Program infuses values into lessons

By Rob Cullivan/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Back to School


ROCHESTER -- What do papal encyclicals have to do with railroads? Or fighting fires with saying prayers? And what does going to the bank have to do with reading the Bible? All of these phenomena are closely related when seen through the eyes of faith, according to Mary Jane Krebbs, associate secretary of education for the Archdiocese of New York City.

A handout Krebbs distributed during the 17th Annual Institute on Catholic Education illustrated a program used by teachers in her archdiocese to "infuse" Catholic values into subjects other than religion. For example, the handout showed that studying how American railroads were built can lead to a discussion on the church's labor teachings; a math class devoted to money-changing can lead to a field trip to a bank, which in turn can lead to discussion about how the Bible counsels honesty; and a social-studies class on community can present an opportunity to invite firefighters and other service workers to come and talk about their work, which can then be followed by a class effort to compose a prayer for them.

Krebbs added that for 14 years teachers in the New York Archdiocese's schools have been formally infusing Catholic-values lessons into school subjects other than religion. By infusing faith lessons into such subjects as social studies, math and others, Catholic-school teachers can profoundly affect the way the world is seen by their students, Krebbs noted.

"I want (students) to know that all of life has potential for religious values," she said during a July 7 interview.

Krebbs was keynote speaker on the second day of the Institute on Catholic Education, which was held July 6-7 at the Holiday Inn next to the Greater Rochester International Airport. The institute was organized by the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. Evelyn Kirst, director of the Warner School's Leadership Program for Catholic and Other Private Schools, said 112 administrators and teachers from dioceses in the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland attended the institute.

Krebbs' handout used several examples to illustrate how teachers can infuse Catholic values into various subjects. For example, in a nutrition or social-studies class for kindergartners, a teacher can refer to the scriptural stories about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes for the multitudes or about referring to himself as the Bread of Life. To bring the lesson home, students can be asked to bring in canned goods to donate to a local food pantry and to pray for the hungry children of the world.

The Diocese of Rochester does not use a formal program like New York's of infusing Catholic values into subjects other than religion, according to Sister of St. Joseph Margaret Mancuso, diocesan assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. However, she said, the diocese does expect teachers of all grade levels and subject areas to infuse Catholic values into their classroom presentations. She added that after seeing Krebbs' presentation, she is considering presenting an in-service workshop for diocesan principals on the New York Archdiocese's program.

Diocesan schools highlight their Catholic identity through a variety of means, Sister Mancuso noted. For example, according to documents from the diocesan schools office, every classroom should have a large bulletin board designed for spiritual focus. The board can contain words about the current topic or theme students are studying in religion; Scripture quotes and prayers; current events in light of the church's teachings; or a phrase related to a particular subject, such as "God is like the numbers which never end." The documents also call on schools to celebrate the church's holy days; plan retreats and other spiritual activities for students; encourage students to engage in service projects; and include "God talk" in all classes, among numerous other activities.

Sister Mancuso added that diocesan-school teachers are encouraged to take opportunities to talk about Catholic values whenever they can. For example, she said, when Pope John Paul II died, Catholic-school teachers had the opportunity to talk about what the moment meant for their students. Indeed, Krebbs talked with her audience about such "teachable moments," occasions when instructors can take advantage of current events to discuss the values at play.

Mary Ellen Wagner, principal of Holy Family School in Rochester, added that one way her school infuses values is by holding prayer services with students. She said she also liked the idea Krebbs presented that called for students to compose prayers for such members of the community as firefighters, sanitation workers and police officers, who all provide services.

Krebbs noted that infusing Catholic values into subjects other than religion reinforces a Catholic school's primary mission to its students.

"Our job is continually to bring these people to Jesus," she said.

 

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