Carefree summer days defined by flip flops, sunglasses, surf and sand give way to a more structured environment as students return to school and absorb an array of colorful bulletin boards that invite imagination and a preview of the year ahead.

Teachers envision and prepare for the school year throughout the summer months reading age-appropriate novels that will delight, inform and engage students. Their attention is directed to the curriculum as they review a variety of instructional strategies that pique student inquiry, discovery and student-directed learning.

Summer is a time in which teachers augment their learning, as well. Throughout the summer months, 11 teachers returned to the classroom to delve more deeply into the challenges faced by students with dyslexia. Statistics on dyslexia reveal that one in five students, or 15 percent to 20 percent of the population, has a language-based learning disability. Seventy percent to 80 percent of individuals with poor reading skills are likely dyslexic. At the training, educators learned about the difficulties and frustrations faced by differently abled students and discovered how to best support their learning journey.

Funding for the Wilson and Orton-Gillingham Programs, which support the learning of students with dyslexia, was realized by the generous donation of a family who earmarked their contribution to the diocesan Faith to Move Mountains initiative. The intended outcome is to strengthen and change the delivery of instruction for students with specific learning needs. Having experienced the difficult moments of opening the world of education to their own children, the donors provided resources, information and funding so that teachers could enhance their instructional toolbox to provide proven strategies of success for all learners.

The introductory programs resulted in a positive and enthusiastic response from educators who “want more” and look forward to going beyond the initial orientation to become certified in the programs. The end result is that teachers are given an arsenal of ideas to support student learning and success. Continued education will be the focus with the hope of expanding the opportunity to a greater number of teachers.

Realizing that teachers teach the whole child and give attention not only to the academic, physical, social and emotional development of students, educators in Catholic schools understand the importance of a strong and meaningful faith life. They know the significance of having the Catholic faith come alive.

In the spring of 2017, educators at both the elementary and secondary levels took part in workshops that highlighted concentrated conversations and best practices that would spark deeper insight into our faith. The initial discussions will be continued this year with ongoing, intensified learning as administrators, chaplains, campus ministers, religion coordinators and teachers learn more about evangelization and what it means to be missionary disciples. Essential questions and conversation starters will prompt deeper thinking and responses. Educators will have the opportunity for thoughtful discussion at faculty meetings, in professional learning communities and during professional development days as they explore their personal relationship with Jesus.

Terry Ginther, executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, and Franciscan Father Gabe Zeis, diocesan vicar for Catholic education, continue to collaborate with members of the Department of Catholic Schools, the Department of Catechesis and the Department of Evangelization to promulgate and enhance the New Evangelization. To teach, we must also learn.

Pope Francis noted in his address to the Congregation for Catholic Education that “Catholic education is one of the most important challenges of the Church, committed today to carrying out the New Evangelization in an historical and cultural context in constant transformation.” Educators continue their faith life and learn anew so that the New Evangelization will touch the hearts of many and create a fire within to live and proclaim the teachings of Jesus.

As a new school year unfolds, may it bring blessings and fulfillment to students and their families, to educators and to parish communities. Through contrasting life experiences, from the carefree days of summer to the structured days defined by school bells, may we realize God’s boundless love and appreciate the gift of knowing that God walks beside us through learning experiences that bring challenges, joys and new discoveries.