Living the call to 'Have courage ... go forward ... make noise!'

Approximately four years ago, when addressing a group of youth, Pope Francis told the young adults to, "Have courage....go forward....make noise!" That is what we are working to do in the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston, as we begin this school year.

Having courage in a Catholic school means doing what is best for our students and allowing them to be who they are. It means that we embrace the faith that our Church teaches and we work hard to weave that faith into our teaching and learning processes. Most of our teachers came back to work and spent time in prayer before they did anything else to prepare for the school year. 96 percent of our schools hold annual retreats for their teachers and most plan these retreats for the beginning of the school year. In addition, our newly assigned principals spent two days in retreat, learning about the special vocation of a Catholic school leader. They also celebrated liturgy together, prayed together and talked about the importance of leading their schools in the practices of our faith, including prayer, adoration and the rosary. We are hopeful that by reflecting on what it means to teach and/or lead in a Catholic school will help us to have schools that are very strong in teaching our students what it means to be a faith-filled Catholic.

Due to the losses caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, our students also began the school year reaching out and helping students and families who have lost much. They are assisting Catholic schools that lost books, technology and other items necessary for Catholic education in 2017. Our students have responded with funds, books, and many prayers for their healing. Our teachers and students are praying for courage for those who are facing new struggles due to these natural disasters.

"Go forward" means a variety of things for our schools. Eight schools began the year with new school leaders. Other schools are also going forward with new technology. Many of our schools have upgraded their technology and are providing students with new Chromebooks, iPads, and other technology. Our teachers learned about new programs that can be used on these devices and they also learned new ways to engage students using this technology.

For other schools, there remains an important focus on math. In our quest to develop our saints and scholars, the archdiocese continued its offerings of professional development for teachers looking to improve their math instruction. Over 150 teachers participated in these math workshops. We are hopeful that our teachers will use their new knowledge and skills to help our students to build solid foundations in math.

Going forward also means improved facilities at some schools. St. John's Prep opened a new building dedicated to the wellness of their students, while St. Joseph School in Needham remodeled their lower level to improve learning spaces. They included a STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) room where students will create, explore and develop critical thinking skills in a specifically designed room that will encourage student learning.

Our schools do great work, and we are committed to "making noise" about the good things that are happening in each of our schools! Research shows us that, at times, people in the greater Boston area are very unfamiliar with the great things that are happening in our Catholic schools. They do not know that over 95 percent of our students matriculate to a four-year college or that our average class size is 17.8 students. Many people in the archdiocese do not know that our schools raise more than $10 million to provide Catholic education to the poor or that the Catholic Schools Foundation and the Campaign for Catholic Schools contribute approximately $9 million to educate those who desire a Catholic education.

Catholic schools are vital to the Church. Concerned Catholics know that it is our obligation to the spread the faith to others and the Church needs Catholic schools to do this work. Catholic schools are very effective at evangelization, and we must continue this important ministry. We will continue to "make noise" as Pope Francis suggested about the gift that Catholic education is to not only the Church, but the larger community.

We are looking forward to a great school year. We will continue to have courage to make decisions that will support our students and their families. We will continue to move forward so that we continue to provide quality Catholic education to as many students we can. We also will make noise and tell the world that Catholic education is supporting the Church by developing saints and scholars.

- Kathy Mears is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.