I asked several friends, coworkers, and family members to write about what Catholic schools mean to them. Today you will hear from my dear friend and colleague, Gina Sabo, who is the Technology Integration Specialist at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. It's been an honor to work with her over the past decade in several settings. We both agree that working at SJA has brought us tremendous happiness.
5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school by Gina Sabo
The author and her son, Danny, on the first day of school.
Why do I teach in a Catholic School?
I have heard this question and many other as to my choice to teach in a Catholic school.
“Aren’t you limiting yourself career wise? There’s not much room for growth!”
“Aren’t you afraid of your school closing?”
“You know you can get paid more in the public school, right?”
In reality, my school isn’t much different than that of a public school. Our students come from all walks of life. We have parents that email...some more than others. We have meetings and professional development. Behavior problems. More meetings. Standardized testing. Budgets. And new standards to meet.
But the one thing that makes my school stand out - God. My School’s Mission Statement describes a “faith community of educators, learners, and families using God’s gifts to develop 21st Century skills of innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and reasoning to enrich the global society” (St. Joan of Arc School). It is within this type of environment that I cannot imagine being without.
So when I have to “defend” my decision to teach in the Catholic School, here are just five of the reasons:
As I mentioned before, our school is a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Some could say that it is because we all have that one thing that binds us together-faith, but I tend to lean more towards the fact that we truly care about each other. We have students who return after graduation talking of how much they loved the sense of belonging they felt while attending our school. As teachers, we bond together over shared students we have watched grow over the years. The administration gets to know each child on an individual level, and cheers them on by name. Even our Pastor, Father Willie Franken, offers words of wisdom and guidance to our families at just the right time. Faculty, students, and parents all come together and pray for those who are sick, celebrate a new baby or wedding shower, or even provide a special gift to a student whose family needs to leave mid-year.
Encourages Me to Be a Better Christian and Role Model
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you attend or teach at a public or Catholic school; all teachers are being watched daily by their students and parents. Eyes are always watching to see how to react and how they should structure their behaviors. Parents are personally making sure teachers are meeting their students’ needs. In my school, however, students are also watching my devotion to the Lord. My students can smell the difference between real and fake, so this encourages me to constantly keep myself in check and be authentic in my relationship with my students and God.
Everything is Geared Towards Christ
In the public school setting, I was constantly worried about offending someone. I had to watch what I said and how I said it. In the Catholic school, I am able to complement, discuss, and even explain my beliefs without worry of offending my students. Often, I can praise a student “God has truly blessed you with the talent for drawing,” or thank a student for their help during Mass. Students can openly discuss their love for God and our daily lessons are often linked to the Fruits of the Spirit.
Holidays - Big and Small
In the Catholic school, the holidays - both big and small - are celebrated with a certain sort of style. The Christmas season appears more humble throughout the school. Giving, rather than receiving, is the moving force within the classrooms. Students focus on service projects and the birth of Christ. In May we celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a school, we meet in the “Grotto” outside our building and place the crown of flowers atop her head and recite a shortened version of the rosary. It is these spiritual practices that, for me, make teaching in the Catholic School special.
Someone Always Has Your Back
No matter where you work, obstacles are always encountered. Calling for help can include a conversation with technical support, help from a co-worker, or even a meeting with your boss. Working in a Catholic School, you can seek help from a higher authority. Our staff begins each week in prayer. Just before the students enter the building, we gather together in our Faculty Lounge, and thank God for our abilities and blessings, and ask for his help. Throughout the school year, we support each other in highs and lows. We celebrate the small victories and pray over difficult times. We are assured through our faith that no matter what happens, God’s love for us will be there forever.
February 12, 2017 12:35
By Robyn Barberry
It’s been almost two years since we learned that Frank has significant language and social developmental delays. But, we have chosen to delay slapping a label on him. Is he autistic? Does he have ADHD? Is it an auditory processing disorder? Maybe it’s one of those things. Maybe it’s all of those things. Maybe it’s none of those things.
What we do know is that Frank experiences the world differently than most three-year-olds. He’s shy. He’s quiet. He doesn’t always understand what we’re telling him or asking him. He seldom participates in group activities, choosing instead to play by himself, by his own rules. He can solve sixty-piece puzzles in mere minutes. He carries an apple everywhere he goes. He can't take big crowds, loud noises, and lighting that is too bright or too dark. He needs to be held in a human vice to fall asleep. He has a burning desire to explore and investigate everything. In fact, I call him “Curious Frank” after his favorite storybook character, Curious George.
The progress he’s made in two years with the help of a very special team of teachers and therapists is incredible. He makes more eye contact. He has hundreds of words (he can spell over thirty of them).
I made a video of him singing "Happy Birthday" to his godfather the other day. To my delight, he’s recently developed a love for painting and listening to stories. "Let's make art," is my favorite thing he says.
