Catholic students rally at the state Capitol during Catholic Schools Week in 2010. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Catholic students rally at the state Capitol during Catholic Schools Week in 2010. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Catholic Schools Week, the annual affair which is held throughout dioceses across the nation, will celebrate the important role of Catholic education in shaping future leaders Jan. 27-Feb.2. This year’s theme, “Catholic Schools Raise the Standards,” is meant to complement the recent launch of the Catholic School Standards Project.

Published last March, the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools is a 24-page document defining characteristics of a Catholic education — that flow directly from the Holy See — and the criteria for making that a reality. It details 13 standards and 70 related benchmarks to ensure quality Catholic schools.

The idea is to create national standards and benchmarks to ensure effective operation of Catholic elementary and high schools nationwide. They support curriculum development consistent with national standards. That will, in turn, continue to promote high academic standards and Catholic identity, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

“Our expectations are high as we want our students to be challenged to do their very best,” said MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent for the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Local students have often shown that they can rise to the challenge. Take for instance, how elementary students as early as second grade fared in the latest Iowa Test of Basic Skills they took last September. Results consistently show every class slightly above grade level, if not more.

By fourth, fifth and sixth grade, students tested a full grade level equivalency ahead of the national norm in English and language arts. Fifth and sixth-graders also tested a grade higher in social studies with fourth-graders doing the same in science. Seventh- and eighth-graders tested one to three grade levels above the national norm in almost every subject.

During Catholic Schools Week around the diocese, students will showcase their work during special parent/grandparent days and open houses often held after Sunday Masses. St. John Bosco School in Ahwatukee is holding a safari-themed open house Jan. 27 to show that students and staff are “wild about learning.” Kids can go on a safari hunt and parents can learn how to reduce or eliminate their tuition bill.

“Often, parents think it costs too much and aren’t sure if their child will receive an adequate education and be prepared for college so this week allows us the opportunity to brag a bit and have our students articulate what their Catholic education means to them and have the parents affirm this as well,” Mueller said.

Students, teachers and staff are often in the classroom ready to share about the school and answer questions. The open houses serve as optional stepping stones to begin the registration process for the 2013-2014 school year.

At the school level, students may break a bit from rigorous studies during Catholic Schools Week to challenge peers or other grade levels in academic contests. Others will square off in the diocesan spelling bee Jan. 29 at St. Francis Xavier.

Students will also travel to the diocese’s mother church, Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, Jan. 30 to celebrate an all-school liturgy then meet up again at Arizona’s Capitol for a rally marking National Appreciation Day for Catholic Schools.

This year marks the 40th Catholic Schools Week celebration. It’s a  joint effort between the U.S. bishops and the National Catholic Educational Association.