STARS - Let the Children Come Unto Me

by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 2 yrs ago

This new school year marks a very special anniversary at Roncalli.  We are celebrating the 15th year of offering an academic program designed to accommodate students with identified learning disabilities.  Sadly, prior to this program being offered there were no programs for students with learning disabilities in any of our Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.  The program has humble origins but the tragedy of Catholic children from Catholic families being told they weren’t quite normal enough to be in Catholic schools had to be addressed.    

In our first year, 1993, we had approximately 10 students who were served by our new special needs resource teacher Mrs. Pat Musgrave.  Today, Mrs. Musgrave leads a department of five professionals who serve nearly 175 students which represents nearly 15% of our student population. As we continued to add faculty members to accommodate the growing numbers in the program we also began to take students with more profound disabilities.  During the Building Faith and Futures Campaign we often told the story of how this program was not just benefiting the families of the Southside but it was truly a model program that was attracting students from Catholic families from all sides of the metropolitan area.  

One of the more remarkable achievements of our students and teachers can be witnessed by studying our ISTEP scores and scores from other standardized tests in which our students participate.We had anticipated that as we began to admit so many more students who were struggling to overcome learning disabilities we would see a substantial drop in our ISTEP scores.  To the credit of our students, along with our teachers and administrators who have worked so hard to strengthen our curriculum and the methods of instruction, I am delighted to report to you that over the past couple of years our scores have never been higher!  Additional good news on record-setting scores on other standardized tests is reported in Mr. Weisenbach's column in this issue.

We are only now discovering how desperately needed this program is.  With the success of our Building Faith and Futures Campaign we were able to construct a special needs resource center that nearly quadrupled the size of our former quarters.  With that expansion and modernization of facilities has come new demand.  This year we accepted students from 33 Catholic parishes.  As there are only 14 parishes in the South Deanery, you can see that Roncalli has quickly become a resource for the entire Metropolitan area!  

Today we refer to this program as our STARS program.  The acronym stands for Students That Are Ready for Success.  And yes, we are aware that we have taken just a little bit of liberty with English grammar to get there.  Grammatical liberties aside, this program is truly a star at Roncalli. Over the past few years Roncalli teachers, students, and administrators have been recognized by the Learning Disabilities Association of Indiana with teacher of the year, administrator of the year, and student of the year awards for the entire state of Indiana.  No other school in the state can make such a claim.  The STARS program is led by stars and it is producing stars!

Now in our 15th year, I must say that what we had dreamed about when first starting the program has been surpassed many times over.  The numbers we are serving, the new facility where this work takes place, the awards won, and the new highs in test scores are a clear sign to me that the Holy Spirit is in the midst of this work taking our very human efforts and transforming them into unimaginable blessings for our school.    

As we look for ways in which to continue to address what we consider to be an issue of justice for all Catholic families, I hope you will join us in praying for our students and their teachers.  They are doing sacred work and doing it in a way that honors God with their efforts.  The Catholic Church has long been steadfast in its teaching about the sacredness of every human life.  Through the STARS program we are trying to take one more small step towards making our walk match our talk.

God bless you and thank you for your support.

Point of View