Most of the time, he asks for things rather than devising elaborate and dangerous plans to procure them himself. I’m not petrified of venturing out into public and having him run away from me anymore (though I can’t take my eyes off of him at the playground). He attends a wonderful Christian preschool with patient and kind teachers who adore and protect him. He has even made a few friends. He voluntarily goes to Mass, points at the risen Christ above our altar and says, “Jesus is everywhere.”
After much deliberation, Patrick and I decided to send Frank to St. Joan of Arc for preschool next year. Our four-year-old program is a rigorous five-day-a-week, all day experience, which is exactly what Frank needs to grow socially and academically. The Pre-K teacher and her assistant have created a nurturing, structured environment that will provide Frank with a safe, challenging, and exciting place to learn. I could not think of more capable hands to trust him with. (And I hear the art teacher/librarian is nice.)
Some days, I second guess myself. We enrolled Frank in a multi-sports program for preschoolers at our gym. When I took him to his first session on Tuesday, I watched for a couple of minutes to see what he would do. I used to think that I needed to include a preface every time I introduced Frank to someone new to explain why he doesn’t talk, listen, and behave like most three-year-olds, but I’ve decided to wait until someone needs to know about Frank’s differences.
A few minutes into the class, the dozen or so other kids were lined up and kicking their soccer balls toward the goal. Frank picked up his ball and ran around on the other side of the gym. When the teacher called after him and he didn’t respond, I interjected.
“Frank has some developmental delays, so he might not always understand you the first time,” I said.
“Oh, then, I’ll just leave him alone and let him do what he wants,” she said.
Her response frustrated me. I put him in the class because I wanted him to learn some social skills. “All he needs is your patience,” I said. By the end of class, he was participating with the other kids. Sometimes, he just needs time to explore.
In a few weeks, Frank will visit SJA’s preschool to get to know his teachers, his classroom, his routine, and some friends who are headed to kindergarten. We will develop an Individualized Education Plan (or IEP) with his special education team so that he has the resources he needs to learn in his unique way. I can’t wait to watch him grow at SJA and will continue to pray every day that Frank can develop the social and communication skills he needs to make his dreams come true.
March 13, 2016 04:28
By Robyn Barberry
Advancement Director Lauren Hayden (L), Physical Education Teacher Megan Blackburn (R) and baby William were gracious hosts.
St. Joan of Arc’s new advancement director Lauren Hayden was at it again on Friday March 11th, with a Stone Soup-inspired Lenten “Souper” event. It was held at 5:30 in the SJA parish hall as a way to bring our church and school closer together.
Students from each grade brought in a different ingredient to contribute to our “community soup,” just as the villagers do in the folktale Stone Soup.
Lauren’s mix of vegetable broth, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, green beans, onions, corn and peas was the perfect Lenten Friday dinner, especially accompanied with whole grain baguettes and fresh green salad. Sharing a meal with my students, their parents, my awesome co-workers, and other SJA parishioners was even better.
After the meal, the adults and older students attended Stations of the Cross while Lauren read our school library’s copy of Stone Soup, complete with Caldecott-award winning illustrations. The children were excited to get to spend an evening together and were reminded of the importance of caring for each other as Jesus did for us. I hope this is a tradition we can keep up every Lenten season.
Eva and Hope color Jesus carrying the cross.
Best friends Danny and Collin were happy to spend a Friday night hanging out together.
March 13, 2016 02:56
By Robyn Barberry
I woke up on August 10th from a horrible nightmare. It was the first day of school and I had nothing planned for my art class. I got out some papers and crayons and told the students to draw whatever they wanted. The 4-year-olds just stared at me, the 8th graders laughed, and Collin, my son and 1st grade student, cried.
This wasn’t the first time I found myself awakened from a deep sleep, covered in sweat and panting because I’d just escaped a fictitious, yet painfully realistic experience in the land of nod. But it was the first time my subconscious reminded me in my dreams that I was both a teacher and a mom, all at once; all in the same place.
It was 4:00 a.m. and I couldn’t get back to sleep. A train came wailing by and I convinced my mind to load all of my troubles on it. As I drifted back to dreamland, I vowed to spend the next seven days preparing for my best year yet. I wanted to wow my students; I wanted to wow my son.
I submerged myself in Pinterest, stealing ideas for my environmentally-themed units left and right from fellow teachers and stay-at-home-moms. My good friend Gina, who has become my coworker once again, joined me in my quest to engage students in art projects inspired by oceans and trees, the rain and the bees. I imagined guiding Collin through the activities designed for my younger students. His masterpieces would be sure to dazzle the visitors to my refrigerator museum.
