“I need to know that everything I’m asking those students to do is going to tie back into what [my students] are supposed to learn… I need to bring in, why would God want me to learn this? How does this fit into my bigger picture of me as a person, and as a student.” – Lynn Cuffari

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full podcast episode here or using the player below.

Michael Arnold: I have with me today Lynn Cuffari, who’s been committed to faith-based education for nearly 30 years. When we decided to launch a podcast here for the Curriculum Trak community, I decided we have to get Lynn in to talk about her heart for Christian education, how she got into Christian education, and what she’s doing now. And ultimately, I just want them to hear your heart, and the things that excite you about faith-based education. So welcome, Lynn.

Lynn Cuffari: Thank you. Honored and humbled to be here.

Michael Arnold: I wanted to begin with a little bit of background, the early parts of your story. You came to education through a journalism degree. Tell us a little bit about that and how you got drawn into education.

Lynn Cuffari: Yes, I have and still have a passion for writing, for reporting, mostly just because I love to talk to people and hear their stories. And so I worked in journalism and in public affairs, in the private sector and then after I married my husband and started moving around with him in the Air Force, I was able to bring my work in newspapers to working in public affairs for the Air Force.

When we were stationed over in Naples, Italy, Framingham State College out of Massachusetts brought its Master’s degree program in education to the NATO base. At that time we had a little one, and I knew that I wanted to be a hundred percent involved in his education while still being able to pursue my career, so I earned my Master’s while we were in Italy. And then we moved to El Paso, Texas; after that my husband went from Air Force to federal government service, and I started to apply for schools.

I was picked up by an Episcopal school in El Paso, mostly because of my background in journalism and desktop publishing, and they needed a computer teacher. So that’s how I started in education. I’ve always believed that God has led me on a path to wherever my jobs are, so I was thrilled to get that position.

After I worked for a while in technology, I had an opportunity when we once again moved, I was able to bring my experience as a computer teacher to a Catholic school there in the diocese of Tucson. And the diocese is really where I have spent most of my time over the past 25 years.

I always loved technology—and of course started out in technology when you could boot up a computer and then go make a cup of coffee and then come back, and then start working on the program. That’s how slow things were. But I also realized it would be wonderful to take my passion and my energy and my expertise in writing, and use technology to work with students in writing and English and language arts. I worked as a language arts teacher for several years and then earned my certification to become an administrator.

Up until the past two and a half years, I was the principal at Saint Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, loved every minute of it. And that’s where I was introduced or introduced myself to curriculum mapping, which is what we’ll be talking about, I know, through this podcast.

Just because my husband is who my husband is, he accepted a position in Washington, DC a couple of years ago, so we live part-time in Virginia and maintain our home and family and our roots in Arizona. I have to say that I am one of those people who say they’re going to retire, but never do. And last year, while we were living in Virginia, I was able to teach, virtually, language arts, to students, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students for the diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

And what a great experience that is, especially to go from administration back into teaching. You really have to kind of put your money where your mouth is. You’re drawn back to why we do this in the first place. And that’s to try to help our students be successful, no matter what situation they find themselves in. The pandemic really changed our mindset, and yet it didn’t change the mission.

Michael Arnold: I remember having a conversation with you during the pandemic, we met virtually over coffee, and you mentioned curriculum mapping. You said, “Our school’s not mapping this year, because of the pandemic, which makes sense. But I still find that I map my curriculum in some way.”

And so I want to unpack that with you, but let’s go back a little bit. Tell us more about what draws you to faith-based education? I know in one of our conversations we’ve had previously you said you wanted to be with your son. But why Catholic education for your son? Why faith-based education, as opposed to other alternatives?

Lynn Cuffari: It’s interesting that I’ve come to that, because I was a product of public school education. We were living in a rural community when they had to choose between the Catholic school and the public school, and at the time the public schools offered more opportunities for education; the textbooks and the strategies were newer.

That’s changed over time, and our faith-based schools have totally caught up academically. But when it was time for our son to go to school, knowing how important our faith is to our family, and to the community that we’re in, and being able to recognize that the academics and the faith were a beautiful balance in the school, that drew me to faith-based education for our son.

As a teacher, as an administrator, to have the opportunity to work with students and be able to integrate our faith teaching into the academics—I mean, it’s a win-win situation. A lot of people, including myself, were drawn to faith-based education because of parent involvement, community involvement, a safe environment. If you look at our faith-based schools now, sometimes you have smaller class sizes. You have a little bit more one-on-one instruction with the students, things like that. You have Mass every week or a service every week. You have the opportunity, especially in our Catholic schools, for our students to receive the sacraments while they’re in school.

Whether they understand how fortunate they are to have that foundation while they’re in it, I have over and over and over heard students talk, especially in the high school, just out of the blue they’ll say they don’t want to go to Mass, but then they’ll stop you in the hall and say, would you mind saying a prayer for my uncle who’s sick; it’s just becomes part of their lives. And that continues to drive me as I work in education.

This is an excerpt from the podcast episode “Why Is Curriculum Mapping Important for Faith-Based Schools?” Listen to the whole conversation here