Curriculum and Instruction

Representatives of Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School with Theresa Sinclair of Zaner-Bloser (third from right). Copyright 2019 Lisa Julia Photography/Bayard Inc. All rights reserved.

Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School wins 2019 Innovations in Catholic Education Award

By Victoria R. LaFave

Today’s Catholic Teacher honored the 2019 winners of the 22nd Annual Innovations in Catholic Education Award on April 24, 2019, at an event during the NCEA Conference in Chicago. Awards are given in four categories: promoting Catholic identity; technology integration; curriculum and instruction; and total community involvement, including fundraising.

The 2019 winner of the award for curriculum and instruction is Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School (BJKM) in Steubenville, Ohio. Theresa Sinclair from Zaner-Bloser, who sponsored the prize, presented the award to the PreK–6 school, which serves 386 students in the Diocese of Steubenville.

“We were honored to be chosen as the winner in our category,” BJKM Principal Theresa Danaher told TCT, “and are blessed to be recognized for our efforts to provide a truly inclusive Catholic education for our students.”

Over the past eight years, BJKM has developed the HOPE (Honoring Other People’s Exceptionalities) program to provide educational services for students with special needs. With funding from the Jon Peterson Scholarship Program and Ohio’s Autism Scholarship, the program began with one intervention specialist and three students. It currently serves 31 special-education students with a variety of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, and specific learning disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School.

The school’s special education staff has grown to include a director, five intervention specialists, and 17 one-on-one aides, as well as a full-time speech therapist and part-time occupational and behavioral therapists and test readers.

As the HOPE program has grown, so has the need for space. The school has converted space within its building to include two resource rooms and a sensory space. This area is not only ideal for special-education students, but also has become a place of service for older students and a space to decompress for students battling anxiety.

“This program has been a tremendous blessing for our entire school community,” Danaher noted. “Since all of the students in our HOPE program spend much of the day in the regular classroom, our general-education teachers have learned more about working with students with disabilities.

“Early intervention is now a key goal in our school, due to the push from our intervention specialists. Teachers have learned to work in consultation with the intervention specialists in providing for the varied needs of all students, with all staff being trained on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“One absolute blessing has been the compassion and love that is evident among our students in this inclusion model. Our students have learned to look beyond differences and reach out in love to their classmates,” Danaher said. “The care and camaraderie that has developed have brought us closer as a school family.”

BJKM schedules music workshops for students with special needs. Photo courtesy of Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School.

Students with special needs also attend weekly Mass with the entire school family. “Although they may not each be able to participate in the same manner as their peers, we value their presence and ability to join us in worship,” Danaher explained. “We hold a special music workshop for our HOPE students with sensory issues to help them become more comfortable, learn the music, and encourage participation with the school body.”

Principal Danaher described one of the school’s past highlights: “A third-grader with autism, who used to have difficulty sitting through Mass, served as lector and read the first reading with confidence. The joy and pride on his face was only matched by the tears of his parents and teachers! Our families are grateful to have all of their children served in the same school; this had not been an option for many of our families less than a decade ago.”

Now the school is looking to the future. “We hope to expand our facilities in the future so that we have room to grow,” she noted. “We are raising funds to build a sensory garden. This space will provide an outdoor educational area suited to the needs of our HOPE students, but also will be utilized by our entire school family.

“Our HOPE program has enabled us to be more inclusive and better provide for the needs of all of our students,” Danaher said. “It has led to curriculum improvements that have impacted all learners. Our Catholic identity has been strengthened as well by building a culture of acceptance and compassion.”

Learn more about Bishop John King Mussio Central Elementary School:

Zaner-Bloser also presented awards to two finalists for their schools’ innovative projects in curriculum and instruction. Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River, New Jersey, was praised for its International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and global reach, and Presentation Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, was honored for its Leadership Program.

In Ghana, a Donovan Catholic High School student works with Operation SMILE. Photo courtesy of Donovan Catholic High School.

