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Graduates of CISE schools grateful for experience

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By Eileen Connelly, OSU 

During his tenure as Archbishop of Cincinnati, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin recognized that the most valuable way the local church could help the urban poor was to provide children, regardless of their race, religion or economic circumstances, the opportunity for a Catholic school education. From Cardinal Bernardin’s vision, the Catholic Inner-city School Education (CISE) Fund was born.

Today there are more than 1,750 students receiving a quality education in the nine CISE elementary schools (St. Boniface, Corryville Catholic, St. Francis Seraph, St. Francis de Sales, St. Lawrence, Holy Family, St. Joseph, Prince of Peace and Resurrection). In addition, there are over 200 CISE school graduates attending Catholic high schools with the help of the CISE High School Grant Program. The CISE Office reports that 88 percent of their senior grant recipients go on to attend college or pursue post high school education. CISE graduates share their skills and gifts with others, leading local business and serving the community in a variety of ways.

Amy McConaughy, for example, has come full circle in her CISE experience, attending one CISE school as a child and now sharing her faith with the first graders she teaches at another.

Growing up in Price Hill, McConaughy attended Holy Family School, which she loved for its close-knit atmosphere and ever present sense of community. “I loved that it was a small school,” McConaughy said. “From first through eighth grade, there were only 20 kids in my class and we all became really close.”

“Educationally, it was a great environment, too,” she added. “The adults really cared about us and we were able to communicate with them easily. That really helps a child as he or she grows up.”

She went on to attend Seton High School, graduating in 1998, and the University of Cincinnati, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She taught both pre-school and kindergarten in Philadelphia and at a charter school in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine before being hired at Corryville Catholic.

Now in her fourth year there, McConaughy said, “I’ve always wanted to teach at a Catholic school. My Catholic faith is strong and I would like to pass that on to as many children as I can. Even though many of our children aren’t Catholic, it’s important for them to have moral values.”

With her first graders that means, “teaching them what it means to be a good person and to do what Jesus would want us to do, being kind and respectful to everyone and doing what’s right even though some people may try to persuade you otherwise.”

Looking back on her experience as a student at a CISE school and how that now relates to her work as a teacher said, McConaughy said, “I came from a very faith filled family and that helped me realize how important it is to belong to community like Holy Family or Corryville Catholic. I wasn’t always set on being a teacher, but I remember in junior high school beginning to really appreciate the value of the education that I was receiving. Now that I’m teaching in a CISE school, it makes me appreciate all that CISE does for students who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance for such a well-rounded, Catholic faith based education.”

The education she received at a CISE school has inspired Annie Timmons’ life’s work. Raised in Corryville by her grandmother, she and her sisters were sent to the then St. George School (now Corryville Catholic) at the urging of a local priest. Timmons recalls the “loving, nurturing environment” at the school and the faith-filled example of Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Mary Ann Zwijack, who still teaches there. “She was my eighth grade teacher and a great, caring role model for me and taught me such positive values,” Timmons recalled. “I remember there was a boy I didn’t like and he didn’t like me. Sister Mary Ann gave me a long talk about how hate would never take me anywhere in life and would keep me from being the person God meant me to be. I learned a lot of life lessons at that school.”

The life lessons continued at the Friars Club, where Timmons began working in 1978 while still a student at the former Our Lady of Angels High School. The 152-year-old non-profit social service organization is dedicated to serving the special needs of Cincinnati’s at risk children through organized sports, activity, nutrition and fitness. Timmons initially worked with the summer girls club, then moved into a front desk position when she went to college.

Timmons graduated from the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1982 with a degree in health education. Although her original goal was to become a professional volleyball player, a knee injury led to a change in plans. She has spent her entire professional career at the Friars Club and currently serves as the organization’s executive director. She also runs the CISE/Friars Club after school study and sports program, made possible through a grant from the Charles H. Dater Foundation. The program, which emphasizes respect, responsibility, leadership and good sportsmanship, organizes after-school sports teams for boys and girls in kindergarten through the eighth grade at St. Francis Seraph, St. Joseph Corryville Catholic, St. Boniface and Resurrection School schools

“I was meant to be at Friars,” Timmons said. “I love what I do, and I feel like because of my experience at a Catholic school and the nurturing I was given, I can give back to the kids at the Friars Club. Sometimes they just need a good word, a smile, someone to listen. Someone provided that for me. Now I can provide that for them.”

Reflecting on his time at a CISE school, Ishmael Lucus, who attended Corryville Catholic, said, “The advantage we had at that school was how much the teachers care. I really felt like they saw me as an individual and recognized my potential. They called me out if I was doing something wrong.”

As a sixth grader, it became Lucus’ goal to continue his education at St. Xavier High School, and with the encouragement of his teachers at Corryville Catholic, he became involved with St. X’s Companion Scholars Program. The program’s primary mission is to prepare non-traditional middle school students with the academic and social skills necessary to succeed in the academically rigorous college preparatory curriculum at St. X. “My teachers at Corryville really helped me achieve that,” said Lucus, who served as a student representative on the school’s Strategic Planning Committee, started a hip-hop dance team during his sophomore year, participated in many community service activities and was a Bomber Pilot (a mentor to a St. X freshman).

Lucus graduated from St. X in 2012 and is currently a freshman at Miami University, where he is studying finance.

For more information, visit the CISE website.

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