Remembrance and Memories

November is a month that is associated with remembrance and memories.  According to the Cambridge Dictionary, remembrance is the act of remembering and showing respect for someone who has died or an event.  It is also a memory of something that has happened in the past.

As we move into November we have three celebrations that take place right away.  On the first is the Solemnity of All Saints Day. It is celebrated by Catholics all around the world and connects us to the communion of saints.  We look to the Saints, we celebrate their lives and ask them to pray for us. Mary, also known as St. Mary the Virgin, is our patron Saint and on this day we can ask for her help in bringing our prayers to God. The next day, the second, is All Souls Day where we remember all those who have died but may not yet be in heaven.  We pray for them and ask God to take them to heaven. On that day please take a moment and say a prayer in memory of a friend or loved one or say the prayers on the prayer cards below.

On November 3rd, we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday in Alberta.  The theme from our Bishops this year is to be “United in Prayer and Grateful for Catholic Schools”. It is a reminder for us to celebrate Catholic Schools in the province and to be grateful for the gift of publicly funded Catholic education. Archbishop Smith, on behalf of all Alberta Bishops has shared a short, three-minute video message regarding Catholic Education Sunday. Please click on the Video Link to view the message.

On November 11th we remember our veterans from the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War who sacrificed for us so we could enjoy our freedoms and live in peace. To honour these men and women, we wear poppies as a symbol of remembrance and freedom. As we pause in our minute of remembrance on the 11th day of the 11th hour of the 11th month, let us not forget to pray for the men and women who have served, those who have died in service and those who are currently serving in our armed forces.  Please come join us for our Remembrance Day Celebration on the 8th at 11:00 in the gym.

Sometimes our lives can become so busy that we do not take the time to think about those who have gone before us.  Take some time on the 1,2,3 and 11 to pray, reflect and remember.

With the crazy snowfall of the weekend, it feels more like December than it does October.  Both May and October are dedicated as Marian months. At our PD Day on Friday, staff started our book study of Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross by Edward Sri.  We learned many new things, such as, Nazareth was a lowly city and did not seem to have a good reputation, and that Joseph and Mary were betrothed which meant they had said vows and were considered married but were not yet living together as man and wife. On the surface Mary is not living an extraordinary life but God has been preparing her for her most important mission. Through studying this book, we are going to learn more about her life which will help us to better understand her and to further develop Mary as our Model.  So far we have developed three guiding statements about Mary. 

Open Heart – We want our students to be open to God’s presence in their lives as Mary did.  Even when she knew it was not going to be easy, she said yes to God.

Love Everyone – We are asking our students to love like Mary did.  She put God first, others second and herself third.

Act Like Mary – Finally, we want our students to follow Mary’s example in all that they do.  We want our students to be a servant of the Lord like Mary and to be willing let Jesus act through them.

We want students to be knowledgeable about Mary, to come to understand her as our model of behaviour and then, to put that into practice by making wise choices as she did.

This month is not only a celebration of Mary, but also the month of the Rosary. On October 7, we celebrate the yearly feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Mary is a powerful intercessor and praying the rosary is a way for her to intercede to Jesus on our behalf. When we pray the rosary, we meditate on the events in Jesus’ life: the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.  According the Edward Sri (who wrote Praying the Rosary Like Never Before) in his article “Why Pray the Rosary” we can pray the rosary in many different ways and that it can be two and a half minutes that can change your day. If you want to try out praying the rosary this month, the Knights of Columbus have A Guide to Praying the Rosary that can get you started. We will be praying the rosary throughout the month at school and I challenge you to give two and a half minutes to God every day this month: One decade of the rosary = one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and one Glory Be

How to pray the rosary

What a difference a year makes! It is so nice going into this school year with familiarity instead of uncertainty.  Last year was a time to get to know the culture of the school, the staff and the families.  I want to talk about some of the exciting things that are going on this year.

To start with, the school division has a new Three Year Faith Plan with the theme of Making our Mark:  The Journey of an Intentional Disciple.  The theme for year one is Starting our Journey with a focus on being mindful of God’s presence and being prayerful. This theme goes well with our focus on Mary as our Model.  Mary had an open heart and she was mindful of God’s presence in her life. When God asked something of her, she said yes.  Staff is going to be going on a journey to discover more about Mary as we will be reading and studying the book Walking with Mary: A Biblical Journey from Nazareth to the Cross by Edward Sri. I started reading this book this summer and found that there is so much about Mary that I did not know and that there is so much in the book that will help us to develop and ground our school in the example of Mary.

