With students still in summer mode, new teachers in South Jersey Catholic Schools gathered Aug. 24 for an orientation session at Saint Vincent de Paul Regional School in Mays Landing. The group of 71 included first-time and veteran teachers, individuals bringing industry experience to the classroom, former public school educators, and returning Catholic school teachers. They will be teaching in the diocese’s 28 elementary and six secondary schools.
“We have a sacred opportunity to share in the evangelization of Christ and his church,” said Father Joseph Capella, Director of Catholic Identity at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill. Father Capella spoke about the importance of Catholic identity in the schools and stressed that teachers must take time to nurture their own faith and spirituality as well.
“Students have no tolerance for hypocrisy. They are looking for authenticity. … Every day you pull into the parking lot you are pulling into missionary territory,” said Father Capella, stressing the importance of meeting students where they are. He reminded teachers of the role they play in preparing students not only for this world but for the world to come.
Schools superintendent Mary Boyle linked Father Capella’s message to the classroom. “How are you going to keep Jesus in your classroom?” she asked the group. Among the answers were prayer, candle lighting, caring for creation, bulletin board messaging and keeping an empty chair for Jesus.
JoAnne Prendergast began teaching in a Catholic school but spent most of her career in a public school. She said she loved the school where she taught, but is excited to be back in a Catholic school. “It’s that connection to Jesus you don’t get in a public school,” she said. Prendergast brings her enthusiasm and experience to Good Shepherd in Collingswood, where she will teach fifth grade.
At Saint Mary’s in East Vineland, Ray Yansick will provide technology support to teachers across the curriculum. His role is especially important given the school’s new STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math) Academy, which places a greater focus on integrating technology across the curriculum. An active member of Saint Padre Pio Parish, Yansick believes his new position is a perfect way to combine his desire to serve others with the skills he mastered during his career in the technology industry.
Participants gave high marks to the academic overview led by director of curriculum and assessment Dr. Bill Watson, who described the hands-on role many teachers have played in curriculum development, particularly math, science and language arts. He explained that the diocesan curriculum outlines what students should know and be able to accomplish at each grade level in every subject, while allowing for flexibility within the schools. “The path to the endpoint will vary,” he said, “but all students should get to the same place.”
As the foundation for helping all students to grow and thrive academically, Watson reinforced the Catholic belief in the dignity of every person and the focus on and presence of Jesus in the classroom. “A Catholic school creates the optimal conditions for learning.” he said.