By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 2, 2018
ROSWELL—As students in Georgia’s Catholic schools enjoyed days off in early October, their teachers headed back to the classroom for three days of learning.
Engage to Educate, the first combined educational conference held for teachers from the Atlanta Archdiocese and Savannah Diocese, took place Oct. 3-5 at Blessed Trinity High School and Queen of Angels School in Roswell. FACTS Education Solutions helped organize the event.
Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said discussions about holding such an event began more than a year ago.
“By collaborating with the Diocese of Savannah and ‘pooling’ our federal funds through the use of a third party provider, we were able to secure top-notch national speakers on topics specific to our school improvement plans,” said Starkovich.
Educators were informed, entertained and challenged throughout the conference, she noted.
“The challenges provide us unique opportunities to grow and to improve in how we address and serve our students currently and in the future,” said Starkovich. “All the research is there—we must fully engage our students to achieve maximum achievement. We do this well most of the time. Now how do we take it to the next level?”
Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, a longtime educator at Marist School, Atlanta, celebrated the opening Mass for the conference at St. Peter Chanel Church, adjacent to the meeting site.
Bishop Konzen recalled the words of Father Paul, a fictional character of author Andre Dubus.
“Belief is believing in God. Faith is believing that God believes in you,” he said in the homily.
The bishop noted it’s particularly helpful for teachers to think of faith in this way and not to flounder when there are setbacks.
“People who work in Catholic education are propelled by this faith, by this sense that God will help you to find a way,” he said.
Bishop Konzen recalled that his mother, an elementary school teacher, was always finding special tasks for her most reluctant students.
“That gave the student a sense of responsibility and pride and it lifted him out of the obscurity he had assigned himself,” said the bishop. “I think you could call it going after the lost sheep.”
Catholic teachers are propelled by faith to see each student as special, he suggested.
“In Catholic schools we’re ministering as the Lord would minister,” said Bishop Konzen.
The bishop said he maintains a connection with his own seventh-grade religion teacher, who is now a “vibrant 82 years old” and continues to guide him.
“Our schools depend on each one of you to believe that God believes in you and to pass on that faith to the young people you see and serve each day,” said Bishop Konzen. “Is it easy? Not always. Is it appreciated by students and parents? Not always. Is it worthwhile? Every minute of it, yes, is worthwhile.”
Keynotes and breakouts
The Engage to Educate conference included interactive discussions, keynote presentations by John Antonetti and broadcaster Gus Lloyd, and breakout sessions on topics including iPads in education, tips and tricks for new teachers, writing, as well as bringing worldwide issues to the classroom.
Antonetti brought a humor-filled presentation, “The Power of Student Engagement,” to a packed gym of teachers and administrators at Blessed Trinity High School.
Antonetti is the former curriculum director for the Sheridan School District in Arkansas and longtime classroom teacher. He is an author and advocate of experiential education and has partnered with teachers in smaller districts to bring about improved student achievement.
Antonetti shared a funny tale of leaving materials for a lesson on the solar system at home on the day his principal was scheduled to visit for classroom observation. He improvised, using a cassette tape of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets” that belonged to his wife. He winged the lesson, asking his students to listen to the music and write down the images of the particular planets the music brought to their minds. They then compared the ideas with the actual facts from their textbooks.
He assigned a follow-up art project and a quiet student, Kevin Miller, whose mother was dying, was the only one who came prepared with planet landscape artwork to share and discuss.
“How are we going to do more of that?” is the question Antonetti’s principal asked after the improvised lesson.
The objective, said Antonetti, is to “build kids who think.”
It was the last time Miller was in Antonetti’s classroom. His mother died, he moved in with relatives and was later diagnosed with dyslexia. Years later he ran into Antonetti at a restaurant. Miller shared that he was an airplane mechanic. Up until the day of the planet lesson incorporating music and art, Miller doubted why he had been placed in gifted classes.
“That was the first day I felt gifted,” Miller told his former teacher.
Teachers applaud focus on collaboration and engagement
Our Lady of Mercy High School teacher Anna DeMello had high praise for Antonetti’s presentation.
“You couldn’t have found anyone better,” she said.
DeMello teaches algebra and calculus at the Fayetteville high school. She said despite having the best-laid plans, a teacher often has to be flexible and use what happens in class to help teach.
Another plus of the engagement conference was learning from other teachers attending, especially those from the Savannah Diocese.
“We had a lot of sharing. I thought it was extremely positive,” said DeMello.
Rebecca Miller, a technology coordinator and yearbook advisor at Our Lady of Mercy, praised the content of the workshops she attended.
“The nice thing was that all the sessions I took were geared toward teacher collaboration,” said Miller.
She also enjoyed the Antonetti keynote talk.
“He injected humor and was really able to keep us engaged,” she said.
On the last day of the conference, Lloyd broadcast live from the conference, interviewing educators and discussing ways to engage students. He is the host of “Seize the Day” weekday mornings on Sirius XM 129, The Catholic Channel, and active in Catholic evangelization and apologetics.
Approximately 1,000 teachers from across Georgia attended the conference and enjoyed times of fellowship in addition to learning. Teachers will provide feedback and organizers hope the conference will be offered on a somewhat regular basis.
“Our teachers and administrators left the conference excited and full of ideas,” said Starkovich.