By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — It’s no mystery that our nation’s young people are bombarded with distractions, a relaxing of moral standards, and a culture that stresses the individual rather than the community.
With so many bumps in the road on the journey to a meaningful, faith-filled life, it makes it all the more remarkable that Catholic school students across the country, and specifically in the Diocese of Fall River, are successfully swimming against the tide, overcoming the obstacles and becoming valuable members of the Church, family and community at large.
It’s also no secret that the Universal Church is experiencing reduced Mass attendance and reception of the Sacraments.
“A recent book entitled ‘Lost Classroom, Lost Community’ (Margaret Brining & Nicole Garnett, University of Chicago Press, 2014), describes how Catholic schools are important not only to the students and families they serve, but to the entire surrounding community,” the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Fall River Dr. Michael S. Griffin told The Anchor. “The authors note that Catholic schools add dimensions of order, stability, and safety to the neighborhoods and civic communities in which they are located. Other recent studies have also demonstrated the vital role Catholic schools play in building life-long connections to the Church, confirming that those who attended Catholic schools are far more likely, as young adults, to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments.”
One can’t help but think about how much Catholic schools have kept the faith fire burning in younger generation Catholics.
Griffin also said that in the Diocese of Fall River, “The academic achievement to which our schools aspire each day is demonstrated in many ways, including high school SAT scores 149 points above the national average (1639 in the Fall River Diocese as compared to 1490 nationally and 1552 in Massachusetts). Similarly, the average score of our elementary school students on the Iowa Assessments was the 66th percentile well above national averages. Academic expectations are also reflected in a college attendance rate approaching 99 percent of diocesan high school graduates.”
Griffin further told The Anchor that the state of the diocesan schools at the halfway point of the current academic year is “very good.”
In keeping with the ever-changing technological world, diocesan students are right there on the cutting edge of utilizing the Internet’s powerful and almost limitless information sources.
“Each of our schools, in one way or another, is taking advantage of the good things and tools the web has to offer,” he said. “While we strive to keep our students up-to-date with the latest technologies, we also realize that we must teach them and warn them of the dangers social media can present.
“Students are limited to what they can access on the web at school, but it doesn’t end there. We also teach them of the potential Internet dangers when they are not in the school environment, and we also inform the parents as well.
“We mustn’t ever forget that a large part of the Catholic school mission is to develop our students morally — ensuring that they can handle themselves socially by being respectful and adhering to the teachings of Jesus.”
Technology may be an important aspect of school life in Fall River diocesan schools, but it is far from the only focus.
Griffin said the fundamentals are the core of what teaching is all about. “We strive for academic excellence for our young people,” he said. “The students still read the great works of literature, and we encourage them to think on their own, to analyze things theologically, philosophically and logically.”
He also said that art and music play an important part in the curriculum of diocesan school students. “We have a great relationship with the Children’s Museum in Fall River, where our students display their works of art each year, he explained. “Musically, we have some of our students performing Broadway plays and musicals, and later on learning Gregorian chants. It’s a great diversity and a well-rounded exposure to the arts and music they’ll find later on in life — the traditional and the contemporary.”
Griffin told The Anchor that diocesan teachers are receiving training in the organization and development of current teaching methodologies.
As the diocesan students continue grow academically and Spiritually, the Diocese of Fall River’s Task Force on Schools, initiated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., is full steam ahead in obtaining information, data and researching how and where our diocesan schools can improve and strengthen.
“The Task Force has been extremely enthusiastic and dedicated in its responsibilities,” added Griffin. “We’re all looking forward to the future and taking steps, if necessary, to strengthen and improve how we do things.”
“Catholic Schools Week celebrates the accomplishments of our young people, but also their call toward continued growth in faith and academic excellence,” said Griffin. “In the challenging economic environment in which we live, it is a tribute to the value of Catholic schools that more than 6,500 young people attend the 22 Catholic elementary and secondary schools of the Diocese of Fall River. The support of generous alumni and benefactors of our individual schools, and the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education Fund which provides scholarships in all our schools, help make the difference in enabling students from varied socio-economic backgrounds to attend our schools.
“Catholic Schools Week provides a special time to celebrate the excellence, values and faith commitment of our Catholic schools as they prepare young people for service and leadership. It is a time to value the dedication of our teachers, the sacrifices of our parents, the generosity of our benefactors and the commitment of our diocese to continue the work of Catholic schools for the benefit of our children, our Church and the entire community.”