As we our working on our conduct being modeled after Mary, we have changed our incentive programs.  We will no longer be recognizing HELP coupons and Acts of Kindness, but will instead be recognizing students for Acting like Mary.  As before, we will recognize students from both divisions each month and with a year-end award. Bishop McGrattan in his homily at our Divisional Mass told us “me third”.  What that means is that we must put God first, others second and yourself is third.  Putting God and others before yourself is exactly what Mary did and will earn students recognition.

Attendance continues to be an important issue that we are committed to bringing awareness to due to the critical role it plays in student success. According to Alberta Education, students who attend under 90% are considered to be chronically absent.  While that may seem to be high, it means that with a school year of 180 days, students should miss no more than 18 days which equals out to 2 days per month.  Missing this many days puts student at risk of negative academic, economic, mental health and legal outcomes. Last year we started recognizing students who had a 90% or higher attendance rate.  We will continue to do this again and will also set a limit on lates at 90%.  We are so excited that Ascent Cycle is going to be supporting us with our year end incentives of two Norco Storm bikes and helmets. Students who have a 90% or higher rate for absences and lates will be eligible for the draw. Each month students are at that rate their names will be entered.  We will also be having 10 draws of $10 at the end of the year for students who had the 90% or higher rate for at least one month throughout the year. Last year we improved our attendance rates in all categories.  Thanks for all your help in encouraging good attendance behaviours and let’s continue to improve again this year

Improved attendance percentages in each category in 2018 – 2019

Our attendance awareness campaign kicks off with the following five facts courtesy of Attendance Works:

  1. Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually in the work place.  It matters for school success, starting as early as prekindergarten and throughout elementary school, and helps students stay on the path to academic success. Absences represent lost opportunities to learn in the classroom.
  2. Attendance patterns matter in all grades, including Kindergarten. Preschoolers build skills and develop habits for showing up every day on time. Elementary students learn to read in the early grades.
  3. Students are at academic risk if they miss 10 percent or more of the school year, or about 18 days a year.  Once too many absences occur, they can affect learning, regardless of whether absences are excused or unexcused. Sporadic and consecutive absences negatively impact learning. Some absences are unavoidable, for example, due to serious or contagious illness but they should be prevented whenever possible.
  4. Chronic absence does not just affect the students who miss school. If too many students are chronically absent, it slows down instruction as teachers are likely to repeat material for students who have missed school.  This makes it harder for students to learn and stay engaged, and for teachers to teach.
  5. Chronic absence is a problem we can solve when the whole community works together.  We can all make a difference by encouraging good attendance both at home and at school.  We can also work together to help solve any attendance barriers.

Have you ever had events happen and then, when you reflect back on them, you realize that God was working in your life and things turned out the way they were meant to be? I have experienced this numerous times in my life; the most recent being with this message.  I had great intentions of being early and having it ready to start the week, but that did not happen.  As I sit down to write it on the last day of May, I think that God intended it to be that way so I could talk about World Catholic Education Day which we celebrated on the 30th. Each Thursday in May we have been praying together as a division for Catholic Education which culminated with a staff led Liturgy of the Word where the whole division was praying together around 11:00 am.  As I walked through the halls yesterday, I saw a bulletin board celebrating World Catholic Education Day where the students shared their thoughts about the blessings inherent in Catholic Education.  In the words of our students, I love my Catholic school because

  • I can talk about how much I love God and Jesus at school and at home.
  • We learn about God almost every day.
  • Our relationship with God can grow.
  • We can talk about God.
  • We can pray and able to talk about God.
  • We get to learn about Jesus and his many miracles.
  • We go to Church, have Religion and we learn about all of the saints.
  • We get to learn about God and strengthen my Catholic skills.
  • I am able to pray.

On World Catholic Education day, the school division and the ATA local premiered a video that they worked together to create that celebrates Catholic Education.  If you have not already seen the video Public Education:  The Catholic Way I do recommend watching it. The video is approximately twenty minutes in length and was a great way to cap off the month long celebrations.

Now that May is finished we are looking ahead to June and it is a busy nineteen days.  Teachers have been busy planning year end field trips and I am sure that the students are sure to enjoy the wide range of activities that fit in the science, social and physical education curriculum. On the 6th at 6:30 we have a parent meeting to discuss preparations for grade six camp in September. Our Kindergarten students will celebrate their accomplishments with a family celebration on the 12th at 5:30. We are also celebrating First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture with our Division Pow Wow at CCH West on the 5th at 5:30pm.  All families are invited to attend.  Our school celebration will be on the 21st where we are lining up story tellers, traditional games, dancing and smudge activities.  The last week is jam packed as we go to Henderson Pool on Monday, have sports day on Tuesday, celebrate our grade sixes at our year end Mass on Wednesday and finish the week with an assembly, slide show and talent show.

