Silver Lake College in Manitowoc and Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee share several similarities.
Both are Catholic-based institutions that embrace Franciscan values. Both feature passionate instructors and enthusiastic students from diverse backgrounds. And both offer a top-notch liberal arts experience.
But the similarities don’t stop there.
“When you look at our two institutions, a big thing is we both emphasize servant leadership,” said Richard Carpenter, a social studies teacher in his 24th year at Pius XI. “In fact, some of my international kids are working at St. Hyacinth’s right now. That servant leadership is very important for both of our schools.”
Carpenter is familiar with both institutions. He and three fellow Pius XI teachers — Patty Hupfer Riedel, Catherine Drasch and Emily Paprocki (who now teaches at a different school) — earned master’s degrees in Teacher Leadership by completing a Learning Community program in Milwaukee offered by Silver Lake College.
“Another similarity, if we look at the (Learning Community) program we did, it was very teacher friendly and realistic and practical,” Carpenter said. “And when I look at the education that kids get at Pius, not only do they get the academics but they get those practical skills, too.”
The Pius XI teachers considered enrolling in the Silver Lake College program a few times, but it was Hupfer Riedel who finally proclaimed, “A year from now we can either still be talking about this, or we can have our master’s degrees by then.”
So they jumped right in, knowing the 13-month program was not only affordable but fit well in their personal and professional schedules. Led by instructor Carl Olson, the Learning Community participants met for two consecutive weeks in the summer, and then one weekend per month at Pius XI throughout the academic year before wrapping things up by reconvening for two straight weeks the ensuing summer.
Silver Lake College’s program is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Accreditation Agency. Participants can earn master’s degrees in Teacher Leadership or Administrative Leadership, as well as various Licensures (Reading 316, Principalship, Director of Instruction, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services, and School Business Administrator).
Sister Michaela Melko, the Director of Graduate Education at Silver Lake College, said the college’s philosophy for the program is that busy teachers won’t have to spend time learning what they already know. Rather, their time is spent learning things their self-assessments indicate need enhancing.
Here’s a look at the three current Pius XI teachers who earned their master’s degrees through Silver Lake College’s Learning Community:
Drasch, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Mount Mary, is in her 32nd year as a math teacher at Pius XI, which is also where she completed her student-teaching.
She said the time commitment for the Learning Community “was not exorbitant at all.”
“They understand we have full-time jobs and we’re able to work around that,” she said. “And the things we were doing were very useful to us. We weren’t just writing papers for the sake of writing papers. We worked on things we could actually use on a day-to-day basis.”
She added that the master’s program “allowed each of us to define and demonstrate our passion. Someone once asked me what I’m passionate about — it is teaching math to high school students. I don’t know another career that I would have been happy doing for over 30 years. I think Patty and Rick would say the same thing. We have been passionate about teaching our students at Pius, and the (Silver Lake College) coursework helped us improve and live out that passion.”
Drasch said she learned several things in the Learning Community, including many techniques she never would have known about, much less tried — like making a Google survey.
“There were a lot of those things — project-based assessments instead of the normal handwritten assessments — that I did in class,” she said.
Drasch added that she was even inspired to take online classes to be an instructional coach.
“I would have never done this without the (Silver Lake College) experience,” she said.
Patty Hupfer Riedel
Hupfer Riedel, who earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College, is chairperson of the Science Department at Pius XI, where she has taught all 28 years of her career.
For her final project as part of the Learning Community, she coordinated science lessons with character building lessons. Some of the things she learned in Silver Lake College’s program were even implemented in China, where she traveled to teach as a representative of Pius XI.
Hupfer Riedel and Olson attended the same leadership camps before, and it was Olson who strongly recommended she enroll in Silver Lake College’s program.
And she couldn’t be happier that she did.
“Right now, I feel like, ‘Wow, I did it,’” she said. “There’s a confidence level that’s different now, and I’m pretty confident to begin with. I just feel ‘smarter’ now.”
Carpenter, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University, is the coordinator of Pius XI’s international student program.
For his final project in Silver Lake College’s program, he designed an orientation program for Pius XI, which the school implemented and still uses. That project also evolved into the orientation program used for the international student program.
It’s that real-life applicant of lessons learned that Carpenter valued.
One of his colleagues earned a master’s degree in a more traditional, multi-year sense, but, Carpenter said, “She says, ‘Here sits my thesis on a shelf, and I never pull it out anymore.’ Whereas the activities we did were very user-friendly and we’re continuing to use them.”
Silver Lake College now offers Learning Communities in Chippewa Falls and Pulaski, and is exploring opportunities for other locations throughout Wisconsin.
For more information about Silver Lake College, please visit www.SL.edu. For more information about Pius XI Catholic High School, please visit www.piusxi.org.