| By Marissa Nichols

Serving Students’ Learning Needs in One’s Home Community: Darlene Sanchez, Principal of Most Holy Trinity

Darlene Sanchez’s unwavering commitment to her home community, the Alum Rock area, is a testament to the faith that sustained her through teaching in public schools and which continues to guide her current career as a diocesan principal at Most Holy Trinity School. “I grew up attending mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and going to the public schools here in Alum Rock. You could say that I always knew I wanted to teach in Alum Rock.”

In January, she was notified that her Catholic school received Title IV funding for one such program, the Inclusion Collaborative. This program will provide classroom support to students and training to staff to meet students' varying educational needs. However, her personal belief in Christ’s presence underlies her commitment to seeking out local resources for students with different learning abilities whose families also desire Catholic education. 

“I strongly believe in faith and education,” she told The Valley Catholic, and she expanded on what this means to her, “You're going to experience challenges in life, right? Christ is present, but I feel like he is truly present when communities encounter specific challenges.” On a practical level, providing these services is often a question of funding, which is where Darlene is concentrating her efforts.

A Question of Funding

Financial constraints often impede Catholic schools from offering the comprehensive services as their public counterparts. “A student at a public school would be able to join Resource Specialist Program (RSP) classes throughout the week. But as a Catholic school, we must find funding for every resource we can for our students.” This compelled Darlene to seek Title IV funds to make bringing programs like Inclusion Collaborative to Most Holy Trinity possible.

Most Holy Trinity School already has partnerships with local education entities — the district, county office of education, and San Jose State University — to achieve this goal. “Here at Most Holy Trinity, we welcome all our families that would like a Catholic education for their child, and we are a diverse Catholic community.” Part of that diverse community lies in acknowledging that students all learn differently. 

Collaboration and Transparency

Transparency is critical in collaborating with parents; Darlene insists, “We partner with the family and the school district for the assessments.”  Once a student is identified as a candidate for help, a cascade of resources exists to educate the family, support the child, and involve the community to meet the student’s needs. "We currently have one student who has a speech delay. We have partnered with the Communicate Disorders and Sciences program at San Jose State University. And now the student can receive additional speech services,” Darlene shared.

Pursuing funding may not have been possible without Darlene’s knowledge of the financial resources utilized by public schools. “It is why I continue to look for more and more support: because of that lens that I had from the district where if a student had a need, you simply referred them for what they needed to grow. I am always thinking about the multi-tiered support systems for students that need to exist at a school.”

Just getting started

Receiving the funding to bring the Inclusion Collaborative and creating these partnerships marks the convergence of her time working in public and Catholic schools and her belief in her role as a ministry. Initially shaped by her childhood faith, her mission as an educator continues to transform Darlene spiritually. 

Darlene described the heart of her vocation as "deeply rooted within my faith that we are all created in Christ's image. When we bring our students together, they may notice differences in how each one learns, so we need to remind them of the importance of helping each other in whichever way someone might need.” 

Although Most Holy Trinity is at the beginning of its journey with the Title IV funds it received for the Inclusion Collaborative, Darlene is hopeful for the future of her school. “And when you see the different things that families experience and how much hope they have, when they find a Catholic school and one that can offer their learner education help, I feel like through that experience, it could truly transform everyone’s faith.

Darlene Sanchez currently serves as principal at Most Holy Trinity School. She attends Mass at Most Holy Trinity. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, visiting new places, and hiking along the coast.