by Joe Bollig
PAOLA — All teachers face many challenges, but teachers in small towns and rural schools face one more: isolation.
This is what Amanda Foltz, third and fourth grade teacher at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne School in Garnett, discovered. In some cases, a teacher in a small school may be the only teacher for her grade level.
“I was a public school teacher before coming [to St. Rose], and I had a team of three other teachers I met with every week,” said Foltz. “We collaborated and bounced ideas off of each other. So, when I took this position, that was one thing I was worried about — that I’d be on my own island.
“But it hasn’t been bad at all. The Southern Region has helped.”
Catholic schools in the Southern Region have helped by holding a joint teacher professional development day for the past two years.
This year, teachers and administrators from St. Rose, Sacred Heart School in Ottawa and Holy Trinity School in Paola met all day on Jan. 2 in Paola. Twenty teachers and three administrators attended.
The teachers met in the morning to learn about a new curriculum, broke into discussion groups by grades, had lunch and then participated in Scripture study for faith formation.
It filled a need that Kelli Wolken felt keenly for a while.
“I’ve been principal at St. Rose Philippine for six years, and I was a teacher before that,” said Wolken, one of the three principals who organized the day. “One of the things that bothered me as a teacher was not knowing what other schools were doing. [Schools in the] Southern Region are very isolated because we are so small and have no next-door neighbors, per se. We don’t have the network of resources of other schools [in urban areas of] the archdiocese.
“And, so, I got together with a couple of the other principals [in our region] and told them I’d like our teachers to meet, share ideas and build relationships. When one of them is teaching something, they can [contact] each other and say, for example, ‘What are you doing for Advent?’”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has asked that all the archdiocesan schools teach about St. John Paul II’s theology of the body. The new theology of the body curriculum introduced to the teachers that morning was “Revealed” by Ruah Woods. It replaced the previous version, “Rooted.”
“The theology of the body, developed by St. Pope John Paul II, primarily focuses on understanding the truth of the human identity as beings created in God’s image,” said P.J. Greer, principal of Sacred Heart School. “It helps our students answer some of life’s deepest questions, such as: Who am I; What does it mean to have a body and soul; Who is God; and What does it mean to be a child of God created in his image.”
After the presentation of the new curriculum, the teachers broke up by grade level into small groups and discussed how they might teach “Revealed.”
“I was pleased with how it went,” said Greer. “I felt the older curriculum we were using was a bit more difficult for our teachers to navigate. What we’re using this year in our classrooms is more effective.”
The teachers from different schools established Google documents so they could go online and share their ideas and experiences teaching the new curriculum.
“We have a shared document for the first and second grade teachers between the three schools,” said Megan Staley, second grade teacher at Sacred Heart School.
“Sacred Heart is teaching it first. I’m making notes as I go to help St. Rose Philippine, who teaches it next, and pass it on to their first and second grade teacher. She’ll add to it — what worked and what didn’t — to then pass it on to Holy Trinity.”
“By the time all three schools have taught it,” she continued, “we’ll have a clear understanding of the best way to approach it and what things need to be modified. . . . Those kinds of notes are helpful for a teacher [presenting] information for the first time and finding what they need to do to be more successful.”
In the afternoon, the teachers studied the fifth and sixth chapters of the Gospel of John. It was led by the Blessed Seelos Institute at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.
“During this school year, we are looking at the Gospel of John,” said Staley. “It’s a once-a-month teacher faith formation. The last year, we’ve gone through Genesis and Exodus. We’re looking at the parallels to the Old Testament and what new we can understand.”
Greer felt the day was both worthwhile and helpful to the teachers.
“I think they liked it,” said Greer. “I think they like the new theology of the body curriculum and enjoyed the opportunity to meet and discuss things with their peers. It’s a well- received activity when we work with the other schools.”