The Diocese of Harrisburg held its annual Education Conference in several locations on Sept. 29, in a mix of virtual messages from education and spiritual leaders and in-person training with their peers.
Attendees arrived at their respective locations for breakfast and a virtual welcome from Daniel Breen, Diocesan Secretary for Education and Superintendent of Schools. Breen congratulated faculty and staff on the hard and meaningful work they’ve been doing, particularly in the past year and a half.
“Thank you for opening your hearts and doing this good work,” he said.
Breen highlighted many of the efforts taking place in the schools, from working to manage and encourage increased enrollment, to the new STAR testing for student aptitude, to the exciting new strategic vision process.
Educators gathered at the six high school sites across the Diocese: Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Trinity in Camp Hill, Lancaster Catholic in Lancaster, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional in Coal Township, York Catholic in York and Delone Catholic in McSherrystown.
At their respective sites, the groups of educators participated virtually in a Liturgy of the Word celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer. In his homily, the bishop addressed the importance of leadership and what the Lord is asking of school leaders. He referenced the apostle Paul and the idea that we are God’s co-workers.
“Have you thought about that? He’s called you to the vocation,” Bishop Gainer said.
The educators spent the remainder of the conference on in-person work at the various sites.
Some of those sessions focused on the Diocese’s “Christ Before Me” strategic vision, in partnership with the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). In small groups, faculty discussed some initial findings the NCEA gathered from talking with stakeholders in the Diocese. The faculty then provided feedback via an online form, which will be helpful as the Diocese moves forward with the strategic planning.
After lunch, staff broke into sessions to listen to speakers and collaborate with their peers on topics of mutual interest.
Sue Martin is the librarian at Lancaster Catholic High School and coordinator for the Lancaster Deanery. She said the conference had a different feel this year. Although she missed having everyone gather in person for Mass in particular, she felt splitting up among sites still proved quite valuable for the participants.
“I feel the teachers appreciated the chance to network with the grade level teachers from the other Lancaster partner schools,” Martin said. “The opportunity to schedule middle school teachers to meet with the high school’s academic department chairs and ninth-grade teachers resulted in productive sessions for sharing curriculum timelines and academic expectations.”
Karen Henry, a third-grade teacher at St. John Neumann School in Lancaster, said she really enjoyed the more specific meeting sites.
“I liked that it was just Lancaster,” she said. “I got to know my fellow third-grade teachers and we exchanged emails. Next year, I’d love more time or articulation with just my fellow third-grade teachers.”
Delone Catholic’s Principal William Lippe applauded the Diocese’s effort to create something productive in a time of such difficulty.
“It exemplified how our current public health crisis has created opportunities for doing things in a new way,” he said. “By scaling the conference down regionally by having Diocesan high schools serve as hosts, a more intimate and collegial environment was created in which real professional dialogue and sharing could take place.”
Bill Traphagen, a STEM and computer teacher at St. John Neumann School in Lancaster, said he really enjoyed the mix of articulation and being able to just bounce ideas off people from other schools.
“Plus at this level, it was great to meet with LCHS teachers to see if what we’re building at this level is getting them ready for the next level,” he said.
Katie Seufert, York Catholic Middle & High School Principal, said she felt the conference had a nice balance – from the messages from the bishop and the superintendent to the deanery-specific professional opportunities.
“The teachers were exceptionally grateful for the acknowledgement and the opportunity for collaboration,” she said.
Learn more about Catholic schools in the Diocese at www.gocatholicschools.org.
(Diocesan Center photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness. Classroom photos courtesy of York Catholic High School.)
By Lisa Maddux, Special to The Witness