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ACE and generous Notre Dame Benefactors advance the mission of Haitian education


Article originally published through the Alliance for Catholic Education News Feed.

In April 23, 1879, a massive fire destroyed the Main Building of the University of Notre Dame and destroyed virtually the entire fledgling university. In what would become an iconic moment of Notre Dame’s history, Father Sorin addressed the stunned survivors: “Tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild, bigger and better than ever.”

It is this same spirit of zeal and hope – especially in the face of adversity – that has characterized the Congregation of Holy Cross and the University of Notre Dame throughout their histories. This same spirit enlivens the work of the Holy Cross community and Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) in their efforts to rebuild and renew education in Haiti.

Now four and a half years since the devastating earthquake in Haiti destroyed Holy Cross schools and infrastructure, Notre Dame and Holy Cross have rebuilt, bigger and better than ever.  With more than $1 million in support from the Notre Dame and ACE communities, Basile Moreau School, which had been reduced to rubble, has been rebuilt. This shining new facility now serves 1,000 K-12 students, twice the number as before the earthquake.  Situated in a slum neighborhood of Port au Prince called Carrefour, the beautiful school and campus present a stark contrast to the shacks, tents, and trash of the surrounding neighborhood.  In the words of Rev. Rosemond Marcelin, C.S.C., the principal of Basile Moreau, “We rebuilt this school to be beautiful and expansive so that the children who come here could see beyond the trash and squalor that they live in and dare to have beautiful and audacious dreams for their lives.”

Advancing Basile Moreau’s mission to serve the poorest children and families in this community, one third of the students receive major tuition assistance, and another third attend the school at no cost.  ACE, working with generous Notre Dame benefactors, has provided 100 scholarships for each of the next five years to increase access for the poorest students. ACE has also partnered with benefactors to beautify the campus, with landscaping and the addition of a soccer field. 

Holy Cross and ACE leaders are now adding new computer labs, strengthening the English language curriculum and instruction, and developing a health clinic to serve the students, many of whom lack access to regular medical care, eyeglasses, and adequate nutrition.  This summer, Basile Moreau hosted more than a dozen Notre Dame faculty, staff, students, and alumni, including ACE graduates leading English language camps and a medical team to coordinate a health screening of nearly 1,000 students and teachers. 

“The transformation at Basile Moreau School is simply breathtaking,” said Rev. Tim Scully, C.S.C., founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education.  “From the rubble, a beautiful school has emerged and is now bustling with activity and exciting and innovative programs.  Basile Moreau is a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of the Gospel in service to our most vulnerable children.”

Health.Screening.PhotoBut knowing the needs of their country, the Holy Cross leaders in Haiti and their partners in ACE have not stopped at rebuilding Basile Moreau School.  They are making great strides in constructing a new school in a growing neighborhood of Port au Prince called Tabarre, located near the international airport, with funding and construction management from the Digicel Foundation.  The new school will have an innovative English focus and will open its doors this September, eventually growing to serve an estimated 1,000 students.  This school will become the 16th that Holy Cross priests and brothers operate in the country, serving over 5,000 students, with a reputation for excellence.

ACE’s work in support of Holy Cross schools is only a small portion of the powerful impact ACE is making in Haiti.  ACE’s initiatives include working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Haitian Catholic Church to train thousands of teachers, as well as transforming educational outcomes through an innovative literacy program that benefits over 7,500 students in impoverished Catholic schools.  Notre Dame’s ACE Haiti effort and the work of its partners represent perhaps the largest, most impactful, and most promising set of projects currently under way in Haitian education. 

The ACE in Haiti website illustrates the breadth of initiatives transforming this hard-hit country’s future through quality education for its next generations. Notre Dame’s Committed to Haiti website describes the University’s even broader efforts, integrating education, health care, and overall sustainability to support human development in Haiti.

This is a reposted aritcle originally published in Ed Surge by TJ D’Agostino

Catholic schools in the United States are at a crossroads.

The challenges facing many Catholic schools–low enrollment and threats to financial sustainability–put them in a position where they must close their doors unless something dramatic changes. And many have.

There are 500,000 fewer students enrolled in Catholic schools in the U.S. than there were 10 years ago. Over the last fifty years, closures have shrunk the system by more than half, from 5 million to less than 2 million students. Recent research suggests there are dire consequences for entire communities when a Catholic school closes, and there are very few signs that these trends are abating.

Some have suggested that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves for a new era if they are to survive. This need to adapt may make Catholic schools increasingly open to becoming early adopters of blended learning in an effort to ensure their future vitality. However, Catholic schools will need to overcome significant hurdles if blended learning is to become a key driver of their renewal.

The Challenges

Catholic school systems face many hurdles that could impede the effective adoption of blended learning. Being aware of these challenges is critical to successfully implementing blended learning transitions.

First and most apparent are financial constraints. Tight budgets limit the capacity of many Catholic schools to innovate. An effective deployment of blended learning requires an investment of time, resources, and training, but Catholic schools with small administrative teams struggle to research blended learning best practices and plan an effective implementation.

The blended learning world can be bewildering when trying to get started, and schools either need to devote sufficient human resources to the task or to identify a partner organization (company, non-profit, university, etc.) to help. Both require money that the neediest Catholic schools just don’t have.

Additionally, outdated technology infrastructure and physical plants require significant upfront investments. This is especially true in K-8 schools, where computers still sit in labs and a precious few devices are re-deployed to classrooms. Catholic schools are behind the times on this front.

But there are some promising bright spots that augur well for the future. If Catholic schools can leverage their strengths and early successes, they will be an important player in the years ahead.

