Reaching outside school walls
Diocesan education department helps schools, religion programs
Last in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Joanne Flemming
|IF YOU NEED ME: Principal Rosemary Bartel observes 6th grade student Cole Waniger at St. Gregory School in St. Nazianz. Bartel also serves as principal at St. Mary School in Clarks Mills. (Rick Evans photo)
When public schools need help with curriculum and teacher in-services or have legal questions, they turn to the state's Cooperative Education Service Agencies or the Department of Public Instruction.
When the Green Bay Diocese's Catholic schools and religious education programs have similar concerns, they turn to the Total Catholic Education Department.
The schools and the department have three types of relationships, said Lee Nagel, department director:
Information. "People look to us to cull through new ideas, new materials, new documents and provide them with a synthesis as well as what are the best ideas," he said. They ask department staff to "come up with what is most important because we don't have time to read all that."
Resources for questions and concerns and "how to deal with issues," Nagel said.
Continuity. "We try to provide continuity so we could say no matter where your child is in grade, the core concepts taught in religion, whether in a parochial program or school, when that family moves, there will be some consistency in faith development."
Information: Dcn. Mike Vincent, religious education director at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Green Bay, said "the books, the ideas, the spiritual direction is that which helps us help our teachers and our students to grow."
Nagel has the books and a wealth of information, Dcn. Vincent said. Nagel, he said, will say, "If you read this and do this, this will be the outcome. It happens."
Dcn. Vincent and Sr. Diane Baumann, religious education director at St. Margaret Mary, Neenah, rely on the newsletter Andrea Sabor, consultant for catechesis, e-mails weekly. "It keeps us abreast of all the information we need to know about," Sr. Baumann said.
The information can be as simple as an Irish blessing, said Dcn. Vincent, citing one March newsletter for such a prayer.
"We used it in every classroom," he said. It was the "thing I probably would not have looked for. I think that is just a gift."
Sr. Baumann appreciates how Sabor "(resources) us through technology." Each of her newsletters includes websites with "useful information for religious education classes. This is very helpful because most of us do not have time to go out and find all of those sites."
Kerry Sievert, principal, at St. John-Sacred Heart School, Sherwood, said Franciscan Fr. Bob Kroll, consultant for educational leadership/school program development, has a similar newsletter with information on research, inservices, websites and vacancies.
Resources: School and religious education personnel commended the Total Catholic Education Department staff for their willingness to visit their programs and offer their help.
Rosie Bartel, principal, at St. Mary School, Clarks Mills, said her school and St. Michael in Whitelaw are merging. Nagel recently spoke to St. Mary parents about recent directions
in Catholic education in the diocese and nation and why changes are needed to survive.
In Mackville, St. Edward School is preparing for a visit from the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation team. Principal Candee Schmalzer said she is confident of the school's re-accreditation after Chris Broslavick, consultant for staff development/education programs, reviewed the school's self-study to see if it was completed correctly.
Ann Fox, consultant for administrative services, did an in-service for the St. Edward board of education on board functions, Schmalzer said.
Gene Sinner, faith formation director at Sherwood, said he likes the meetings Total Catholic Education holds for school and religious education personnel. While department staff do meet one-on-one, "you have a lot of things that percolate to the surface" that an individual might not otherwise think of.
"We are bombarded by many vendors and viewpoints. They help us keep a balance in our programs that is doctrinally sound and is good catechetical teaching and ministry," he said.
A group meeting gave him the help he needed to adopt Generations of Faith, the intergenerational, community catecheses program his parish uses for religious education.
Principals and religious education directors gave the department high marks.
"They are very supportive and always available for advice," Sinner said.
"If we need consultation," said Sr. Baumann, "all we have to do is contact the diocesan offices. They give all sorts of advice, guidance or ideas."
"If they don't have the answer, they will work and look for the answer," said Bartel.
Schmalzer rated Total Catholic Education as "wonderful. They always get back to you in a timely fashion."
Sabrina Schmidt, who writes "The Compass in the Classroom ... and Beyond" column, has many years' experience in parish religious education work in the diocese.
Over the years, she said, "I could always trust that I would get answers to questions and problems I faced in the parishes I served. I could always trust that I was respected as a person and as a minister."