Forming the Future: St. Pius V School faculty complete training to serve diverse learners

LYNN -- All the full-time teachers at St. Pius V School recently completed the Certificate in Serving Exceptional Learners in Catholic Schools, offered by Boston College's Roche Center for Catholic Education.

St. Pius V Principal Paul Maestranzi learned of the certificate program from a presentation given by Kristin Melley, director of professional development at the Roche Center. Although the certificate is not a degree and does not prepare teachers to be special educators, the program offers graduate credits and equips teachers with strategies for serving diverse learners in Catholic classrooms.

"I was really interested, but I wanted to do it in a way that it would stick across the whole school," Maestranzi told The Pilot.

The Roche Center and St. Pius V School collaborated to reformat the course structure so teachers could learn from a professor during faculty meetings and on development days, and complete work online in between. In this way, the St. Pius V faculty completed the certificate program in two years.

"They had to kind of reformat some of the courses. But they made it possible. They were really very accommodating," Maestranzi said.

The program consists of four courses: Universal Design for Learning; Teaching and Learning Strategies for Inclusive Classrooms; Catholic Formation for Exceptional Learners, which, Maestranzi said, ties in with Catholic concepts of social justice; and Management of the Behavior of Students with Special Needs.

The Management of Behavior course involved learning about response to intervention, strategies to support students who do not have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The teachers learned how to read and successfully implement IEPs and how to use different strategies, stressing positive reinforcement more than consequences.

When the faculty started taking the courses, Christopher Griebel, who currently teaches grade two at St. Pius V School, had just been hired after graduating from St. Anselm College.

"As a new teacher, that was really helpful," Griebel told The Pilot.

The final assignment for Catholic Formation for Exceptional Learners was writing and performing a play about the various unspoken thoughts of students in a classroom. This was meant to show that many things going on in a student's life can affect how they learn and behave.

"Our students have different backgrounds, they know different things, and we can't just assume that if we say one thing to our class, that they're all going to get it that first time," Griebel said.

He said the certificate program "helped me to understand how we can teach the same material to students but differentiate it based on students' abilities."

For instance, he said, when teaching a math lesson he might give a more challenging assignment to students who are stronger in that subject, keeping them engaged while he helps students who struggle with it. This way, students who need more one-on-one instruction receive it, while other students do not have to wait for them to catch up.

"That probably would have taken me a couple years to figure out how to successfully do that," Griebel said.

"The combination of those four (classes) really helped mold me into the teacher that I am today," he said.

On Jan. 18, the faculty received their certificates for successful completion of the program. They celebrated with a ceremony and a cake.

"This put the faculty together on a collective vision for how we want to be as a school, our culture, our ability to serve as many kids who come in the door," Maestranzi told The Pilot.