Even before she begins her daily instruction, Julie Gualtieri leads her prekindergarten students in morning prayer at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception School.
"They (the students) say the petitions, start the Our Father, start the Hail Mary and start the Pledge of Allegiance," she explained.
During a math lesson on symmetry, Gualtieri’s colleague Margaret Henry had her third- and fourth-graders create symmetrical angel wings upon which to write their guardian angel prayers.
"I talked about how symmetry is found in angel wings, and a student stated, ‘Hey, we were just in a math lesson and you turned it into religion," Henry noted.
These are just some of the ways teachers in diocesan Catholic schools strive to incorporate Catholic faith and values into all aspects of the school day, according to Anthony S. Cook III, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Rochester. While the Mass, daily prayers and religion classes are at the core of Catholic education, teachers also are able to integrate faith into such other subject areas as science and math, Cook said.
"Teachers don’t have to think about where the line stops in terms of what they can include with their own personal faith, but then expand upon that with our children’s (faith)," he noted.
Being able to share her faith in the classroom was the reason Gualtieri came to Immaculate Conception six years ago. After teaching in a public school for seven years, she said she felt that something was always missing, especially during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
"I would become frustrated that I couldn’t talk about what was so important in my life, my faith," she said.
So now, in her prekindergarten classroom, Gualtieri said faith comes up naturally as she’s teaching. Sometimes the children even incorporate faith into play time, such as during Advent when they dressed up as Mary and Joseph and pretended to take a journey to Bethlehem. During classroom discussions on weather, particularly learning how rainbows form, Gualtieri said she and the students discussed Noah and how God sent him a rainbow as a reminder of his promise.
"Being in a Catholic-school environment each and every day allows us to incorporate our faith in every aspect of our day," she said. "We as teachers are not only responsible for teaching them the curriculum, but their families have sent them to our school to have that core sense of faith instilled in all that they do."
Likewise, Henry said faith and Catholic values are the foundation for her instruction throughout the day.
She recently collaborated with physical-education teacher Craig Nevins to have students dribble basketballs to the beat of the song "Greater" by Christian band MercyMe. Students used their knowledge of the connection between fractions and music notes as they dribbled to the rhythm of the song.
"It’s important to incorporate faith throughout the day so that students see that faith is not just (taught) from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., but in everyone, everything and every hour," Henry remarked.
Faith also is being incorporated outside the traditional classroom setting. At Rochester’s St. John Neumann School, for example, older students are paired with younger students for a monthly Prayer Partners activity. In January, the students made prayer shawls.
Principal Jackie Senecal said the students also gather for prayer during the four weeks of Advent and present a Christmas pageant and Living Stations of the Cross each year.
Even after the traditional school day is over, good Christian morals are tied into extracurricular activities, Senecal pointed out. For example, she said that approximately 25 students participate in the school’s intergenerational bell choir with residents of St. Ann’s Community.
Placing a priority on faith is something that diocesan Catholic schools do a great job with, Cook said. The comments he has heard from parents echo that sentiment.
Parents feel that the Catholic schools "are very faith filled, and they greatly appreciate the growth they are seeing in their children, not only academically, but spiritually as well," he said.