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Catholic Schools: Educating the Whole Person

To Teach as Jesus Did:

Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

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"Catholic Schools:   Educating the Whole Person"

As we approach Catholic Schools Week 2020 and celebrate the many ways in which our schools contribute to the overall advancement of society, we also consider and give thanks for the holistic formation they provide for students as unique individuals, created in the image of God. 


Catholic schools have been focused on educating the whole person long before “whole child education” was popular educational terminology.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, for example, a period often considered to be the high point of Catholic education in the United States, Catholic school elementary and secondary students were expected to succeed in the core academic content areas, to develop skills in art and music, to be physically active, to develop basic leadership abilities through school and neighborhood activities, and to cultivate a mindset that included concern for their brothers and sisters around the world.  Although resources and methods were somewhat primitive by today’s standards, every effort was made to ensure that children were developing spiritually, intellectually, morally, and socially. 


Educating the Whole Person, another of the Defining Characteristics of Catholic Schools,, reminds us that today’s Catholic schools must remain committed to the fundamental principles that human beings have a transcendent destiny, that all students have equal worth before God, and that every aspect of a student’s life deserves respect, attention, and opportunities for growth.  “It must never be forgotten that the purpose of instruction at school is education; that is, the development of [the student] from within,” freeing that person from anything which would prevent him or her from becoming a fully integrated human being.  “The school must begin from the principle that its educational program is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person” (The Catholic School, 29).  


Every program, course of study, activity, and service developed or sponsored by our Catholic schools must further the holistic growth of each individual in Christ.


The start of a new calendar year naturally includes increased plans and preparations for the next school year.  In light of this particular Defining Characteristic of Catholic Schools, Educating the Whole Person, I urge every school and network communities to reflect on the following:


  • How are all programs and services in the school aligned with its mission to integrate faith, culture, and life?


  • What means are taken to ensure that classroom instruction is designed to engage and motivate all students, addressing their diverse needs and capabilities, and to address the affective dimensions of learning, such as social dispositions, relationship building, and self-discipline?


  • From practical perspectives such as staffing, scheduling, and budgets, what priority is given to providing effective guidance services, wellness programs, digital citizenry education, music education, visual and performing arts opportunities, and co-curricular activities?


  • How can faculty and support staff grow in their efforts to provide effective instruction, demonstrate cultural sensitivity, and model Gospel values?


Have a happy and blessed Catholic Schools Week!

Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

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