Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ministry of education includes public schools

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

The scriptures tell us that wisdom and understanding bring “profit better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue (Pv 3:13-14).”

Gaining wisdom and understanding is, of course, a lifetime process. But today we know that formal education is a big part of a person’s journey to find these two precious commodities.

The Catholic Church has long recognized this. We have a proud tradition of providing education directly in our Catholic schools, and our faith teaches that education is a fundamental right of every person.

Sometimes there is a misperception that our concern in the area of education is addressed entirely by our Catholic schools. While there is great work being done in our Catholic schools, they serve a tiny minority of Catholic youth in our diocese, most of whom attend public schools. In addition, we have many fine public school teachers, counselors and administrators in our diocese whose work is informed by their Catholic faith.

So our ministry of education has a broad context that includes supplementing and supporting the work of our public schools. To that end, the diocese is engaging in dialogue with two regional groups, the Alliance for Education and the Educational Leadership Federation, that are attempting improve public education in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Both groups are attempting, among other things, to reduce the worsening dropout rate in the region and improve college going rates among our young people.

What is the role of the Church in this? Initially, it lies in the key primer for success in school – the home. Through our religious education and through pilot partnerships between parishes and public schools, we have renewed our commitment to teach the foundational importance of education; why it is so important to stay in school; and how higher education is critical to professional success and achieving dignity for one’s self and family.

I have created a special committee to guide this effort that includes several educators from our diocese and is headed by Sister Carmel Crimmins, who brings significant experience in Catholic education, and Deacon Peter Bond, a retired public school teacher.

In some cases, our role will be to work with parents to ensure that these messages are being communicated and that a home life conducive to learning is in place. In other cases, as we have already done at Holy Family parish in Hesperia, we will work with both public schools students and their parents or guardians to support the importance of education.

By working with parents, students and public school organizations to strengthen and promote the value of education in our region we are actually fulfilling a commitment we made as a diocese many years ago. In establishing the vision for the diocese we said that “we cannot isolate ourselves from the problems and issues affecting our neighbors.” The public schools that teach so many of our Catholic children are such a neighbor.

As we look at education with this renewed and broad focus, it offers us another way to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope. Sound familiar?

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