By Tim Leeds
Havre's St. Jude Thaddeus School has received quite a bit of national attention lately.
Along with St. Jude student Rebecca Hilliard traveling to Washington to represent Montana at the RespecTeen National Youth Forum, which St. Jude student Sunshine Morsette attended last year, St. Jude sixth-grade teacher Karen Kamla and the St. Jude Home and School organization, represented by Shannon Patterson, received honors at an awards ceremony and banquet, held in the Hilton Crystal Ballroom in Milwaukee on April 17, during the 98th Annual Convention and Exposition of the NCEA (National Catholic Educational Association.)
Kamla was a 2001 grand winner of the "Great Ideas" program in "Today's Catholic Teacher" magazine and the St. Jude Home and School organization was awarded a Distinguished Parent Partnership Award. St. Jude Principal Therese Cowdery and preschool teacher Carol Ortman also attended the convention with Kamla and Patterson.
Cowdery said Kamla and Patterson accepting two of the few awards given at the convention was awesome. She said to have Havre, out of all of the schools employing more than 200,000 teachers and educating 7.6 million students in the association, honored twice at the convention of about 14,000 people, was amazing.
"We're always striving to achieve excellence," Cowdery said. "It's an honor to achieve national recognition for what we've always done."
Kamla was one of two grand "Great Ideas" winners at the convention. The other was Principal Geraldine Maratea of Santa Lucia School in Chicago.
Kamla was selected for her submission to the "Great Ideas" section of the magazine about tracking what students have read as they move from teacher to teacher. The Home and School was selected for Patterson's submission to NCEA while she was president of Home and School about involving the entire school and community in the "It's a Family Affair" dance.
Kamla said she has made several submissions to the magazine, with her favorite probably concerning having "Parable Monday" instead of "Terrible Monday," having students study New Testament parables on Monday. Her winning submission was about the tracking system where what students have read is kept on file so that future teachers can reference it.
Kamla said this allows the teachers to avoid duplication of works read, to see how much students are reading and to find out what subjects and authors the students are interested in, so they can direct the students to even more reading material.
Patterson's submission detailed the active involvement of different organizations in the school dance. Home and School decorates for the affair, provides a picture corner and conducts a silent auction. The St. Jude Booster Club provides concessions at the dance; the St. Jude School Board coordinates a small gate fee, with reduced cost for families, and the St. Jude Alumni Association providing prizes throughout the night.
In the submission, Patterson said the dance is often the first chance young people get to attend a dance with live music. She said the dance is intended as a family affair, inviting families to get involved in their children's lives. Invitations are sent out to all of the school families, church families and local schools. Patterson said family participation in the dance increases every year, with many families from the community outside of the school attending.
All four St. Jude teachers and staff said the awards banquet at the convention was a high point of the trip. Patterson said the closing speaker, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, was also a high point.
"She was an incredible speaker," Patterson said.
"She was the highlight of the whole convention," Ortman said. "We were all moved by her."
Ortman said Chittister is a renowned speaker, who also has 15 or more books to her credit.
Kamla said meeting some old friends at the convention was also a high point for her. Regina Gabriel, who used to teach music at St. Jude's, met her at the convention, and another college friend drove up from Michigan to see her as well.
The group also saw some of the sights in the area while at the convention, which ran from April 16-20. Patterson said they saw a beautiful cathedral about 30 miles outside of Milwaukee, The Holy Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Kamla said they also visited Milwaukee itself, both on convention tours and on their own. She said she had never ridden a trolley before, so she and Gabriel took a trip on one to the library.
The group also attended a Noel Coward play, "Fallen Angels," in a theater seating only 96. Kamla said they bought their tickets in advance, and it was a good thing they did. The show sold out. They also went to see the National Geographic production of "Mysteries of Egypt" at the IMAX Humphrey Dome Theater.
The convention was not all awards and fun, however. Kamla, Patterson, Ortman and Cowdery all attended workshops in their fields, listened to speakers and talked to other Catholic educators.
Ortman said she liked the opportunity to learn and discuss issues at the convention.
"It think it's a really good idea," she said. I like the professional development aspect of the convention we don't get a lot of time in the school to talk about teaching."
Ortman said St. Jude's faculty and staff are fortunate for the opportunity. Many Catholic school teachers don't have that opportunity, she said.
"It keeps us current," she said.
Kamla said talking to the other people at the convention was a good experience in itself. She said it was good to find that other people might have the same concerns.
Cowdery said finding so many people in their field together is an amazing thing.
"To me it's so overwhelming to see 14,000 people interested in Catholic education in one place it was mind boggling," she said.
She said she attends the convention every year as the principal of St. Jude's. She said they try to take teachers as well.