By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
Jason Gries feels overwhelmed when he thinks about the opportunities his daughter, Mary, has been given.
“Marian Educational Outreach has supported my family’s parish school, and our daughter Mary, who happens to have Down Syndrome, is able to attend the same Catholic school as her siblings,” Gries said. “This blessing has been made possible by MEO, Westside Catholic School, all the teachers and staff, and St. Boniface parishioners.”
MEO is an Evansville-based nonprofit committed to making sure that students with unique learning needs and their teachers have as many opportunities for success as possible while remaining in Catholic schools.
MEO recently awarded more than $52,000 in grants to help support teaching assistants at four Diocese of Evansville Catholic schools. Those are Evansville schools Annunciation School Holy Spirit campus and Westside Catholic, St. Bernard in Rockport and St. John the Baptist in Newburgh.
MEO Executive Director Emily Schnapf said teaching assistants and aids are important for many reasons, including offering more support for students, implementing accommodations, filling any voids and small group instruction.
“It is such a wonderful way of meeting the children at their level and ensuring that they are receiving quality education in our Catholic schools,” Schnapf said.
Gries has served as MEO board chair the past four months, and he’s been a board member for five years. His family are parishioners of St. Boniface.
“The grants support the schools to accept children with unique learning needs that otherwise might not be able to attend a Catholic School,” Gries said.
MEO also awarded $6,121.70 in classroom grants this fall to eight Catholic schools: Holy Trinity in Jasper, St. Joe in Vanderburgh County, Sts. Peter and Paul in Haubstadt, St. Matthew in Mt. Vernon, and Evansville schools Holy Spirit, Corpus Christi, Holy Rosary and Resurrection. These grants fund items including sensory corners, professional development, reading intervention materials and flexible seating.
David Memmer, Holy Spirit principal, said his school is blessed to receive MEO grants to help cover the salaries of two special education teacher assistants.
“Special education is at the heart of our school’s ministry, and having financial support from MEO truly helps to reduce the financial burden,” Memmer said. “Twenty-percent of our students are identified as having a specific learning disability and receive services from three special education teachers.”
Westside Catholic Principal Kelsey Meier said the grant enabled them to hire an additional resource assistant at the St. Agnes campus, which opened their “doors wider to serve students with diverse abilities through inclusion.”
“Receiving this grant means that we can provide more students the opportunity to grow and learn at Westside Catholic, where we celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of our students,” Meier said.
Schnapf explained that partnership with MEO is not one-sided. Schools must match the gifts they receive, she said, and ensure they uphold high standards and continue enhancing education for all students.
Gries said MEO’s many benefactors are true partners and believe in the nonprofit’s mission.
Schnapf said none of this would be possible without the “dedicated educators and generous donors who work and give tirelessly for each and every one of our students.”
“When administration and teachers make a genuine effort to meet the needs of diverse learners and seek partnership with MEO for resources, our work is truly powerful,” she said. “I am beyond proud of those who go above and beyond to change the culture and be more inclusive of all children.”