TORONTO - The Basilian Fathers are working on a professional development curriculum for teachers that will focus on the distinctiveness of Catholic education.

“We are moving from being the teacher of the students to the teacher of the teachers,” said Fr. George Smith, C.S.B., who pitched the new curriculum at a Basilian conference held last March. “It’s easier for us to be the teachers of the teachers because there are fewer of them (than students).”

Using contemporary adult eduction techniques, which Smith described as “animation and facilitation,” the course aims to re-evangelize teachers, including those in administrative positions.

“We want to bring teachers together to explain what they do. Hear what is distinct about the school that we teach in,” said Smith. “It’s about empowering teachers to stand up and say ‘I’m a teacher in a Catholic school and here is why.’ ”

Expected to be ready for the fall of 2013, the curriculum will first appear in North America’s three Basilian-owned high schools: Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School, St. Thomas High School in Texas and Catholic Central High School in Detroit.

The curriculum will be explained to staff by two Basilian Fathers who will facilitate the program. They will be among 10 to be selected for the role during a Basilian conference in Houston in December.

During the professional development days, the Basilian facilitators will offer their opinion of what a Catholic education should be. The aim is to have teachers re-energized about their faith, which Smith said has become “lukewarm” for most.

In the paper he presented in January, Smith blamed advances in social communications, scientific and technical research, problems of globalization, new and emerging political, economic and religious forces and secularization for weakening the faith among teachers. By reigniting the teachers’ faith, Smith hopes to see a trickle-down effect throughout schools.

“I really see this as a wonderful example of the New Evangelization,” said Smith. “We’re trying to create an environment where children feel as if they’re in a community of faith.”

Although only Basilian schools will be offered this service at first, the intention is to make it available to publicly funded Catholic schools in the long run.

“When I look five years down the road I would like to see this (curriculum introduced) into areas with socio-economic challenges,” said Smith, calling this a preservation of the Basilian roots of educating the impoverished.

But this is about more than preserving Basilian ideologies, said Smith, referring to the “educational  emergency” of a Catholic school system that is growing weaker in the faith, a topic Pope Benedict XVI has often discussed.

“We are convinced that if our teachers don’t know why Catholic education is distinctive, then Catholic education will disappear in this country within a generation,” said Smith, adding that it’s the Catholic system’s attention to values which sets it apart.

Advisory council empowers students to empower students


TORONTO - Ontario’s Student Advisory Council, which brings together students from all over Ontario, is lively, full of discussion and debate.

The council, a yearly initiative created in 2009 by the Ministry of Education, consists of 60 students in all sectors of the education system, including Catholic boards. The students participate in discussions, team-building and leadership activities, as well as identify issues within their schools and offer suggestions for positive change.

Gary Wheeler, senior media relations co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education, said the purpose of the council is for members to share their ideas and advice with the Minister of Education on how to ensure Ontario’s schools remain “the best in the world.”

“The council is about empowering you to ‘be the change,’ ” Wheeler said in an e-mail. “It is an opportunity to think big, SpeakUp (programs to engage students academically and socially) and take action to help other students across the province.”

Ben O’Neil, now a Grade 10 student from the Ottawa Carleton Catholic School Board, says he didn’t necessarily find Catholic students were equally represented on the council, but that it didn’t really matter.

“It was students from every board, every different place from Barrie to London, North Bay, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto,” O’Neil said. “It shows you that no matter what school it is, Catholic, public … we are all students, we are all equals.”

O’Neil applied to be on the council for the one-year term through the encouragement of a friend. The council met for the first time in May of this year, and met again in August before the school year begins after Labour Day.

O’Neil says meeting with different students from all over the province was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s interesting to see that there are those similarities, those basics,” O’Neil explains. “Every school has bullying. We have more faith-based groups, but it’s interesting to share ideas.”

For Alicia Pinelli, a graduating student who represented the Niagara board, being on the council has been an “amazing experience.”

“It seemed that the Catholic students all kind of gravitated (to talk about) things that weren’t common in our schools, weren’t open in our schools,” Pinelli said. “The public schools are more open to a lot of different things. It was a good experience to see how the two interacted, how the two could change each other.”

But not everyone thought all the discussions were particularly productive.

Enrique Olivo, an incoming Grade 11 student from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, felt a bit of a backlash towards Catholic schools, especially when discussing the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances.

“(No one wanted) to say anything controversial,” Olivo said. “At times you could feel the tension.”

Still, Olivo, who will also act as treasurer of his school’s student council this year, thinks the advisory council does good work.

“We covered a whole bunch of issues: dealing with mental health problems and how schools should focus on that, technology in the school, a little bit about equality amongst races, sexual orientation.

“The council will definitely make a lot of changes.”