Story by Tess Wahlmeier
(SNR) – The "Joy of the Gospel" campaign was a huge blessing for the Diocese of Lincoln, bringing in more than $62 million which will be used to support many different aspects of diocesan ministry.
Part of that money has been allocated for the “Flavin Fund,” named after the seventh Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop Glennon Flavin, who founded the School Sisters of Christ the King.
Monies from this fund are going to schools throughout the diocese in order to establish, cultivate, and develop new inspiring projects and programs.
“The Flavin Fund was an inspiration of Bishop James Conley, in consultation with a host of people, to further energize our schools by providing grant money for innovative educational programs and projects in the schools,” said Msgr. John Perkinton, diocesan superintendent of schools.
Schools throughout the diocese have applied for these grants, which are reviewed by a committee before funds are released.
“We want to be good stewards of the financial resources that people have so generously contributed to the Joy of the Gospel,” Msgr. Perkinton said. “Part of good stewardship is to make sure that there are things in place that will help ensure the most successful utilization of these monies toward the particular idea or inspiration that the school has.”
Schools must meet various eligibility requirements to receive a grant, including the development of a five-year strategic plan for the school, an active school advisory board and stewardship committee, a financial report from the parish and school, and a written tuition policy in place or in progress.
Many schools throughout the diocese have been working a long time to develop their new projects and programs.
Cathedral of the Risen Christ School in Lincoln is building a new “Nature Explore” classroom for preschool and kindergarteners, which will consist of different stations, such as a water station, a dirt area, a gathering place, and a prayer garden. This will also translate to the indoor classroom, which will have less posters and plastic and more natural materials, like stumps and rocks.
“Our nature as humans is to connect with the wonders God made,” said Jeremy Ekeler, Cathedral principal, “so a classroom for us will look like a lot of natural materials like wood, wicker, plants, water and dirt. Really, not too different from the way a lot of folks my age grew up playing outside.”
Ekeler also serves on the Prosper Lincoln Board of the Lincoln Community Foundation, focusing on early childhood, and his wife, Susan, works with Lincoln Public Schools in early childhood education. He has been doing research on early childhood and considering the Nature Explore option for close to a year now.
“He has done a wonderful amount of research in looking at the interplay between these programs and child learning and development,” Msgr. Perkinton said.
Several teachers at Cathedral have already been through many hours of training and immersion in order to support the Nature Explore Classroom.
One of the teachers, Anne Bodensteiner, said she is excited about the opportunities brought about by the new classroom.
“I am thrilled that we are encouraging nature and exploration with our little ones!” Bodensteiner said. “We are hoping to foster a love for learning by letting the kids get messy, touch and feel nature and learn through playing about God’s creations.”
Ekeler said the Nature Explore Classroom pushes back against the trend to rush children into their education.
“The academics will happen – we really aren’t too concerned with having kids who are reading and doing double-digit addition and subtraction when they’re in kindergarten. What is vital to us are kids who stay curious,” he said. “We don’t want a school culture in which 3-, 4-, or 5-year-olds are concerned with a grade, or about getting a wrong answer. I wish more adults were like that actually: we should all be more willing to explore and experiment, rather than being concerned about mistakes.”
Another Flavin Fund project is happening at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Lincoln. Last year, they began a Latin program, where K-8 students learned Latin prayers, songs, and Mass parts, and also learned about Roman culture from their Latin teacher, Levi Baus. With the expansion of the Latin program this year, students will continue to learn religious elements of Latin, but will also be learning more vocabulary and grammar.
“We’re hoping, in addition to the Catholic cultural element of learning Latin, that it will assist students with their mastery of English, as well, because of the high number of English words that stem from Latin,” Sacred Heart principal Laura Knaus said. “We’re planning for Mr. Baus to collaborate more with the classroom teachers as we move toward a more fully integrated curriculum.”
The introduction and continuation of Latin is one step in a bigger curriculum transition that Sacred Heart is making toward a classical curriculum. Baus will also teach Latin at Pius X High School next year.
Knaus said the reception from the students has been positive.
“The students are excited about it,” Knaus said. “It’s new and challenging for them. Studying Latin is a great way for all students to continue their development of vocabulary and proper use of grammar. The students sing beautifully in Latin, too. Their rendition of the Ave Maria is especially moving!”
Blessed Sacrament School in Lincoln is adding language translation services for the parents of their students.
“One of the blessings of our parish demographics is its diversity,” Father John Sullivan, pastor, writes. “We have students in the parish recently immigrated from the Sudan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Mexico, Portugal, Vietnam, and others. While the parents are unable to speak English or fluent English, the children often can. I’ve had a conversation with more than one family, helped by their children or younger siblings or cousins, who would love to have their children in Catholic school but find the school-parent communications very difficult. This leads me to believe that there are more families who would come if we made materials available and had some language-based parent meetings.”
St. John the Baptist school in Plattsmouth is implementing a large online language curriculum, which will be guided by the classroom teacher. Students will have several different language learning options, even as middle schoolers.
“I think that is a pretty neat idea,” Msgr. Perkinton said, “and that’s taking advantage of our computer technology and productivity to bring things into the classroom that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to have.”
Many schools are hiring marketing and development staff in order to increase enrollment. Other schools are offering things like extended care after school and tuition reduction for new students.
“Our hope is to recruit families,” Msgr. Perkinton said. “Basically, it’s to reach out to parents who might not be sending their children to Catholic school because of the obstacles involved in not having after school care.”
The Flavin Fund is benefitting schools all over the diocese, helping them to cultivate and inspire the children of God.
“One of the things all of our schools have in common is that our educational philosophy is not geared toward mere training, nor simply to make a graduate a productive member of society,” Msgr. Perkinton said. “Our primary goal is to form great citizens of God’s kingdom who are nurtured with opportunities to know and love truth, goodness and beauty.”
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