Written by Mary Beth Peabody
Friday, April 5. The happy start of a long weekend for South Jersey Catholic School students. Throughout the Diocese of Camden, parents took a day off or settled in to work from home, perhaps wondering — maybe even skeptical about — what happens on teacher in-service days. Meanwhile, alarms rang early for teachers, administrators and Catholic schools office staff.
Yvette Verticelli, a Pre-K teacher at Holy Angels School in Woodbury, did her best to be in two places at one time. In the morning she attended a session for pre-K teachers at Saint Mary’s, East Vineland, to explore curriculum options. The afternoon drew her to Saint Mary’s in Williamstown, where K-8 teachers in Region 2 (schools situated roughly in the center of the diocese) focused on some of the non-academic challenges teachers face in the classroom.
The afternoon session was a topic near and dear to Verticelli’s heart — creating a classroom environment that is relevant for students from multiple cultures.
“It’s amazing where we’re headed,” said Verticelli, who is passionate about bilingual education. Born in the United States to Latino parents, Verticelli’s family spoke only Spanish at home until she was 3 years old. By kindergarten she was fully bilingual. She loves the idea of working with students of different cultures, helping to preserve their families’ languages and traditions as they learn English. She sees great opportunity with the ever-growing Hispanic population in the Diocese of Camden.
Saint Mary’s principal, Trish Mancuso, hosted the Region 2 meeting, where psychologist Kimberly Townsend White from Gloucester County Institute of Technology led a morning workshop on anxiety. White talked about the prevalence and different levels of anxiety, and offered strategies to help teachers support students who suffer with it.
Schools in Vineland and the shore areas (Region 3) gathered at Saint Joseph’s in Somers Point for a day dedicated to differentiated learning.
“It’s a way for students to work at their own pace and get the individual attention they need based on ability and learning style,” said Susan Tarrant, principal at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City. She explained that her school embraces a classroom model that enables students to rotate through stations, including a traditional lesson for all students, computer-based tools, independent and small group work, and one-on-one time with the teacher.
Professionals from the Educational Technology Training Center (ETTC) at Stockton University led the session, using a variety of learning modules so teachers could get first-hand experience with the possibilities.
Sister Judy Loschiavo, SSJ, a first grade teacher in Somers Point, uses the rotation approach in her classroom. She said the training was useful for teachers who are new to the concept and for those who have already adopted differentiated learning tools.
Professional development “is a great opportunity to engage with colleagues,” said Sister Judy. “We don’t often get to do that. We share materials, ideas, resources and help each other out.”
In the Northwest corner of the diocese, Region 1 schools chose to meet independently. Principal Molly Webb (Resurrection School, Cherry Hill) was grateful for the opportunity to meet with her faculty members in a way that is not possible on regular school days. “It was great to focus on goals and priorities for our building,” she said.
Resurrection teacher Eileen Conville agrees. “It’s so valuable any time we can just stop to meet … to compare notes,” she said. Conville and other K-5th grade teachers spent the day with professionals from the Penn Literacy Network. They explored the importance of making sure students are socially engaged as they learn, having time to ask questions and share ideas with peers.
“We take professional development seriously because we take student development seriously,” said Dr. Bill Watson, director of Curriculum and Assessment for South Jersey Catholic Schools.
“Our mission inspires all of us to do our best for our students,” he said. “To deliver on the mission and help students succeed, we need to help our teachers continue to develop their skills and find the best resources. Whether we are all together or separated into smaller groups, in-service days are a valuable investment in our students’ education.” We hope our school parents agree.