By Dr. Samuel Torres
Greetings to a brand-new year! As we pause to inhale a spiritual deep breath, we acknowledge our blessings and give thanks for God’s abundant grace. His holy spirit has surely helped us accomplish His will in our Catholic schools. Catholic schools remain the constant essential for students of today and into the future. A combination of challenging academic programs paired with social and spiritual enrichment, in a supportive and affirming community, help to stabilize and overcome deficits created by economic circumstances or injustices. All children belong. All children deserve a quality Catholic experience.
In light of the recent survey conducted by The National Assessment of Educational Progress, our nation’s report card should concern us all. This survey focused on results from testing of public, charter and private schools in 2019 to 2022, and revealed the lowest decline overall since 2003. Fourth and eighth grade students showed the biggest decline from 2019 to 2022 in math and reading (4th grade, -5 points, and 8th grade, -8 points).
Per the National Catholic Education Association, Catholic schools demonstrated the least decline across the board, with eighth grade demonstrating a 15-point increase over their peers during this time. A correlation surfaced in that 80 percent of those performing the highest in these categories had a desktop computer, laptop or tablet throughout their remote learning experience, and 50 percent of higher performers noted that the teacher was available 1-2 times per week to help with assignments outside of class. The high performers also noted that online learning engagement occurred every day or mostly every day. Another correlation in survey questions revealed that teachers who were confident in remote instruction paralleled higher achieving student performance.
In review of what hasn’t worked for so many children throughout our nation and in light of my many conversations with Catholic School superintendents nationwide, I am very proud to report that our Catholic schools have not suffered the declines experienced to the extent of their counterparts. Catholic school superintendents, principals and faculty across our nation created schedules that implemented electronic training and provided electronic provisions for their students with little downtime. Consistent effort was applied to application, time spent, and problem-solving. Teacher training was increased to ensure faculty confidence was in place during our most difficult time period of implementation. Learning occurred on multiple levels and included creative ways to engage in social, emotional and spiritual enrichment. In addition, Catholic leadership focused on and continues to offer remedial help for students with learning gaps.
What have we learned when challenged with an unexpected difficulty? First and foremost, we must remain firm and steady in our faith. Our children are watching to see what it really means to be a Christian in uncertain times. Be humble in evaluating and re-evaluating what is working or not working. Those who are affecting the students should be willing to learn new skills and be open to supporting the implementation of ideas that may be better suited to the situation.
Understand that we can do more and are ultimately stronger and more resilient when we engage as a community. Though many of us felt isolation during the pandemic, new ways of interacting helped to maintain cohesion for our school communities. When modeling these ideas and attitudes, we are demonstrating to our children how best to face uncertain times. Our positivity creates a pathway for their future engagement in whatever community involvement they find themselves in.
I would be remiss if not commenting on the solid delivery of academics in Catholic Schools. It is widely known that Catholic school students enter college at higher rates than any other public or private school entity. According to the National Catholic Education Association, academic rigor was maintained through the pandemic and resulted in higher achievement than any other private or public school entity. Though learning loss did occur in isolated schools, it was addressed in a timely manner and on an ongoing basis. Because of our report card, enrollment has increased in Catholic schools, diocesan and nationwide. This cannot and does not happen without incredible faculty teams and Catholic leadership on school campuses.
As we address the deficits and concerns during this catch-up period, we are confident in implementing the longstanding recipe for success: faith, community and best practice for curriculum, which has once again shown that the children in our Catholic schools are being properly prepared for their futures. We are not just focusing on the academic integrity of our programs but, as we have learned through our recent experience with pandemic lockdown, our children have many needs being addressed in our school environments. Through a holistic approach (spiritual, social, sports and activities) that enriches growth in multiple ways, they are confidently demonstrating achievement and successfully moving forward towards adulthood.
All children deserve a quality school experience. This is the belief of our principals and faculty who create environments where children feel as though they belong, can ask questions, get help and discover God’s love. It is a very exciting time to belong to a Catholic school community. You can feel and experience the hope of our children, and those dedicated to this goal. If your child is not currently attending one of our schools, please reach out to a principal or my office to discuss this possibility.
Dr. Samuel Torres is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino.