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Bethesda, MD: Catholic school has 20% SPED students; 'appreciate gifts you might not see at first'

June 26, 2018, Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Standard: After 13 years as principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda, Patricia McGann is retiring When Patricia McGann was hired in 2005 as principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda, the school’s enrollment was down and the enthusiasm of the school’s families was diminished, but she turned the momentum around by confidently emphasizing the school’s Catholic identity, said Msgr. Edward Filardi, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. Within five years, the school grew from 100 to 275 students…. Another way in which McGann strengthened the Catholic identity of the school is through opening it up to students with special learning needs, said Msgr. Filardi. … So Our Lady of Lourdes welcomed him into their community starting the next day, and he joined the sixth grade class. Gradually more and more families in similar situations brought their children to the school…. “This just gave us one more opportunity to show the kids the face of God in every person,” said McGann, who noted that the school invites the students to look for God in their classmates and also to ask themselves if their classmates are able to see the face of God in them. … Having students with learning differences “helped us be more caring toward each other” and taught the school community how to “appreciate gifts you might not see at first,” said McGann. She also noted how when students start to do that, parents notice the friendships their children make with other children who have special needs and also become more accepting of them. Now, about 20 percent of the school’s students have learning differences, and they recently hosted an Inclusion Symposium for Catholic school teachers from across the country to share their school’s model of inclusion. McGann’s daughter, Brighid, now works as the resource director at Our Lady of Lourdes and as a resource consultant for the Archdiocese of Washington…. “I think [the school has] changed me more than I’ve changed it,” she said. “It’s made me realize what a gift our children are.”…

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