The excitement is building as the faculty and staff at the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools prepare lesson plans and decorate classrooms for the start of the 2023-2024 Academic Year on Aug. 9, 2023.
More than 100 new teachers were welcomed during a July 31 orientation session at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice presented by the Diocesan Office of Catholic Education, with Superintendent Father John Belmonte, SJ, and Jennifer Falestiny, Director of Curriculum. The large number of new teachers is due to increased enrollment at every Diocesan Catholic school.
Father Belmonte stressed the need for the new employees to be “Catholic School Culture” advocates in whatever role they may have in the different schools. A “Catholic School Culture” is the vision, values, systems, language, expectations, behaviors, and beliefs that increase a school’s and Diocese’s chances of accomplishing the strategy of fulfilling its mission: to introduce the world to its Savior.
Throughout the day, the new teachers learned about the Diocese and the crucial role they will play in helping to build up the faith-life of the students and families with whom they will interact. The group comes to the Diocese of Venice Catholic schools with a wide variety of personal and professional experiences and skills. A few in the group are new to teaching and were joyfully welcomed. Still others have many years of experience.
Being a Catholic educator is no easy task in a culture where there are countless messages that are contrary to the Faith; that anything goes, and nothing matters. This, Father continued, makes it increasingly difficult to get out the message of our Catholic traditions, values and faith into the world.
“In your classroom, in your school, in your heart; everything is sacred. Everything is given to us by God. It all has value. “That is what we believe. That is what we teach our children. We teach them customs and boundaries because we know that is what is needed to make the classroom and world function,” Father said “You are the solution to the bigger cultural problem. You may not be aware of that but by teaching and giving the children the order, discipline and love that they need, it is going to eliminate the understanding in the culture that anything goes, and nothing matters.”
Falestiny explained that the Diocesan Catholic schools “do things better than other school systems. We have lots of programs and procedures in place that might seem overwhelming but is actually great and you will get it eventually.”
The new teachers join the Diocese at a time of record enrollment at each school, with extensive waitlists at several with final numbers expected to exceed 5,100.
In preparation for the new school year, there was also a gathering of the Diocesan Catholic school principals which took place July 28, at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers. There the leaders shared their successes and challenges in the categories of enrollment, “Catholic School Culture,” budgeting, hiring, facilities and student achievement.
The enrollment numbers and other improvement projects taking place at many of the schools were a focus of much of the discussion.
Father Belmonte also updated the principals on the upcoming Diocesan-wide devotional project which will kick off in the fall. This year the devotional project will focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. This project helps develop the devotional lives of the students in the classroom and by extension in their family.
This is done through lessons from 8th grade leaders in the elementary schools and in the high schools there will be a broader dive into the role of Our Lady in the Church and the various apparitions which have occurred throughout the world. In addition, there is an art competition for the devotional project, where students will be encouraged to produce artwork based on our Catholic artistic tradition around Our Lady.
“The 15-week project is intended to bring to our students a deeper awareness and more ardent love of Our Lady,” Father Belmonte said.
The 15 Diocesan Catholic schools work conscientiously to provide Christ-centered learning experiences that are transportable to the real world and provide the opportunity for children to develop life-long learning skills and to be successful beyond the classroom.
During the orientation, the new teachers also took part in Diocesan Safe Environment training and learned about their employee benefits, risk management, workplace safety, certification process, as well as about standard and ethical conduct.
All Diocesan Catholic schools will open the week of Aug. 8. For more information about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/education/.