In addition to all these activities, we will be planning for next year.  We are currently working on our class configurations and teaching assignments for the fall.  Once we have this information confirmed, we will communicate it to parents and then we will start working on class lists. I will be meeting with the teachers to place students in classrooms this month.  Much deliberation goes into these assignments, such as, student needs, male/female ratio, academic balance, behaviour needs, class size, student relationships, educational assistant assignments and students new to OLA.  Parents have a wealth of knowledge about their children and if there is any information you would like to share with me about your child that will help the staff to place him or her in the best education environment possible, please contact me, stop in at the office to make an appointment or just drop in as my door is always open. Thank you for trusting us in making sound educational decisions in the placement of your child. 

To our families that are leaving us at the end of the year and to those who we are welcoming in the fall, we wish God’s blessings on you. We pray that our school community has a blessed summer vacation, and we look forward to seeing you in September.

Mary our Model

May is the month of Mary, a woman of not only grace and love, but also of patience and charity. Throughout the year, the staff has been working on changing our code of conduct to use Mary as our model.  Our goal is to have our community aim to live like Mary who followed Jesus’ teachings. First, we looked at Mary’s life and her qualities that would set a good example for our students.

Mary’s life was full of difficulties and uncertainty, but she bore them with patience and faith in God’s will.  Mary did not know what being the mother of Jesus would mean. She had to face her betrothed when she was found to be pregnant then, after Jesus was born, she fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. The fear of every mother is losing a child and Mary must have been anxious when Jesus went missing for three days and was then found in the Temple.  What must she have had to endure as she stood by the cross while Jesus was crucified?  Despite all these hardships, Mary trusted in God even when she did not understand or when things looked impossible.

Mary also listened to God, was open to His will and obeyed Him.  Even though she was unmarried and pregnant and could be stoned, she said yes to being the Mother of Jesus.  She presented Jesus in the Temple to the religious authorities. She obeyed the government and went to Bethlehem for the census even though she was heavily pregnant.  Mary was also a disciple of Jesus and told the servants at Cana to do as Jesus tells them. Mary was the first to hear that Jesus was the Savior and she lived with Him for many years and follows his example.

Mary also loved God and other people.  When Mary learned that Elizabeth was pregnant and needed help, Mary went to help her even though she was pregnant herself.  It was not an easy journey as she travelled about ninety miles on a rocky, hilly road. At the wedding feast of Cana, she saw that the family was running out of wine and went to Jesus for help and he performed his first public miracle.  Mary was an active problem solver and is someone who will intercede to Jesus on our behalf.

Second, we decided that we were going to use the OLA as a guide for Mary’s qualities. From the stories we looked at we came up with the following ideas:

O Ownership – your attitude.  Obey God.  Openness to God’s word.

L Loving.  Love like Mary.  Loves God and others.  Listen to God.  Leadership – lead with a humble heart. Lives as Jesus teaches.

A Accepting and caring for others differences.  Attitude is everything.  Assists others – selfless love to help others.  Acts on God’s word. Aware of a problem and Acts to solve it. 

Thirdly, staff worked together to look at the words and to pick words that encompass the faith, behavioural, social and academic areas of the school.  For each word, they listed gave a description of what that word meant to their group.  The chart below is a summary of the group notes:

Thirdly, staff worked together to look at the words and to pick words that encompass the faith, behavioural, social and academic areas of the school.  For each word, they listed gave a description of what that word meant to their group.  The chart below is a summary of the group notes:

Finally, this information will be going out to the school community.  It was presented to school council at the April meeting.  A survey is going to be created and sent out for parents to give their input into the words that will define our code of conduct.  Please look for the survey to come out through email this month. As we progress through May, let us start trying to imitate Mary who endured suffering with patience.  Let us bear our crosses without becoming upset or annoyed, forgive those who wrong us, follow God’s commandments, solve our conflicts peacefully and always be there to assist others.

The other morning as I was wandering around outside on supervision, it struck me how nice it was to hear the laughter and screams of the students.  Call me crazy, but yes after the cold of February, even the screams were welcome.  It was encouraging to see the differing types of play going on around me:  a couple of tag games on the playground, wall ball on the side of the school, students running around in the field and quite a few students practicing their skipping.  With the coming of the nice weather there are many things to look forward to in April.

