by Allyson Escobar & Melissa Enaje
DOUGLASTON — One of the annual rites of late summer in the Diocese of Brooklyn occurred this past week when students returned to Catholic schools.
The 2019-2020 academic school year in the diocese began officially Sept. 4. Almost 21,000 students enrolled in 75 Catholic academies or parish schools and more than 11,000 students will attend the 17 diocesan high schools in Brooklyn or Queens.
Nuno Peixoto, a new second-grade teacher at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica, one of the 65 new teachers in the diocese, said he is eager to bring his Catholic faith into his work.
Peixoto, who taught in bigger public schools and university classes before, said he likes the smaller class sizes of Catholic schools, where teachers can take more time to get to know each student.
“It’s more than just getting kids through the system and making sure they graduate,” he said. “When I started my own education program, my [Catholic values] were a driving force of my work, and I want to provide my students the same formation that I was given not only by my parents, but also by my teachers and mentors … who emphasize being caring, generous, and providing love regularly. At Catholic schools that’s something always at the forefront. You have to provide each and every student with love.”
Ashley Lantz, the new kindergarten teacher at St. Kevin Catholic Academy, Flushing, also taught in public schools before. She said she’s already noticed how Catholic education is based on helping form “the whole child, developing their spirit, mind and emotions.”
She’s grateful for help from the diocese. “I know that if I have any issues, I also have a huge support network to go to within the diocesan school system, and now I feel I’m on a better path,” she said.
Peixoto and Lantz spoke to The Tablet at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, where the diocese held a training workshop for new teachers and principals, Aug. 27-28.
Some of the support schools receive comes from DeSales Media Group, the publisher of The Tablet and the technology and media arm of the diocese, which provides iPads, tablets and Google Chromebooks to schools through grants, as well as free online technology resources to help teachers.
“We are a full mentorship resource, not just a network of schools, and we want to give our teachers an overall view so they know what to expect as they go into the new school year,” said said Joan McMaster, the diocesan associate superintendent for principal and teacher personnel.
Also this school year, many students will once again receive tuition assistance from Futures in Education, the diocese’s scholarship program. Last year, the fund doled out $7.2 million to about 4,700 students in schools in the diocese.
Leslie Powell teaches at St. Agnes Academic H.S. in College Point and said her daughter was excited to start the fourth grade at St. Luke’s School in Whitestone. “She wanted to get school supplies the day after school was over,” Powell said. “We were ready for everything and went on vacation and made sure everything was ready. We don’t wait until the last minute.”
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, the diocese’s vicar for education, celebrated Mass for the new teachers Aug. 28 at the Immaculate Conception Center on the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo. Bishop Massa encouraged educators to reflect on their mission as the fifth-century saint did in his writings.
“The world of Catholic education is all about planting the seeds, which grow more often in fields other than our own,” Bishop Massa said. “We need to build our children up so they can master assignments, draw on available resources, be empowered and believe in themselves and in God as the source of empowerment, all the time,” he said.