Hallmarks of a good, Catholic education

by Sandra Engelland

North Texas Catholic

January 13, 2020

Katie Tweedel and other teachers from across the diocese participated in an outdoor learning exercise during a November teacher formation day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)Katie Tweedel and other teachers from across the diocese participated in an outdoor learning exercise during a November teacher formation day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
Katie Tweedel and other teachers from across the diocese participated in an outdoor learning exercise during a November teacher formation day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

One after another, the students marched to the podium and recited their poems.

Some spoke in strong, clear voices, enjoying the challenge. A few started with smiles, anticipating laughter from a funny phrase. Others were hesitant at first, but their voices grew with the heartfelt emotion in their verses. Classmates, parents, grandparents, and other visitors applauded each one.

Welcome to a special reading of original poetry by the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Prosper.

This is one example of what classical education looks like in Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Worth and its emphasis on helping students open the doors of truth, beauty, and goodness.

After the performance, students reflected on what they learned.

“At first I thought poetry might just be some boring words, but I learned that in poetry we can express ourselves in ways we usually might not,” said seventh-grader Miriam Bayas. “It’s a wondrous way to share our concerns about our world and share about ourselves.”

Eighth-grader Aubrey Mier said, “I think it’s awesome to learn how to express your feelings.” 

Their English Language Arts teacher Elaine Nolting said the poetry reading was the official end of their poetry unit.

“If they have an audience, they put more of an effort into their poems and practicing,” Nolting said. “It’s much more memorable for them than just writing the poem for a grade.”

Nolting began the poetry unit introducing students to famous poets: William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson.

They looked at themes, methods, and concepts. Then Nolting encouraged students to write their own poems, using inspiration they gained from the masters of the craft.

“It’s placing learning back into their hands in order to create,” Nolting said. “They are deciding what topics are most important to them, and they can figure out how to express them.”

Then students chose their favorite poem to recite at the event.

“It becomes more impactful when they have a purpose for their learning,” Nolting said, allowing them a chance to share their passions and beliefs. “It prepares them for the future as they develop and hone their communication skills.”

PREPARING STUDENTS FOR LIFE
Classical education is a focus on grammar (basic rules of a subject), logic (the ordered relationship of concepts), and rhetoric (how to clearly express and defend one’s position).

Jennifer Pelletier, superintendent of schools, said classical education is “really just good, intentional teaching.”

Classical education is teachers helping students understand the language of a subject, understand the concepts, and communicate what they know, she said.

A student at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Prosper presents original poetry during a recital at the school Nov. 15. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

A student at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Prosper presents original poetry during a recital at the school Nov. 15. (NTC/Kevin Bartram)

Throughout the phases, there is a focus on exploring and appreciating the beauty and truth inherent in the subject.

Developing a love of beauty and truth helps students develop their ideas and character, Pelletier said.

“We want them to be able to defend what it is they know,” she said. “There’s nothing more important than that in the culture in which we exist.”

William Perales, principal at Nolan Catholic High School, focuses on classical education as he leads training for new and continuing teachers in the diocese.

The classical approach to education will help students “develop virtue, develop intellectual habits, and really cultivate wisdom,” he said at a recent diocesan teacher training workshop at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Keller.

Children learn intellectual, physical, and spiritual virtues when they are introduced to beauty in literature, art, music, and nature; to truth in math and science; and to goodness in characters and historic figures who overcame obstacles and evil, Perales said.

“It becomes a foundation, a reference point, to evaluate things in the world. It prepares them for life,” he said. “Overall, it will better prepare them to respond to what God calls them to do.” 

LEARNING FROM GOD’S CREATION
At the recent workshop, teachers were focusing on ways to incorporate nature into the school day, both by spending time outside and by bringing natural items into the classroom.

Jessica Dalton, outdoor learning teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, showed teachers her nature-focused classroom.

Dalton’s students keep nature journals where they record their observations during regular visits to the school’s garden and playing field.

One day they might draw clouds and another day they might toss a hula hoop on the ground and look at the plants, insects, and minerals within the small space, sketching a few of their favorites.

In the classroom, children study snake skins, grow seedlings, observe the class fish or gerbils, and make bird feeders.

Dalton told the teachers, “Yesterday, a child brought his snake. He’s a shy little guy, but this gave him an opportunity to talk to the class.”

Stephanie Schroering, a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher at SEAS, said she was finding ways to talk about nature in math.

She recently introduced students to the Fibonacci Sequence — a series of numbers found by adding the two numbers before it — and how it is found in seashells.

Teachers at the workshop got the chance to do some of the same activities students do, exploring the garden and sketching natural items.

Perales said, “Why nature? Because kids, all of us really, respond to being outdoors. The more senses a child uses in a lesson, the more they will remember.”

A PATH TO KNOW GOD BETTER
Pelletier said educators in the diocese are making a point to include families in the educational process. The diocese has a speaker series for parents, suggestions for family activities at home, and an optional reading list for parents

The amount of homework is limited so families have time to enjoy one another, she said.

Classical education is a path to “a well-formed mind and a well-formed soul,” a way to get to know God better.

“As they’re growing in their studies, they’re growing in a better knowledge of God,” she said.  

 

Katie Tweedel and other teachers from across the diocese participated in an outdoor learning exercise during a November teacher formation day at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

One after another, the students marched to the podium and recited their poems.

Published (until 6/19/2035)
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