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New program enhances skills of teachers

By JOANNE FOX
joannef@scdiocese.org

A program to enhance the skills of Catholic school instructors has reinforced the belief for one teacher that religion isn’t just for “old ladies.”

The Office of Education for the Diocese of Sioux City entered into an agreement with Creighton University in Omaha, to place teachers from its Magis program — designed to help teachers earning a master’s degree – into diocesan schools for the 2016-17 school year.

According to Dan Ryan, Ed.D., superintendent of schools for the diocese, his office has adopted a philosophy to collaborate with institutions that help foster Catholic school instructors.

“Creighton oversees the program and handles the screening and placement,” he said. “The university has provided us with two high-quality individuals who have chosen Catholic schools as their vocation.”

John Hughes, who teaches sixth grade at Remsen St. Mary School, wanted to be part of Magis because of its “missionary” aspect. MagisRemsen1-26

“I felt a really strong connection to their idea of sending young, faith-filled, passionate educators into new environments and I wanted to be a strong, male role model for my students,” he said. “It was a male, middle school teacher who first showed me that faith wasn’t just for my family and old ladies.”

Hughes, a New York native, confessed there was a substantial culture change coming to Iowa.

“There are more people who live in my hometown than in all of Plymouth County,” he said. “I grew up 30 miles outside New York City and completed my student teaching at a suburban Catholic school where going 10 miles – from my college dormitory to the school – took me 30 minutes on a good day. Now, my commute is four times the length at 40 miles and only 20 minutes longer.”

‘Here for a reason’

Being away from his home parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Boonton, N.J. where three generations of his family have attended the same Sunday Mass, has been a change for Hughes as well.

“In the end, I know God has me out here for a reason,” he said. “His plan is infinitely better than any time where I might wish to be home.”

Tempered with those challenges for Hughes is the professional joy he experiences sharing the faith with his students in an ongoing basis.

“We recite a decade of the rosary each day in my two religion classes, and we begin my history classes with either a Marian prayer or a Scripture-based prayer,” he said. “Faith isn’t just something you do on Sunday; it’s something that ideally impacts all aspects of your day. If there’s one thing I hope my students will remember from all the content, it’s that statement.”

Jeff Alesch, principal at Le Mars Gehlen High School, expressed his gratitude for having the school associated with the Magis program.

“This is our first year and it’s been outstanding,” he said. “Certainly, the strength of the program is to have a quality teacher, who has a solid knowledge of the Catholic faith, but for us, we have a teacher who has both characteristics.”

Faith-based instruction

Kyle Marugg is the Spanish teacher for Gehlen, also located in Plymouth County.

“I was looking for a post-undergraduate program that would allow me to teach, continue my education, and live in a faith-based community,” he said. “Magis accommodated all three of these desires.”

Marugg came into the program, expecting to be challenged with rigorous graduate level courses while being provided all the resources necessary to succeed in teaching.

“I also hoped to continue growing in my faith and understand what it truly means to live out my faith every day,” he said. “I’m happy to say that all of my expectations have been met.”

What Marugg did not anticipate was the caliber of students he would be instructing.

“The biggest surprise was how well-behaved the students at Gehlen are,” he said. “High school students sometimes get a bad reputation, but I feel blessed to be able to come to a job each day with such wonderfully behaved students.”

Marugg also had high praise for the Magis experience.

“Magis is a wonderful program that ensures its teachers are fully prepared before beginning to teach,” he said. “Magis teachers are also held accountable during the school year by being observed by Magis staff, on-site teachers, and administration. Plus, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my mentor teacher, Laurie Kellen.  She has been foundational in making me feel welcome and prepared at Gehlen.”

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