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A Year to Celebrate: Our Countdown of Top Partnership Moments from 2021

2021 has been a momentous year in Partnership Schools, featuring marked progress for our students, schools and network in the face of ever-shifting conditions. This New Year’s week, we’re looking back at some of this year’s highlights from the Partnership Post with a set of top three lists.

Why three? Well, as the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons used to say, three is a magic number. And we think the powerful combination of people, ideals, and actions that fuel the Partnership have proven pretty magical in 2021 too.

3 Data Sets We Love

1. Academic Growth

Partnership Schools persisted in using objective tests to gauge student progress, even as states and districts watered down these crucial measures—and they revealed that Partnership students’ performance in reading and math beat national averages from before the pandemic.

2. Enrollment Growth

Partnership Schools’ enrollment rose significantly this year in New York, after a significant effort to remove barriers to entry and simplify tuition. The gains followed a meteoric forty percent increase in enrollment in Partnership-Cleveland in 2020-21 and were profiled by the Economist.

3. National Potential

A compelling study published by the Urban Institute demonstrates that low income students taking advantage of Florida’s tax credit scholarships to attend Catholic schools outperform their peers in reading and math.

3 Student Voices We Relish (O.K., 4, Because It’s Hard to Pick Our Favorite Students)

1. A Beautiful Collaboration

Osiel Dominguez doesn’t share a lot of words in one of our favorite posts from Spring, 2021; his voice comes through the piano–which he taught himself to play during COVID. Through the Partnership’s social networks, he connected to high schooler Diego Barrera, who became his piano tutor. The two boys’ collaboration is as inspiring as it is beautiful.

2. Thoughtful Cleveland Middle Schoolers

Scott Wylie is a veteran teacher at Partnership-Cleveland’s St. Thomas Aquinas. In the spring, he did something he almost never does—took a sick day—and he came back to find a note from a handful of students and a truly thoughtful gift. The little things are the big things—and this story of a little note from a small group of Cleveland middle schoolers shows a big part of what Catholic education is all about.

3. Inspiring Root Beliefs

Our schools talk a lot about Core Values and Root Beliefs—but they don’t really become core values or root beliefs until students internalize them. St. Athanasius middle schoolers reached out to new and returning students last August with their own explanations of the school’s values, and inspired us to believe in both those values and the capacity of students to lead with them.

And a bonus student voice:

4. Post-COVID Communication

Immaculate Conception eighth grader Gianna Almonte and her classmates note that returning to in-person communication with all their peers is weird after last year. You have to “deal with their emotions in person; online, you can turn them off,” but on the upside, “You can feel their spirit in person.” Gianna took advantage of a crucial culture building routine at ICS to help her peers connect more positively this fall.

St Athanasius student Benjamin Rivera.

3 Public Policy Moments that Touched the Partnership

1. Ohio Students Win

Ohio students, including those at Partnership Schools in Cleveland, won big this spring when the Ohio state legislature voted to increase the publicly funded scholarships. Those scholarships enable families to attend the schools of their choice, including faith-based schools. A Partnership education costs over $9,000 per student in Cleveland; the increase benefits almost every Partnership-Cleveland family and enhances our capacity to serve more students.

2. Partnership Schools and the Supreme Court

Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Institute filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Partnership in the Supreme Court’s Carson v. Makin case, which may make it easier for public funding to follow students to faith-based schools, as it does in the Partnership’s Cleveland schools but not in New York. And Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee shared both the constitutional and practical implications of the case with both the Manhattan Institute and the National Review.

3. A Muted Stimulus for Gutsy Schools

Partnership Schools spent over $2.7 million to return students to in-person instruction from the start of the school year, with no guaranteed source of funding; not until March did Congress secure additional stimulus funding for schools like ours, and in some jurisdictions—like New York—schools that had the courage to open in person in the fall of 2020 were prohibited from using those funds to cover expenses we’d already incurred.

The EPA’s Michael Regan talks with Julio, an 8th grader at ICS in October.

