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St. Raphael’s Veritas program: ‘Be who God meant for you to be’

January 23, 2015
Christina Gray

 “Be who God meant for you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

The words of St. Catherine of Siena, a third-order Dominican canonized in 1461, are the inspiration for the Veritas program launched this fall at St. Raphael School in San Rafael.

“Our goal is to provide a quality Catholic education accessible to any family that desires to partner with us in the goal of preparing leaders in our church and world,” said principal Lydia Collins. “The Veritas program focuses on the strengths of each individual child and empowers them to ‘set the world on fire.’”

St. Raphael School has experienced a change in student demographics which reflect the changing demographics of the parish and of Marin County. The diversity is a huge plus, she said. “But how do we provide academic excellence and a Catholic education to all students? We realized we can’t be doing what we’ve always been doing.”

Collins said the Veritas program is based on a philosophy that seeks educational equity for all students. By helping students identify and appreciate the unique strengths that their lived experiences have provided, they can more easily discover God’s purpose for their lives.

Third-grade teacher and Veritas program coordinator Francesca Previtali said educator and school parent, Dr. Juan Carlos Arauz helped the school craft the program. Arauz, whose two children attend St. Raphael School, is the founding executive director for E3ed.org, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that works to close the education gap for underprivileged students around the country.

In every grade teachers cultivate five foundational skills: innovation, critical thinking, cross-cultural communication, adaptability and teamwork. Students are taught to recognize when they are using these skills.

“One of the ways to help underserved students is by tapping into their life experiences, which might be different than other students,” Previtali said. For example, living in close quarters with others could mean a student is highly adaptable, well-versed in cross-cultural communication and able to work as a part of a team.

Veritas prepares all students, regardless of economic or ethnic background, to meet the challenges of living in a global community. “It’s not enough to simply graduate with 4.3 or 4.5 (grade point average) anymore,” Collins said.

Students can be academically brilliant but if they lack the practical and personal skills to translate what they know into the real world, they will find it difficult to fulfill God’s purpose for them, she added.

“We expect our children to graduate with faith, and act with intelligence, responsibility and excellence,” Collins said, noting the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, who founded St. Raphael’s, taught with the same philosophy.

Helping every child to be who God meant them to be is what every Catholic school should be doing, Collins said. “If you plant that message from day one, they leave you with a sense that ‘I have a duty to share my gifts with the world.’”

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