Because we are Catholic

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Of all the training we received this summer in preparation for the school year, one phrase stuck out to me: “We don’t do this because they’re Catholic; we do this because WE are Catholic.” These words of Pat Exner, one of the directors for the Ascension Academy Catholic schools, struck me. At the time, I was a fresh college graduate, praying I had made the right decision in moving halfway across the country to accept the title of “Missionary Educator.” Despite my initial uncertainty, these words have remained with me throughout my placement at Ascension Catholic School. Several statistics highlight this understanding of our mission. For instance, 63% of students are non-Catholic, 97% are students of color, and 79% are eligible for free or reduced lunches. The school provides a quality Catholic education to kids in a wholistic effort to close the achievement gap in education and serve the people of north Minneapolis. Our function as Missionary Educators is the special way in which our efforts help to support this mission.  My efforts in the day to day seek to show the face of Christ to those who do not yet know him personally. In many ways, we can not help but show our love to these kids. Showing Christ to others by truly loving them is something that we always strive to do as Catholic Christians.

This year, three educators serve at Ascension. We added a placement in the kindergarten class to last year’s first and second grade placements. During school hours, you can find me in once of the two second grade classrooms, where I spend alternating days with each class. As part of its partnership with Teach for Christ, the school and second grade classrooms emphasize learning in small groups. As the second educator in the classroom, I have worked with small groups that allow more time for individualized learning. It is in this setting that I get to assist and challenge students in a way that is especially effective. With accelerated learners, I can foster independent, supervised practice or present an additional challenge or game to keep them engaged. For groups that are struggling more conceptually, I am better able to layer instruction to meet their needs. Furthermore, the smaller groups ensure that I and the lead teachers can more easily recognize  the students who require additional support. When working with the whole group from the back of the classroom, I can better identify students to quickly assist in quiet instruction and keep them on track with the rest of the class.

Even more important than academic support, we as Educators strive to be present for each student. My role allows me the opportunity to cultivate relationships with each student. I get to know them: what they like, how they think, what motivates them. When I pull out a student for one-on-one help I often ask, “What is one fun thing you did this weekend?” This question is answered in a variety of unpredictable ways, but these responses unfailingly give me a glimpse into that child’s real experience and make me love them even more. This love that I experience is why I know that God wanted me to come to Minnesota and ultimately why Teach for Christ exists. By supporting these kids in their academic and personal growth, we serve as witnesses of the love of Christ, the primary vocation of all Christians.



Stephen Barnhart