Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
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shnb sunflower webPatrick Kulis, a sixth-grader at Sacred Heart School in New Britain, explores the Fibonacci numbers in the head of a sunflower as part of his school’s Creative Learning Module. (Photo submitted)

NEW BRITAIN – Nearly 30 years after Sacred Heart School added a Creative Learning Module (CLM) to its curriculum, former students, who are now doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers, come back and tell educators what a difference the one-on-one learning experience made in their lives.

CLM for gifted and talented students was inspired in 1987 by former principal Mother Mary Jennifer Carroll of the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception. It was her vision to create a challenging program that met the emotional and academic needs of high-achieving and gifted students.

At the time, Christine Wasielewski, who had just started as a new teacher at the school, was asked to begin developing CLM. Now three decades later, the eighth-grade religion and math teacher continues to run the successful   program with great results.

Twice a week, students in kindergarten through eighth grade leave their classrooms for a 40-minute, small group class with Mrs. Wasielewski to explore special interest areas not covered in the traditional curriculum.

Students are selected according to their classroom performance, test scores, teacher indicators, and, on occasion, parent recommendations. And some students may be particularly strong in one area, not necessarily in all subjects.

In developing CLM, the school initially looked at testing students to track results; but when that fell through, “we evolved into an enrichment program,” said Mrs. Wasielewski.

They also researched a variety of resources for ideas, including the national MathCounts enrichment program, as well as a young people’s debate program.

“Initially, Sister Jennifer guided me on how to look for challenging subjects,” said Mrs. Wasielewski, “and then she left it up to me to come up with ideas that would challenge students and also be very hands-on.”

“Being hands-on was important to us,” she said. “You just can’t do everything with a computer. Some things you just have to feel and experience.”

Eventually, she settled on topics that wouldn’t be covered in a regular class, or that were ripe for exploring in greater depth and from a different perspective.

For example, students recently studied the Fibonacci sequence –an integer sequence that begins 0, 1,1, 2, 3, 5, etc.

“It’s been found that numbers from that sequence [appear] in nature,” explained Mrs. Wasielewski, such as in sunflowers. “So we had students plant sunflower seeds, photograph the flowers with their iPads, project it on to a Smart Board, and then count the petals to find the sequence.”

“It was a math-oriented module during which they learned how to generate sequence, investigate ratios and remember numbers,” she said. “They learned that math underlies order in the universe,” such as in sequencing found in sunflowers, broccoli, pine cone, and cauliflower.

“We’re taking students already in our regular classes and giving them the chance to learn something new…the chance to think for themselves; and for some of them, the chance to fail, too,” said Mrs. Wasielewski.

“To some students, learning comes so easy that they’ve never experienced failure nor experienced the need to ponder something for a longer time before coming up with an answer,” she said.

Parents, too, are happy with the program. “It’s like a hidden secret,” said Katherine Muller, principal of Sacred Heart School. “A lot of parents put their children in our school because we offer this program which is unique for accelerated students.”

The opportunity for accelerated learning is not unlike programs in other Catholic schools.

“All of our schools reach out to exceptional learners,” said Valerie Mara, assistant superintendent of academics for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools. She explained that accelerated offerings in other schools range from robotics, forensics, performing arts, engineering and music to more formal programs such as the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Program.

“They all bring their talents and they all bring their gifts,” she said. “It’s not how smart are you; it’s how you are smart. They all are talented, they all bring gifts to the table and we work from there.”

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.