As we progress through the season of Lent, our staff and students are putting on amazing celebrations. There are many liturgical traditions that have stayed the same since I was last here.  The playing of Holy Ground, having the grade six lantern bearers lead the classes into the gym, and the processional for each celebration set the tone for each week.  The highlight of the Lenten season is always the Passion Play performance by the grade sixes and I am looking forward to seeing this again on Thursday the 18th at 2:00 pm. I am also looking forward to a few upcoming events.  Our grade 5 and 6 classes are off on Tuesday the 2nd to the Enmax Centre to see the Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championships.  I am a huge advocate of fine arts in schools and am excited that on the 3rd all of our students will get to experience the Evergreen Theatre performance of The Three Little Pigs & B.B Wolfe.  Some of our students will also get the opportunity to take part in this show where the wolf is a climate change scientist trying to encourage the pigs to embrace better building practices. Then on the 10th, the grades 4-6 students are off the University of Lethbridge Theatre to see FLVT’s original student written musical production of  Cursed Through Time. Having worked for many years on these productions it is going to be different to just be an audience member. Another event I am looking forward to is the Jump Rope for Heart Kickoff Assembly on the 11th at noon.  It is impressive to note that this school has been supporting the Heart and Stroke Foundation for 37 years.  It definitely explains the numerous enthusiastic skippers that are constantly practicing their skills. I cannot wait to see the routines that the students will perform at the assembly as what I have seen so far tells me that it will be of a high quality with some difficult tricks thrown in.

Spring may be one of my favorite times of year as it is a time of renewal and new growth. This not only happens physically, but also occurs spiritually through spiritual retreats. One of the marks of a Catholic school is that is sustained by Gospel witness and that the staff are living witnesses to the Gospel and are intentional disciples of Christ. We were blessed to have an amazing speaker, Sarah Hart, for our Divisional Spiritual Development Day a few weeks ago who really made us think differently about the fruits of the spirit. On April 1st we have our annual staff retreat that is based around our namesake, Mary. The retreat committee has been working hard to plan our activities for the day which will culminate in a living rosary.

Finally, as living witnesses of Christ and the Church, we need to advocate for the gift of publicly funded Catholic education.  Currently in Alberta, it is under attack so it is essential that its supporters come together to advocate for our constitutional right.  As a result, our school division is creating a GrACE (Grateful Advocates for Catholic Education) group.  The mission of GrACE is to unite the spirit of Catholic education in order to educate and communicate with one voice.  It is a platform for those committed to Catholic education to be advocates and witnesses for our schools’ successes and their future. Committee members of GrACE may be employees of the division, parent or Catholic parishioners.  The time commitment will not be excessive but it is important that all committee members are passionate about Catholic education.  The Board Chair and Superintendent will make the decision on representation from those names submitted. Please contact me by April 7 if you are interested in putting your name forward. 

May the blessing of Christ be with during the Lenten and the Easter Season.

What makes a Catholic school any different from a public school?  For myself, all I know is working in a Catholic school so I do not have the experience to compare the two.  Over the years, I have had conversations with people who have had experiences in both systems and have told me that the biggest difference is the atmosphere you feel when you walk into a Catholic School.  Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel (114) says that the Church “must be a place of mercy, freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” The school, as an extension of the Church, so too must be this. Archbishop J. Michael Miller presented and identified Five Marks that make a school Catholic. They are as follows:

  1. Grounded in Christian Anthropology – Driven by a mission which views all men and women with an inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God.
  2. Imbued with a Catholic World View – A Catholic vision is evident in its physical space, liturgical celebrations and prayer life.
  3. Animated by a Faith Infused Curriculum – Faith is integrated within the learner outcomes and teaching strategies.
  4. Sustained by Gospel Witness – Hires and nurtures staff that are living witnesses to the Gospel and are intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.
  5. Shaped by a Spirituality of Communion – Recognizes that all stakeholders are responsible for the common good.

As we are approaching the Lenten season Mark 2 will be at the forefront of our activities.  We will gather for our weekly liturgical celebrations which will focus on the three pillars of Lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  While it is good to give up things during Lent it is also a time to Share our Bounty and be generous. As a result, we will be taking part in the 40 Acts School Challenge. It is a Lenten generosity challenge organized by the UK charity group Stewardship. There is a reflection every day and the students will also complete challenges to make a difference and be generous in the following categories: gratitude, care for the environment, giving, school community, kindness, new friends and doing the right thing.  Students will be given a challenge card summary where they will track which Acts they have done over the 40 days of Lent.

I would recommend this as an individual challenge as I myself have grown spiritually the past two years while completing the challenges and am excited for us to be doing it as a school community. As an individual, you receive an email every morning with a reflection and three different prompts as to how you could choose to act because 40 Acts believes that generosity is about the size of your heart not your wallet. If you are interested in learning more or signing up for the 40 Acts Challenge you can find them on the Web, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You may even want to sign up as a family as they have a 40Acts Family Wallchart and guide.  40 Acts. 40 Days. 40 Ways to Share your Bounty.  Join us in the challenge!

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