‘Inspiring Souls, Transforming Minds’ at Diocesan Education Conference

Bishop Alfred Schlert, center celebrates the Mass. With him at the altar, are, from left: Monsignor David James, diocesan vicar general; Father Stephan Isaac, assistant pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring and chaplain of Berks Catholic High School, Reading; Deacon Peter Schutzler of St. Ann, Emmaus; Father Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph, Summit Hill; Father Eugene Ritz, diocesan chancellor and chaplain at Notre Dame High School, Easton; and Father Kevin Bobbin, chaplain at Bethlehem Catholic and Catholic chaplain at Lafayette College, Easton. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff Writer

“Inspiring Souls, Transforming Minds” was the theme of the Diocese of Allentown 2019 Education Conference Oct. 14 at Bethlehem Catholic High School.

The vision of the Office of Education is “Our work will ignite joy for the Catholic faith.” The mission of the Office of Education is to lead, serve and empower communities of faith that inspire souls and transform minds for Christ.

The day featured two keynote speakers: Michele Stuart, owner of JAG Investigations; and Steven Virgadamo, partner, Partners in Mission.

The day began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Alfred Schlert.

Then Dr. Brooke Tesche, diocesan chancellor for Catholic education, and Bishop Schlert outlined the Office of Education’s

Four Pillars for Our Future: mission and Catholic identity, academic excellence, leadership, and operational sustainability.

“We will ignite passion for our faith and infuse our schools with a rich sense of purpose,” Tesche said of mission and Catholic identity.

Educators, Bishop Schlert said, are “spiritual parents developing Catholic identity in all things.”

“This is the pillar on which everything else rests,” he said, emphasizing the importance of prayer. “Pray about how we can be thoroughly Catholic in our school system.”

“Mission and Catholic identity are first and foremost,” Tesche said.

Of academic excellence, Tesche said, “We will inspire students to reach God’s potential for their lives.”

“Academic excellence should be our priority,” Tesche said, adding how proud she is of diocesan educators and noting there has been a 96 percent matriculation rate the past few years in all diocesan schools.

“We will illuminate dynamic leadership in our school communities,” Tesche said of leadership.

“The Bishop is our leader. Your prayerful courage every day allows us to be leaders,” Tesche said.

Bishop Schlert said Catholic schools produce leaders in many areas, including church, business and military life. “That comes from leadership in the classroom. Leadership begets leadership.”

And of operational sustainability, Tesche said, “We will innovate our school system for a vibrant future.”

Tesche said there is work to do in marketing, funding and growing enrollment. “If we focus on mission, leadership and identity, enrollment and funding will come if we continue to do the correct things.”

“You are the lifeblood of our schools – you bring Christ to every student,” Bishop Schlert told educators as he expressed thanks for their work.

Alexandria Cirko, assistant superintendent of religious education, introduced Stuart, who presented “Kids Safety in the Digital Age” (more about this below).

Virgadamo offered the afternoon presentation. He brings more than 25 years of highly successful experience in leading, managing and governing Catholic schools to Partners in Mission. Previously Virgadamo served as a director with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Program (ACE) and prior to that as the vice president of Catholic School Management, Inc.

he day included lunch, discussion and exhibits.

Do You Know Who Your Kids Are Interacting With?

“People verbal vomit every day on the Internet. Parents are often worse than their kids on social media,” said Michel Stuart, owner of JAG Investigation, during her presentation “Kids Safety in the Digital Age” at the Education Conference.

Stuart is a licensed private investigator in Arizona with 20 years of experience in financial, open source investigations (OSINT), corporate investigations and intelligence/counter intelligence. She started her investigative career as an economic fraud investigator.

Over the past years she has provided presentations, and private training, to both federal and state levels of law enforcement agencies and military intelligence throughout the United States, including attendees of Department of Homeland Security, U.S. marshals, FBI, DOJ, Border Patrol, Indian Tribal Nations and local law enforcement agencies.

“Pornography completely wraps itself around child pornography,” said Stuart, encouraging those attending to visit the exhibit table of the Lumen Christi Commission chaired by Father Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph, Summit Hill.

The commission provides education, training, encouragement and resources to break free from pornography, heal relationships, and assist parents in preventing and responding to pornography exposure, which is devastating in the lives of children.

“The world of the Internet is an offensive place,” Stuart said, noting we are only responsible for what we are responsible for – we can control our privacy settings on social media, but can’t control the actions of someone else.

“If you’re going to protect kids, you can’t get offended by what you see in the Internet.”

Stuart said coaches can make a huge impact on kid’s lives.

“Be that spiritual leader, the person who can give them encouragement,” she told teachers and coaches.

Focusing on security, Stuart said primarily all our information comes from our cellular devices, which we use to talk, text, Google, email and navigate.

She explained, for example, tagging someone on Twitter gives out your geographic location.

“One kid can’t protect themselves. It takes a community of other kids and you.”

Stuart said almost all communication has become digital – kids and adults are glued to their mobile devices.

“Parents are introducing kids to technology early in life without setting up privacy settings or understanding the dangers that lurk in cyberspace,” she said, adding 90 percent of kids by age 2 are on devices. “Then teachers want them to set up email addresses because there are so many things to do online.”

Stuart posed these questions to those gathered: Do you know who your kids are interacting with? How are they communicating secretly by using cellular applications? Gaming? Do your kids know who they are interacting with? How are kids really using social media? Are they giving out too much information?

“Look at the apps on your kid’s phones and research them.”

“Snapchat is the number one app in the world for child pornography,” Stuart said. Many apps are danger zones for child porn and child bullying, and any app that targets kids – such as YouTube Kids – attracts predators.

As she spoke of gaming, Stuart said many play the game Fortnite as a form of contact between offender and victim. In Minecraft, kids are virtually raped in the game.

“Technology is phenomenal, but will be the ruin of our society,” she said.

“Parents and educators don’t need to be experts, just educated.”

Stuart advised everyone to be proactive and learn about the popular apps. “Talk to your kids about their online activity and the information they are sharing. Understand phones are gateways to the Internet, and kids share phones.”

As she reviewed the evolution of the mobile phone, Stuart said everything changed with the Blackberry. Discussing Android vs. Apple, Stuart said Android permits any software developer to create and release an app anonymously without inspection.

“The No. 1 way to be compromised on Android is the flashlight app,” Stuart said. The app is allowed access to all the files on the device, and uploads your address book to their private server. It can access your photos, videos and texts.
Stuart said some of the most popular encrypted communication apps are WhatsApp, Babel and Wickr. A new popular chatting app is Monkey, which she said has one of the highest risks for sexual misconduct.

“If you find one on your kid’s phone, don’t overreact. Talk to your child,” Stuart said.

She said people can find where others live by inputting their first and last name, city and state to www.truepeoplesearch.com.

Stuart encouraged everyone to visit this the website internetsafety101.org for resources to keep kids safe in the digital age.