Faith will meet science in the classroom this school year

Presentation Academy students gathered at the school’s front steps on their first full day of School Aug. 11. Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville returned to the classroom throughout this month. Most Jefferson County Catholic schools began classes this week. (Photo Special to The Record)

A majority of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville began the 2023-2024 school year this week. Upon their return, school leaders intend for students to find faith integrated into their curriculum in new ways.

The theme of the school year is “Be Disciples of Christ.” It’s a call for all stakeholders in Catholic schools — from students and parents to educators and parishioners — to model who Jesus has called them to be, said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of schools.

“Catholicity in our schools is not just the role of our schools — its everyone’s responsibility,” she noted in an interview prior to the start of school in Jefferson County. “We are Catholic schools, not private schools. That Catholic identity is mirrored in all of our meetings. Unifying our schools under this faith message.”

That faith message should be unified in school curriculum, too, she said. Already, religion and theology curriculum has been integrated into certain classes, such as language arts. This year, schools were also provided curriculum and guidance to integrate faith studies into science coursework.

“Faith should be that thread that runs through every content area,” said Christine Kelly, curriculum, instruction, & assessment specialist for the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Schools.

While the science standards in Catholic schools reflect Kentucky’s state science standards, the new supplementary curriculum introduces the element of faith, said Kelly.

Science curriculum

The Office of Catholic Schools has created a faith and science document for Catholic school teachers, which explains how to “meld and integrate” faith into instruction that remains true to science standards. 

The office has also created a science literature list from which teachers can select material that’s right for their students. 

To develop these resources, the office worked with Dr. Kate Bulinski, a paleontologist and associate professor at Bellarmine University, and Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia Mary Joseph Wittman, a middle school science teacher at St. James School in Elizabethtown, Ky.

There are intellectual, spiritual and practical advantages to students learning about faith and science in the same classroom, Kelly said. 

“When you’re in the world you don’t just see a concept. It’s teaching students to integrate and use 21st-century skills,” she said. 

The new curriculum also will help children understand that faith and science are not in opposition, but compatible, she said.

“It’s important to encourage them to talk about those two in the same space, so they can have a solid understanding of what the church teaches.” 

She hopes these lessons create an environment where students can ask questions about the compatibility of faith and science, she noted. The classroom becomes a “safe space for children to work through what’s on their mind,” she said. 

The most important thing about this new science curriculum, Kelly said, is that “It’s about engaging students in real-world science exploration using instruction to respond to needs of students’ learning.”

To help educators to respond to the needs of learners — and adapt to this new curriculum — the Office of Catholic Schools hosted a variety of professional learning opportunities this summer.

Professional learning

“We’re forming our leaders and principals so they can be impactful in enriching the Catholic identity of our schools. Each one of us, with the stakeholder groups we serve, makes sure that’s embedded,” said Bowling.

The Office of Catholic Schools is meant to provide support for teachers and their schools. In recent years, the office has spearheaded a “school improvement process,” in which schools identify areas for improvement and accompanying goals. 

The schools office uses that information and other data from schools to tailor professional learning opportunities. This summer’s offerings provided sessions on school leadership, inclusion, building collaborative teams in schools, trauma-informed learning and the intersection of faith and science.

“We’re almost like the pebble in your shoe. You know we’re there, but we’re not stopping you,” said Bowling. “We push (educators) forward to look at opportunities for growth — school leaders and teachers.

“Faith formation becomes richer because we are challenging our teachers to weave faith into curriculum,” said Bowling.

The bottom line, she added, “is we want our kids to grow every day. The students who may be struggling or may be brilliant — we have to do better every day for them.”

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