While their students took the day off, Catholic schoolteachers from across the Archdiocese of Washington met at St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie to listen and learn from education experts at the 2014 Data Conference, the last of four identical conferences held throughout the archdiocese.

The Oct. 31 gathering was a chance for teachers of all subjects to unpack the archdiocesan education standards, but the morning began with keynote speaker LeAnn M. Nickelsen challenging the teachers to look for the best, expect the best and find the best in every single child. 

“All good teachers will tell you that most important thing they bring to their teaching is their love for children,” Nickelsen told the hundreds of teachers packed into the St. Pius X multipurpose room. “Before we teach them we need to delight in them!”

After the keynote, teachers and administrators migrated to breakouts sessions that to delved into topics like Scantron performance, testing methods and data fundamentals.

Bernadette O’Brien, an administrative assistant and art teacher for St. Mary of the Assumption School in Upper Marbolo, attended the breakout session on music and art standards. “All of us art teachers are on our own so that’s always good to sit in a room and bounce things off of each other,” she said. 

James Wills, a teacher of Spanish, religion and guitar from St. Francis Xavier Catholic Academy in Washington D.C., attended a session on living the faith as an educator. Led by Sara Blauvelt, the director of catechesis for the archdiocese, the attendees discussed the importance of boldly sharing their faith.

“When it’s normative just to discuss our relationship with God, then it doesn’t seem contrived when we want to have a more challenging conversation,” Blauvelt told the educators.

Afterward, Wills noted, “Whether it’s saying grace with my family before a meal in a restaurant or saying ‘God bless you’ and giving someone a hug, that’s who I try to be, without being hindered by society. I try to do that in every aspect as my life so I bring that to my class as well.” 

During another session called “Accreditation and Catholic Identify,” teachers were able to share how they have implemented the Catholic faith into the daily life of their schools. Tamera Campbell, the executive assistant for St. Mary of the Assumption School, spoke about their new initiative to pick two students to be the St. Mary Saint of the Day.

“I thought that we really needed to do something special to let these children know how much we love these children, “ said Campbell. “Not because they did great on a test or they got all A’s, but because they’re special and they’re children of God.”   

Every morning names of the students are picked randomly from a box and the two winners are then given a St. Mary sticker, a bag of prizes and ice cream at lunch.

“They wear a sticker all day so everyone in the school knows who they are and they wear it with such pride, even the eighth graders keep it on,” said O’Brien.

She also mentioned that the school has weekly Mass with students serving as choir members, lectors, and altar servers. St. Mary’s also has first Friday devotions, and more recently, Confession available before Mass. “As a parent I couldn’t be happier,” said O’Brien. “We need to offer it to the children.”

When applying to be a teacher, Christopher Ferrandez looked for a place with a strong Catholic identity. “They really love Christ,” he said of his colleagues at St. Thomas More in Washington. “To have their support as a first year teacher and also the support of my principal, I’ve been very lucky.”

Ferrandez, who teaches religion and social studies to the middle schoolers, said that many of his students struggle to see a place for Christ in their own changing lives. “It’s a challenge,” he said of teaching the faith. “But it’s one that needs to be taken on because you want to bring people to the truth, you want to bring children to the truth.”