I spent the following week purging the art room of spoiled paint and yellowed paper, shelving returned books, and decking the halls (and the library) with paintings and posters reminding students of the rules, encouraging them to think positively, and celebrating the glorious bodies of water God created when he made our Earth. (Water is the art and library theme for August and September.)
When I stepped back Sunday afternoon (the day before school) and took in the beautiful and tidy spaces I’d created, I decided that it was good. But the bliss didn’t last for long.
In preparing for my own return to school, I’d completely neglected to tend to Collin’s back-to-school needs. He had a cool shark backpack from his great-grandmother and the same blue geometric lunch bag he’s used since he was two, but that was it. Immediately, I was faced with a new nightmare: the failed parent.
So, like millions of moms and dads across America, I rushed to Target on Sunday night, where I scavenged the last two packs of glue sticks, a 24 pack of crayons (they were out of the smaller size his teacher requested), paper towels, tissues, juice boxes, and a family pack of rainbow Goldfish crackers for snack time. It was as if we were all preparing for a major storm -- and in a way, we were. An avalanche of homework and a whirlwind of carpools were imminent -- we'd better sharpen our #2 pencils.
Unfortunately, I forgot the most important thing – socks. I scrambled through last year’s uniform bin for a gym shirt. The only one I could find fit like a wetsuit and was splattered with permanent pink and red acrylic paint. I allowed myself to hyperventilate for one minute before deciding, “He’s the art teacher’s kid. They’ll understand.”
After another restless night of battling my way through bad dreams centered on the notion of my occupational failure, the first day of school inevitably arrived. After stopping to take a brief selfie on the front porch, Collin and I went on to have a great first day at St. Joan of Arc. No one stared or laughed at me. No one cried – not even me.
The story ends well, but it could’ve taken a smoother course. The problem was this: I was so worried about planning mind-blowing lessons to impress my students – especially one – that I forgot about the basics. More importantly, I forgot about balance. I can’t let myself focus too much on teaching or too much on being a mom. I need to learn a better way to be both.
I have since obtained Collin new socks and a new gym shirt. My decorations still look awesome, my lessons are going to be great, but most importantly, my students (one in particular) and I are happy to be learning together again.
August 28, 2015 08:28
By Robyn Barberry
It was an emotional week for many of my friends as we sent our 5-year-olds off to kindergarten. Some are excited, some nervous, some relieved, and some devastated. It is, after all, a major transition from raising the little kid whose life revolves around home to raising the big kid whose life revolves around school. I imagine this is an especially tough separation for moms who stay at home, so I will say some extra prayers for them and encourage them to volunteer at their child’s school if they can.
I’m handing it considerably well. I worked two jobs and went to grad school when Collin was little, so I’ve already experienced being away from him for long days at a time. It doesn’t mean that it was easy then or even easy now, but it’s somewhere I’ve already been. Even when I wasn’t working, I sent Collin to five-day preschool last year and all day camp twice a week this summer to get him used to being in a more structured environment. It also helped me to get used to Collin being somewhere else … but it’s still a little too quiet! I’m blessed to have the opportunity to send him to St. Joan of Arc, a family-like environment, with rigorous academics and strong a strong base in faith, right in our neighborhood, and where I also happen to work. I’ve gotten to know his teachers over the past couple of weeks and couldn’t trust him to more capable hands. I’m looking forward to being his teacher, too … though I imagine there will be some stories to come out of this experiment.
One of the greatest gifts St. Joan of Arc has to offer is a sense of community. I was delighted to find an invitation to the BooHoo/YeeHaw Breakfast for parents of new preschoolers and kindergarteners in Collin’s folder. There, in the church hall, I found a host of yummy breakfast treats and a warm circle of welcome from the Home/School Association, headed by Megan Cornett. She and other experienced SJA moms perambulated the room, introducing themselves and answering questions about school life and events.
There seemed to be a whole lot more “Yeehawing” going on than “Boohooing,” which was uplifting.
There were also two tables worth of volunteer sign-in sheets for various activities throughout the year. Halloween Party, Bowling Club, and Game Night, here I come!
It was most exciting to get the chance to meet some of the other parents. Not only could I bond with them over our common experience of handing over our children for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for the first time, but I also got to know a little bit about their children, who will be my students and Collin’s friends for many years. As I fed Frank and Leo bits of a blueberry bagel, we had some great conversations about exciting fundraisers, choosing the right high school for each of your children, and the effect of social media on kids’ attention spans.
I walked away from the breakfast knowing that even when I do have boohoos while my children are St. Joan of Arc students, I’m surrounded by compassionate parents who have either been in my shoes, could imagine being in them, or are willing to let me borrow theirs for a while. And when we have yeehaws, there will be plenty of cheerleaders on our team!
September 03, 2014 04:56
By Robyn Barberry