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Exceptional learners

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We are determined to improve our ability to work with more diverse learners, so more children may learn to know Jesus.


During my first year of teaching, I learned a lot from my partner teacher, Pat, who had taught for 25 years and really understood that our goal in Catholic education is to develop saints and scholars. While I thought I knew a lot about pedagogy and child development, she knew how to put theory into practice and how to help children to develop spiritually, physically, morally and academically. Luckily for me, she was willing to add another student to her roster -- and that student was me!

One of my students, Katie, was struggling with learning to read and she had some language difficulties. She was a wonderful little girl and I worried about how I was going to teach her. Pat gave me every suggestion she had and despite Katie's efforts and mine, she just wasn't learning to read in a proficient manner. This impacted her in many ways, as she lacked confidence and didn't offer to participate in class discussions or projects.

Katie's parents were very caring and like all parents wanted the best for their child. Pat and I met with her parents and we recommended that we have her tested to see if someone could help me teach her better or in a different way. Katie was tested and it turned out she had a learning disability in reading and writing.

When Katie's learning difference was discovered, her parents panicked. They believed that they would have to take their daughter out of the Catholic school because she did not learn the way everyone else did.

At the time, that idea just sounded ridiculous to me. I knew I could teach her because now I knew what she needed. It never occurred to me that the parents would think that they would have to withdraw her and I was very surprised. I quickly learned however, that sometimes parents were asked to withdraw their child from our Catholic school when they had a learning disability.

I was determined that would not happen to Katie and I asked the principal to please let Katie stay, because I believed I could meet her needs. Sister told me that Katie could stay and we would see how she was doing at the end of the year.

Katie is older than 40 now and she has children of her own. She learned to read and graduated from Catholic high school and college. She is one of many children with special needs who learned from Catholic school teachers in a Catholic school.

At South Boston Catholic Academy, they are working to enroll more students with disabilities. With a grant from the Catholic Schools Foundation, they have hired a teacher to support the classroom teachers and students who have exceptional learning needs. This week, the principal and teacher came to show me how well the students are doing and what they are learning. Their progress is steady and the children are excelling.

At other Catholic schools across the archdiocese, we have other success stories of students with disabilities who are able to attend one of our schools. At St. Joseph in Holbrook, principal Gretchen Howey has always worked to include children with disabilities. She told me, "We must enroll these students. Their parents want a Catholic education and we can provide it for them." At St. Augustine School in Andover, they are working with exceptional learners and they provide quality Catholic education to all students who seek it.

Enrolling students with exceptional learning needs is something that we want to continue. Our schools are working to improve in this area. They are looking for ways to fund professional development for all teachers so that teachers can learn how to best help students with diverse learning needs. By doing this, the schools can serve more students. Schools are also finding ways to hire additional staff who have specialized training in these areas. We are not to a place where we can accept all children at all of our schools, but we are making strides in this area and we are committed to doing more.

Working with exceptional learners is the right thing to do. Jesus said, "Let the children come unto me." He didn't qualify it by saying "Let the children who learn more easily come unto me." We are determined to improve our ability to work with more diverse learners, so more children may learn to know Jesus.

We ask for your prayers. We believe that this is the right thing to do and your prayers will assist us. We want to develop more saints and scholars and with your prayers, we will achieve this goal.

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