Donovan Catholic High School’s (DCHS) highly respected global program caught the attention of the judging committee. Kathleen D’Andrea, DCHS director of educational programs, is honored to have been recognized for their International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. “It was a great honor to know that our teachers were being recognized for their efforts in preparing for IB, for rewriting curriculum, [and] for bringing international opportunities to the students in our school,” D’Andrea told TCT.

Several years ago, Donovan Catholic High School wrote a plan called Blueprint 2020, knowing that education would continue to be varied and far-reaching. One of the goals was to apply to be an International Baccalaureate school. In February 2017, the school was authorized to offer the IB Diploma Program to its students, bringing international mindedness to the forefront of curriculum.

Donovan Catholic’s enrollment already included international students from China, Korea, and Vietnam. To attract students from Europe, DCHS formed a partnership with Colegio Los Sauces, a high school with several campuses in Spain, as well as a campus in Ireland. Last year, seven students studied at DCHS for three months. Through the American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE) international student exchange program, DCHS currently has students from Thailand and Finland.

Every summer, DCHS teachers bring students to the Dominican Republic to build homes for the needy. The experience has created a new appreciation of people of other cultures and helped build lifelong friendships. Students also come home with increased Spanish fluency.

Two years ago, DCHS joined Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical service that provides cleft palate repairs to children around the world. One student traveled to Ghana last year to observe and learn about cleft palate surgeries.

This year, two young women will go to the Philippines and Bolivia to do the same. These opportunities open students’ minds to the medical struggles beyond our borders, and participants bring their experiences back to the student body.

“By becoming an International Baccalaureate World School, we proudly proclaim that Donovan Catholic High School values global learning as a priority,” D’Andrea concluded. “We want all of our students to become global citizens and encourage them to take part in at least one experience each year to widen their international consciousness. It is our responsibility to develop and nurture a global awareness in our students.”

Learn more about Donovan Catholic High School:

A Presentation Academy student at a career exploration event. Photo courtesy of Presentation Academy.

The second finalist, Presentation Academy (PRES), in Louisville, Kentucky, an all-girls Catholic high school serving 240 students, challenges young women to develop their greatest potential as leaders in a global society. “Receiving this award was a great celebration of all the women leaders who have been empowered during their time at Presentation,” PRES Principal Becca Noonan told TCT.

Presentation Academy has always sought to empower young women to become leaders, and is now celebrating the 27th year of its innovative leadership program. In 1993, PRES formally integrated a cutting-edge leadership program into the curriculum.

“For 187 years, leadership education for young women has been our brand, but we made it official in 1993,” PRES Principal Becca Noonan explained. “While the program has evolved over the years, it is still specifically designed to link academics with career exploration and leadership skill development.”

More than 2,000 women have completed the student-centered leadership curriculum, encompassing the following:

Leadership Forums for all students during their freshman, sophomore, and junior years. The freshman class participates in a seminar presented by PeaceEd that focuses on conflict resolution. Members of the sophomore class attend a seminar presented by Norton Hospital specifically designed for PRES. Students examine their leadership styles, work in groups, and engage in open discussion with a panel of highly successful women leaders. The junior class participates in a leadership day entitled “Finding Your Impact,” with renowned author and motivational speaker Peggy Noe Stevens discussing various topics relevant to leadership.

The Senior Independent Program for qualified and interested members of the senior class. Students in this full-year program earn two high school credits after completing a project based on their interests. An example of a completed project is a one-hour documentary film, Reel Life, that studies influences in the film industry.

Career Exploration. Presentation Academy also encourages each student to career shadow at least one time during her junior year. This opportunity allows participating students to obtain a deeper glimpse into careers and to assess and observe leadership skills necessary in the workplace.

“Each year the program is evaluated and revamped to meet the current needs of our students,” Noonan concluded.

“One thing that remains constant is that the leadership program is student-centered and student-driven.”

Learn more about Presentation Academy:

See the list of 2019 Innovations in Catholic Education winners and finalists in all categories.

See the list of 2020 Innovations in Catholic Education winners and finalists.

Victoria R. LaFave writes for Today’s Catholic Teacher and for Holy Name Catholic School and The Bishop Noa Home, both in Escanaba, Michigan. Several of her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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