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(Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

St. Anselm middle school teacher Paul Casey says a classroom with students of all learning levels thrives when “it’s all about storytelling.”

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St. Anselm teacher recognized for inspiring gifted students
June 7th, 2016
By Christina Gray

It’s a challenge faced by many Catholic school teachers: How, in a single classroom dominated by students of average and even below-average ability can “advanced learners” thrive?

“It’s all about storytelling,” said St. Anselm middle school teacher Paul Casey, one of only 10 teachers in the nation recently chosen as a 2016 Sarah D. Barder Fellowship recipient from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth program. Casey teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade history and religion.

“For me when I’m listening to a lecture or when someone is telling me a good story, I’m enthralled,” he told Catholic San Francisco on May 27 not long after returning from the Sarah D. Barder Conference in San Francisco where he met with other fellows, past and present, to talk about meeting the challenges of teaching kids who “want more than what the curriculum offers.”

In 2013, the St. Anselm parish school in Ross added the CTY program to its accelerated reading groups and differentiated learning center for the school’s academically advanced students. Currently six middle-school students at St. Anselm are enrolled in the CTY program which offers a range of academic opportunities for gifted K-12 learners including an opportunity to attend summer programs at universities such as Dominican, Stanford and Loyola Marymount.

Casey’s classroom is a whirlwind of learning interactions that keeps students at all academic and motivation levels excited and on their toes.

Seventh grader Riggs McGrath is one of the school’s six CTY students. He nominated Casey, his history teacher, for the Barder fellowship at the invitation of the program with these words:

“Mr. Casey is a very different teacher, very special,” he wrote in his nomination essay. He’s interesting and he makes what he teaches come alive. He’ll act out the history. He’ll take people from the audience. It’s very engaging.”

Casey admits to a flair for the dramatic, but believes learners at all levels respond to enthusiasm. “Enthusiasm sends a message that what we’re learning is worth our while, that we might benefit from the learning being undertaken.”

Ideally there is a mutual give-and-take in learning and teaching, he said. Students who love to learn and just want to “soak it all up” make him a better teacher.

“When they get into it, I get into it,” he said. “I feed off their energy and my own game gets ramped up.”

Ironically, as a student Casey struggled at the other end of the academic spectrum. An undiagnosed learning disability now treated easily and commonly made him a “deplorable” student, he said. But the experience may have helped cultivate an ability and a desire to bring out the best in all students.

“I give the credit to God,” he said about receiving the prestigious fellowship. “In a profession like this that is high-stress and labor-intensive, to receive any kind of recognition you can’t help but be grateful.”

From June 9, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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