Magazine article Momentum

Unique Challenges, New Approaches

Magazine article Momentum

Unique Challenges, New Approaches

Article excerpt

Schools address inner-city children's needs through collaboration and innovation

It's the start of a new academic year. Time to instill fresh routines, prepare innovative lessons-and help students handle the emotional fallout of another shooting in their neighborhood.

This may not be reality for all Catholic educators, but for many of those teaching in America's inner cities, violence, poverty and despair are all too common facts of life. Yet leaders in many schools are surmounting these seemingly intractable problems by collaborating on best practices and employing pioneering approaches to bring hope and academic success to children and communities in need.

Several school leaders discussed those approaches at "Have Faith in Catholic Schools," a symposium cosponsored in Philadelphia by the Gesu Institute, a resource center for educators, administrators, policy-makers and researchers interested in achieving justice in urban education. Held at Saint Joseph's University in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania's Robert A. Fox Leadership Program and its Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, the event brought together educators who are reinventing paradigms for innercity Catholic education.

"Every day we see so many injustices," said Christine S. Beck, president and CEO of Gesu School (www. gesuschool.org), a North Philadelphia independent Catholic pre K-8 school. "Every day in our schools we hear more stories that make us cry-fathers in jail, mothers on drugs, abuse and neglect in our children's homes. We know that if anything can break the cycle, it is quality education."

Beck pointed out that a strong archdiocesan curriculum is one of the greatest tools helping schools like Gesu, which follows the Jesuit and Immaculate Heart of Mary traditions. "We teach Catholic and Christian faith, values, character-building, non-violent resolution and accountability within a safe, caring environment," she said. "We teach our children to believe in themselves. And we search for ways to light the fire within each child to love learning and develop his or her God-given talents."

Gesu Institute Provides Support

But to accomplish all these things, she added, each school needs a solid framework, a sound infrastructure and a wide-reaching support system. The Gesu Institute was established precisely to help schools realize that vision.

"That's what the Gesu Institute is all about: to help schools secure their futures so they can continue and improve their great work in the Catholic and Christian traditions, and to encourage others to invest in the futures of our children," said Beck.

Like Gesu School, Philadelphia schools such as LaSalle Academy, St. Francis de Sales and Mercy Vocational High School have implemented a number of groundbreaking administrative and" programmatic methods to achieve those goals. At the symposium, school representatives agreed that forming networks and sharing best practices are crucial for Catholic school survival, especially for those serving inner-city neighborhoods.

LaSalle Academy, an independent school owned by a board of trustees and established in the traditions of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Saint Joseph, opened in 2003 to address the needs of underprivileged children. A member of the NativifyMiguel Network of Schools, LaSalle offers an extended-day, extended-year program for poor and at-risk children. It has been able to fund essential supplemental and enrichment programs through grants, including one from the Genuardi Foundation for its Peace and Peer Mediation Program.

"It takes a lot of love, time, energy and effort," said Sister of St. Joseph Jeanne McGowan, LaSalle Academy's founder and president. "Our struggleis financial; half of our budget comes from our trustees, and parents pay just $200 a year. But our board of trustees enables us to do the job."

The school's rigorous academic program, grounded in faith and coupled with the social and academic support necessary to ensure growth, already has proven itself with a 20point increase in standardized test scores in just three years. …

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