Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

New year brings challenges, continued
enthusiasm for Catholic schools

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Aug. 18, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

A new school year looms, and feelings vary depending on your point of view. Many parents welcome the return of school days, even if sometimes they will miss having their children around home more. The children themselves look back with regret at the receding days of summer, even if they also anticipate with excitement returning to school.

Teachers, too, appreciate the days and weeks of summer. But if the following Catholic school teachers are any measure, teachers look forward to a new school year with particular joy and anticipation. At the same time, the Catholic schools in both the Diocese of Spokane and other dioceses across the country have unique issues to deal with this year.

Among the many teachers who staff the schools in the diocese, more than a few have taught for many years in Catholic schools. Julie Beckford, a 10-year veteran of teaching in Catholic schools, teaches math, science, religion and social studies for grades 6 through 8 at Spokane’s St. Aloysius School. Beckford says that she looks forward to the coming school year with excitement.

“As time goes by I get more and more excited about the beginning of each new year,” Beckford says. “We’re going to incorporate community service tied to curriculum, and I’m so excited about this. We’ve just completed remodeling our library and getting everything online. We’re looking at ever-increasing numbers of students returning to our school each year. St. Al’s is a very neighborhood- and family-oriented school. Also, we’re adding more and more technology to our school and moving more and more toward student individualized learning.”

Maribeth Richardson has taught at Clarkston’s Holy Family School for 29 years. Her position as the first grade teacher goes back to 1983.

“Last year,” Richardson said, “our school received a Weigand Foundation grant, so each of our classrooms received a new smart board [about which more below] and new computer, and we also set up a new computer lab with 24 state-of-the-art computers.”

Richardson says that last year she was “really anxious about all the new technology. I love books. But now I really love it, and I wonder how I could teach anyplace that didn’t have all this technology. It made learning more fun for me and for the kids. I’m not so nervous about it this year. It’s been a wonderful way to communicate with the families, too, by e-mail. Also, it’s been fun because we have retired members of the community who volunteer in the school, and they learned right along with the kids.”

For the uninitiated, Richardson explains that classrooms at Holy Family School use a “smartboard” instead of a chalkboard. “It looks like a big whiteboard or video screen. You write on it with a special instrument, and you can put whatever you have on your computer up on the smartboard.”

Finally, Richardson wants to “encourage people, if they have children, to think about a Catholic education for them. People worry about tuition costs, but every school is willing to work with families on this. It’s a real gift parents can give their children.”

Linda Eber begins her 22nd year teaching second grade at St. Patrick School in Spokane.

“Each year I try to do something new,” Eber said. “I took some math courses this summer, and we’re trying to do more hands-on learning and using learning centers. It’s very exciting for a veteran teacher to learn about new learning methods. I absolutely love teaching. I’m also the sacramental prep teacher, which is very rewarding and exciting. It’s great to teach the sacraments, and it helps my own spirituality, too.”

After 32 years at Spokane’s St. Charles School, Bob Feulner has become something of an institution himself. Feulner teaches 6th grade – “all the subjects,” he said. “I’m especially anxious to get back to social studies projects – social studies and math. I also really enjoy teaching religion. I try to bring religion into all the subjects as much as I can. Every day’s different, and I really like the school, too. We’ve always had a strong faith community among the faculty, which I like. I’m anxiously awaiting the start of the new school year.”

Kris Peugh begins her 19th year as a Catholic school teacher and her 10th year at St. Mary School in Spokane Valley, where she begins teaching sixth grade for the first time this year.

“It’s whole new ball game for me,” Peugh said, “but some of the skills and strategies I’ve used with younger students will still be very useful. I’ll be teaching social studies, language arts and religion.

“One of the joys of my job is getting to teach religion and bringing it into all the subject areas,” she said. “I see sixth grade as a pinnacle year, and I look forward to emphasizing a community of learners. I’m very committed to Catholic schools and very thankful that I’m able to work at a job that I was clearly created to do and in a community where my faith is a top priority.”

Kevin Schulz, beginning his 10th year at St. Paschal School in Spokane Valley, teaches fifth and sixth grades. “I teach everything,” he said, “but with degrees in art and religious studies, those are my obvious strengths. I’m trying to get a grant to fund a fine arts project that will highlight the need for recycling.”

Schulz also guides his students in producing a newsletter that helps keep parents informed about what the children are doing in school. “We have a class newsletter that the kids produce that comes out every other week,” said Schultz. “We use either Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft Word. The kids have to learn the software, because there are generally a lot of gaps in their computer knowledge.

“As an extension of the science curriculum we get into robotics design, and I excited about continuing that,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the new school year, and I’m excited about our new principal this year, Cheryl Biehl. She has an extensive background in the arts and music, which should help us to strengthen those areas throughout the school.”

Dr. Duane Schafer, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Spokane, explains that “the reality is that the (diocese’s) Chapter 11 is hanging over everything, so it’s a challenge for the Office of Education. Yet the pastors of the parishes have said that this office needs to continue to function because of the role that we play regarding education and liability issues. We basically have 4,000 students and 350 employees, so there needs to be someone to monitor all of that and provide guidance to our school personnel.

“For the schools, obviously there are financial challenges ahead, and the schools are concerned that the parishes may have to pull back from providing as much of a financial subsidy as they have in the past,” said Dr. Schafer. “That could mean that tuition and fund-raising will have to increase. Right now, financially, the schools are working hard to address their financial needs for the foreseeable future.”

One new development for all the Catholic schools in the diocese is that this year all students, without exception, will be automatically covered by student accident insurance. “This year we have full student accident insurance coverage for all students, which is something new for us,” Dr. Schafer said. “We are finding that more and more people don’t have medical coverage, so this will be welcomed by everyone, I’m sure.”

Dr. Schafer said that the 2005-2006 enrollment in the Catholic schools will be difficult to determine until after school begins. “Last year’s enrollment was up a little bit, but that was primarily on the pre-kindergarten level, not in K through 12. We’re not sure what those numbers will look like this year.”

But the dedication of Catholic school parents, teachers and administrators is as high, if not higher, than ever, said Dr. Schafer. All of them demonstrate a commitment to the Catholic schools. “They really see Catholic schools as an excellent opportunity to both educate and form our children in the faith,” he said.

“Our students are achieving at an above average level on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Also, our Catholic schools are there for anyone who wants to come, not just Catholics. We try to find a way, in every school, to make it possible for any parents who want their children in a Catholic school, to do that regardless of faith or ability to pay.”

“Our schools are excellent schools,” said Dr. Schafer, “and they do a great job.”

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