(SNR) - A sizeable number of teachers, administrators and pastors from diocesan Catholic schools spent much of last week at the National Catholic Education Association’s national convention and exposition in Minneapolis.
Approximately 8,000 people attended the April 6-8 event. Among them were representatives from Lincoln schools North American Martyrs, St. Joseph, St. Peter and St. Teresa, Crete’s St. James School and Seward’s St. Vincent de Paul School.
Held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the conference includes professional development sessions that count toward each teacher or administrator’s continuing education requirements, inspirational speakers, awards dinners, an expo where various publishers, software companies, art material suppliers and other vendors displayed their wares.
According to Sister Mary Alma, C.K, principal of Lincoln’s St. Peter Elementary School, this was the third time in six or seven years that the entire faculty of her school has attended the conference, along with herself and their pastor, Father Michael Christensen.
“He’s been the strongest advocate of this,” Sister Mary Alma said. “It is very valuable.”
Conventioneers can attend up to eight different sessions, each one taught by a professional educator. Topics range from how to teach the Holocaust in a Catholic school to using the Internet in the classroom, acquiring federal funds, or learning strategies that can help end bullying.
“They get as specific as helping eighth-graders transition to high school and bringing Scripture into kindergarten classrooms,” Sister Mary Alma said.
For lay teachers, who arguably sacrifice some earning potential in order to teach in Catholic schools, Sister Mary Alma said the convention gave them a chance to see that they are active contributors to the mission of the Church.
“It really is a vocation, a calling from Christ to help spread the Gospel, to help build His kingdom,” she said. “I think it gives them this sense that we’re working together for the good of the Church, to pass on the faith to the next generation.”
As principal for St. Teresa Elementary in Lincoln, Sister Mary Cecilia, C.K, led that school’s faculty to the convention, the first time that all the teachers had been able to attend together.
“They brought back with them new ideas, a new enthusiasm, and deeper relationships with each other,” Sister Mary Cecilia said. “They look upon each other more so as colleagues they can really count on… regardless of grade groups.”
Sister Mary Alma noted that the trip was actually quite economical.
“It can be carefully done so it’s a wise use of money and still a wonderful time… very enriching,” she said.
She was able to secure funds from the federal program, No Child Left Behind, to pay for all the registration fees. St. Peter School’s Home School Association helped cover the rest of the expenses for the trip, which included rooms, breakfast and one dinner at a retreat center that amounted to about $22 per day, per person.
Sister Mary Alma said, “The accommodations were beautiful, and we had a chapel,” where their group and the others staying at the same location gathered together each morning for Mass.
In return for the modest expenditure, the teachers reaped a great deal of information and new teaching techniques to take into the classroom.
“Teachers like to have new ideas, new ways to teach a certain concept,” Sister Mary Alma said. “That just gives the children a bright, vibrant, Christ-centered person in the classroom.”
Sister Mary Cecilia agreed.
“It was worth the investment,” she said.
The St. Teresa School family helped pay for their faculty’s trip.
“They were so excited to have an opportunity for the teachers to have that ongoing and enriching professional development by people who had a Catholic mindset,” Sister Mary Cecilia stated.
Both principals believe that it is the children of their schools who will gain the ultimate benefits of last week’s convention.
“The teachers all have a spring in their step today,” reported Sister Mary Alma as she settled in behind her desk on the first day after Easter break and the convention.
“It gives the children excited, enthused teachers, instead of teachers who are tired at the end of the year,” she continued. “They all have many things they want to try, and that’s exciting… It’s almost like the start of school again.”