their teachers, present a program for everyone that begins with a prayer, followed by patriotic songs, poetry, dances, essays, letters, and a shadow theatre.
Lakewood Catholic Academy in Lakewood, Ohio, is a leader in innovative, curricular programming that reaches beyond the schoolhouse walls to the include the local and global communities. All sixth- through eighth-grade students participate in the Great Lake Shake, a fun-filled competitive experience that celebrates interpersonal communication skills. The Great Lake Shake event calls for students to interact with a wide variety of adult leaders from our community. Students are challenged to demonstrate excellent verbal and non-verbal communication skills and are evaluated on their manners, conversational skills, proper handshakes, eye contact, and professional appearance.
St. Michael the Archangel Regional School in Clayton, New Jersey, began a Pen Pal Club to bring senior citizens and students together, creating a bond between the community and the school. At St. Michael, where faith-formation goes hand in hand with a strong academic tradition, students learn how to care for and respect others, pray for those who are sick or lonely, and to put the needs of others ahead of their own. The Pen Pal Club provides an opportunity for the students to put into service what they are learning at school. At the end of the school year, St. Michael hosts a Pen Pal celebration, complete with fun, friendship, refreshments, and entertainment; the students meet and honor their senior pen pals.