3 Thought-Provoking Partnership Team Voices 

1. Cleveland School Leaders’ Mindsets

We often say that the Partnership approach is as much a mindset as it is a method of school management. This spring, principals Nancy Lynch and Rachael Dengler share insights into those mindsets as they wrapped up their first year of leading Partnership Schools in Cleveland.

2. The Patient Urgency of Pandemic Educators

As all students returned to in-person learning and an unprecedented number of new students joined our schools, Partnership Dean Fiona Chalmers coined the term “patient urgency” to describe a vision of how educators could handle the new challenges of this year. Her analysis provides a meaningful glimpse of how thoughtful educators are responding to the pandemic’s impact on their students.

3. So Much More Than Phys Ed

When Lavance Johnson first started working with kids, he admits he didn’t see himself as a teacher. Now, though, the St. Mark the Evangelist physical education teacher is all in. “There are so many aspects to what I teach. I teach with love, and I teach them to love. I teach happiness and activeness; I teach cooperation and teamwork and relationships. I teach being independent.” Mr. Johnson embodies zeal in a way that inspires both us and his colleagues in Post from Spring 2021.

Lavance Johnson and St. Mark the Evangelist students, pre-pandemic.

3 Young Alumni Voices That Animate Our Purpose

1. An Advocate for Social Justice—and an Enthusiastic Mentor

When Jose Ramos Carpio’s name was announced as winner of Xavier High School’s highest graduation honor, a man he’d met in eighth grade leapt to his feet on the stage behind him. In this post, we heard about how Jose’s time at Our Lady Queen of Angels helped form him into the outspoken advocate for justice he became at Xavier—and why Dan Denihan, Partnership supporter and former Xavier Board Chair, was particularly excited by Jose’s success.

2. A Former Student Inspires with Gratitude

Last spring, Sacred Heart alum Jennifer Adjivon stopped by her elementary school to check in on fourth grade teacher Jill Murray, who she credits with a transformational impact on her life. Jennifer, who graduated from nursing school this year, could not speak English when she arrived in Ms. Murray’s class. This post honors the relationships formed by Catholic school teachers and students that can fuel us for decades.

3. A Country of Hope

Brothers Antoine and Emmanuel Peralta, who graduated from the Partnership’s Our Lady Queen of Angels, shared a heart-warming reflection on what their educational ambitions mean for their immigrant family. Among the convictions of these young men, currently attending Cristo Rey-New York High School and Fordham Prep: “this country is the country of hope.”

Josue Ramos Carpio, OLQA ’17, Xavier ’21, speaking with guests at Xavier’s President’s dinner.

3 Not-So-Young Alumni Voices That Inspire

1. An Ambassador and Role Model

St. Athanasius graduate Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón has blazed a trail from the South Bronx to the White House, where she served as Chief of Staff to First Lady Dr. Jill Biden until this week, when the Senate confirmed her as the new U.S. Ambassador to Spain. She took time this fall to share life lessons with current St. Athanasius students, including eighth grader Lana, who was struck by her advice to “Come prepared, be confident, take deep breaths, and lean on good friends and family.”

2. East Harlem’s Deep—and Persistent—Italian Roots

Anthony Belli and Michael Yorio experienced the powerful community of Holy Rosary elementary school in East Harlem. Then, like most of the Italians in the neighborhood, their families left. But Anthony, Michael, and many of their former schoolmates are following the lead of late Rao’s restauranteur Frank Pelligrino in keeping Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary School thriving for the vibrant community that surrounds it now. In a post that includes everything from redlining to racial healing to the power of Italian food, Anthony and Michael reflect on the living legacy of immigrant neighborhoods and Catholic schools. 

3. Honoring Their Teacher and Their Friendships

The St. Charles Borromeo All Stars first met at their elementary school in second grade, and their friendship decades later is living proof of the exceptional, sustained power of community flowing through this storied Harlem parish and school. This summer, they gathered to reflect on the educator who forged their bond: Winifred Doris, a life-changing educator who passed away this summer.

St. Charles Borromeo “All Stars” Alumni.

We count ourselves fortunate in so many ways this year, and it fills us full of hope. May we all—the students, educators, staff, families and supporters of the Partnership—find ourselves even more blessed in 2022.