The Strengths and Successes

1. Catholic schools need a game change–and are well-positioned for it

Though Catholic schools in the U.S. face many challenges, as noted above, technology can represent a key variable to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and provide just the sort of change and edge that Catholic schools need to reinvent themselves.

Without the influence of district regulations, Catholic schools have local governance and a great deal of independence, allowing them to be nimble and adaptive. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that a great many Catholic schools are hungry for solutions. From many conversations with superintendents and national leaders of Catholic education, there appears to be a growing awareness that Catholic schools need to innovate or slowly fade away. Leaders need to be increasingly on the lookout for innovations and models that can lead to renewed vitality and long-term sustainability.

2. Emerging models are showing success and poised for growth

What is actually happening out there in Catholic schools with regard to blended learning? There are a few notable points of light.

Seton Education Partners, a non-profit and innovator in the Catholic ed sector, has launched the Phaedrus Initiative, helping K-8 Catholic schools transition to a blended learning model. Started in 2011, Phaedrus is now in five schools nationally, and so far, has seen promising results.

The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), a provider of talent and services to Catholic schools nationally, has a blended learning and school improvement model that has shown promise in its first year, 2013-2014. The ACE blended learning efforts will now support six schools in three cities in its second year.

Over in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the WINGS model of schooling–now Divine Providence Academy–is an example of how blended learning can facilitate effective multi-age classrooms, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable as much smaller operations, akin to one-room schoolhouses of old. A handful of schools have tried to replicate the WINGS model as an approach that offers a more sustainable business model.

3. Catholic schools possess a unique vision

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Catholic schools can have a unique voice regarding the role of technology in education. Some fear that technology will be a dehumanizing force in education, replacing teachers with computers and reducing human interaction. The inadequacies of many virtual schools and blended learning implementations that rely too heavily on technology seem to reinforce these concerns.

But Catholic schools can have a distinctive voice on this matter. The goal of a Catholic education is to form the whole child towards completeness. Catholic educators can demonstrate how technology, if properly integrated, can be a tool for enhancing the holistic development of the child and the quality of student-teacher interactions. Armed with better data, teachers can do more one-on-one coaching than in traditional teacher-centered classrooms. By working at their own pace and level, students are treated with more respect and dignity.

Technology is a tool and does not replace the witness of the teacher and the essential community of faith and learning fostered within Catholic school classrooms, but if thoughtfully used, it can enhance teaching and learning.  

Why Go Blended At All?

In the end, blended learning and the emerging role of technology can offer a lot to Catholic school systems and their long term vitality. For early adopters, blended learning can provide an edge and help brand schools as innovative models offering a personalized approach. This cachet can help drive up enrollment, which in turn stabilizes finances. 

For small schools with limited markets, blended learning can support effective multi-age classes, allowing schools to right-size staff and become sustainable small-schools. 

But, ultimately, to really help Catholic schools, blended learning needs to be more than a marketing strategy or a financial fix. It must strengthen the quality of the product.

If we can judge from the initial successes of some early Catholic blended models, blended learning holds much promise for a marketing boost, enhanced financial flexibility, and improved educational outcomes. And if these new models continue to show strong results, look out for many more blended Catholic schools in the years to come.

I’ve taken a long reprieve from blogging. Since my last post my wife and I had our second baby girl (Ruthie), I’ve started a new initiative at Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) for blended learning and whole school improvement, and our outreach work in Haiti continues to be incredibly successful and growing (more on that soon).  Things have been busy.

My last post was arguing for the merits of blended learning.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Last year I worked along side of an ACE graduate in Seattle, Kelly Surapaneni, to lead ACE’s first foray into blended learning.  We worked with St. Paul School in Seattle, WA, and conceptualized the project as a whole-school strengthening effort, including things like leadership development, instructional coaching, PLCs, data driven instruction, and efforts to strengthen school culture.  We thought that these best practices, combined with the personalized attention and differentiation allowed by blended learning, could result in significant gains in student learning and help renew a struggling school.

The early results are in… and it was an impressive success.  We are now working in six Catholic schools in three cities, Seattle, the Twin Cities, and Toledo, and continuing plans to expand the model for next academic year.

See below for a summary from the ACE news release.

Seattle students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program

Students at St. Paul School in Seattle, a school that serves lower income Asian Pacific Islander and African-American students, are achieving impressive academic gains using an innovative blended learning and school improvement model developed by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.

As measured by the Northwest Evaluation Association Measurement of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP), students achieved 147% of growth targets in math and 122% in reading during the first year of the program, similar to a school wide average of a year and a half of growth in math and a year and a quarter in reading. The average eighth grade student achieved 233% of growth targets in math—akin to two and one-third years of growth—over the past academic year.


“The initial results are particularly promising,” Rev. Timothy Scully, C.S.C, the founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education, said. “St. Paul students are performing remarkably well—we are thrilled by the promise this model shows, and believe it can be a powerful tool that more schools like St. Paul can deploy to continue the Catholic school legacy of providing students with an excellent education.”

TJ D’Agostino, who directs the project at Notre Dame, said the success St. Paul students are experiencing is due to teachers more effectively meeting the needs of each child with the benefit of powerful blended learning software, and school leaders continuously strengthening teachers with targeted professional growth in high yield areas like the use of data and deepening a culture of high expectations, key areas of focus for the training and support that ACE provides.

“Blended learning can be a powerful driver for schools to provide a customized education for every child,” D’Agostino said, “though it is most impactful when paired with other best-practices, like data driven instruction, professional learning communities for teachers, and ongoing instructional coaching.  We work closely with the principal and a team of lead teachers to implement these comprehensive strategies.  The results have been transformative.”