Catholic Spotlight Interview: Dr. Patricia Sisca Pace -- The Correlation Between Faith and Academic Excellence

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As a mom of a university sophomore who successfully navigated the waters of the college application process, and a high school junior who will be engaged in the process for the next year, I can appreciate all too well the stress our young students face these days when anticipating and planning for their futures. Gone are the days of one or two college apps and a single try at the SAT. They’ve been replaced by the Common App, students applying to dozens of institutions, and kids making monthly appointments to retake standardized tests in search of a few more points on their scores. I know too many teens who choose how they spend their time primarily motivated by how the activity will look to college admissions professionals. I’ve witnessed too many “meltdowns” brought on by the stress of the process.

So when I came across the work of Dr. Patricia Sisca Pace and her educational seminars that combine learning with faith, I was intrigued. I’m very grateful to Dr. Pace for participating in the following interview. Whether your children are five or fifteen, I know you’ll find her comments to be helpful and enlightening. Be sure to visit Dr. Pace at http://drpaceseminars.com/ for more information on her seminars and other resources.

Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your family to our readers.

I think the most interesting aspect of my family is our surname “Pace,” which means peace in Italian. My father’s name, Pasquale Pace, means Easter Peace; my mother’s, Assunta Pace, means Assumption Peace; and mine, Patricia Pace, means Nobel Peace. In a very real way, our family name has informed our lives as we have sought the promise of Christ’s peace for ourselves and others. For me, Christ helped me understand how to bring peace into a field where little peace resides—standardized tests. In fact, the image in my logo symbolizes personal best performance emerging from the outstretched arm of Christ’s cross.

My doctorate is in psychology, from the University of Southern California, and I have a certification in spiritual direction from the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA. In addition to my close association with the Jesuits, I am a Benedictine Oblate and an Associate with the Medical Mission Sisters. As part of my lay vocation, I live as a semi-cloister, spending two months in prayer each year.

Q: Please tell us about the academic and counseling services you render and how you decided to become involved in these efforts.

For over 30 years I have been offering educational seminars. Most of my programs prepare students for high school or college entrance and scholarship tests. I was always aware that nonacademic factors were getting in the way of students’ learning and test performance, but it wasn’t until my first Ignatian 7-day retreat in 1995 that I realized our Catholic Spiritual Tradition has exactly what learners need to keep them focused and motivated in the classroom and during long and arduous standardized tests. I knew that I had found the pearl of great price that Jesus speaks of and immediately signed up for the spiritual direction certification program at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville. It was during another retreat that the idea of an “SAT retreat” came to me. All the parts fell together with great ease, and I left that retreat with the first draft of the entire program. In it I incorporated the charism of healing from the Medical Mission Sisters, balance from the Benedictines, and discernment from the Jesuits. I initially began offering the SAT Retreat to students in my neighborhood to see how they would react. Even though no one was using Catholic Spiritual Tradition in test-prep, I felt certain that young people would respond favorably. And they did! Within a year, a Catholic high school principal asked me to offer the SAT Retreat to a group of students she was hot-housing. The high school is located in a working class section of Philadelphia and enrolls students from various religious backgrounds. The results were better than anyone could have expected: students who had taken only the SAT Retreat increased on average 165 points, and students who took both the retreat and my academic program increased on average 250 points. One of those students applied to every Ivy League university and was accepted into all of them—that had never before happened in the history of the high school! These results strengthened my conviction that the SAT Retreat helped test-takers perform at their personal best. Perhaps even more promising, the students gave the program excellent evaluations, noting how the graces of the retreat spilled into many areas of their lives, not just the SAT. I asked one girl, who took only the retreat and whose score increase was 460 points, to what she attributed such a large point increase. She responded, “Before the SAT Retreat, I never knew I could do it.” Her experience shined a light on one of what I call “dragons” that plague students, preventing them from performing at their personal best on standardized tests. Her dragon was low-confidence, and the SAT Retreat obviously helped bring her to health and wholeness.

Q: How does your approach differ from other “test prep” services?

I bring God right into the center of my students’ test-taking and learning experiences. That, in a nutshell, is how my programs differ from other programs, which typically ignore anything that hints of God. Some holistic services appeal to a person’s own power to deal with the things that block them. Such programs completely leave out the connection between the person’s power and God’s power. Certainly, some people encourage students to pray before taking a test, which is good. But my spiritual-academic programs go well beyond a prayer before class or before testing by seamlessly interweaving academics with spiritual techniques, leaving no division between the subject being learned and/or tested and God’s rightful place in that subject/test. And my spiritual-academic programs are not heavy-handed. Many students and their parents ask me about the spiritual component before they enroll. They are wary of indoctrination or a lack of academic excellence. People generally believe that a program can be either spiritually excellent or academically excellent, but not both. They are used to having religion locked into a religion course, liturgy, and service projects, but not at the heart of an academic program. Students will exclaim, “What does God have to do with mathematics!” And yet, at the end of my programs, these same students walk away knowing they have just had an excellent academic experience as well as a fuller appreciation of how God fits in a natural way into all the subjects on the test, even mathematics!

My seminars are also unique in that I involve parents. Specifically, for my elementary school seminars—Learning Skills for 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Students and Slaying the Dragons of Standardized Tests, High School Entrance Edition—I ask the parents to attend so that they can reinforce the techniques at home. Perhaps a more important benefit is that the parents come to know their children and the subjects they are learning in a new light, one that shines on the inner genius and its connection to God.

Q: In an age when academic performance is so competitive, why should families consider consulting with a professional to aid their student in preparing for educational pursuits?

If parents want their children to perform at their personal best on tests, it is best they consult a professional who addresses both academic and nonacademic factors.

Regarding academic factors, professionals well-versed in a specific test are able to see the big picture and condense the major components into a few clear concepts. Such a level of expertise takes many years to acquire, as it would in any field; a student, even a bright student, cannot be expected to gain that level of expertise within a short period of time. On the other hand, if the goal is not personal best but rather a small point increase, such as 30 more points on an SAT, some students might be able to achieve that goal through self-study. However, whether through self-study or with outside help, test-takers should become familiar with the test format, timing, and problem types before they take the test.

Regarding nonacademic factors—such as distractions, boredom, fatigue, low self-confidence, nervousness, lack of motivation—my years of experience have shown me that students need quality assistance. From a spiritual perspective, forces are at work that move learners both toward and away from their best, their unique talents, their goodness, God. As a spiritual director, I see the need to teach learners how to recognize and deal with those forces in a healthy and productive way. Moreover, it is important to remember that the whole person takes the test, not just the mind; so, in order to achieve personal best, the whole person—body, emotions, spirit, and mind—must be healthy. It is easy to understand this if you visualize performance as a continuum, ranging from the person’s personal worst to personal best, with an average performance in the center of the continuum. We all have bad days, when nothing seems to go right, and good days, when everything seems to go well—whether the task is running a race, playing the cello, or taking a test. This explains why most score reports show the student’s score within an expected range of scores; that is, if the student took the test again, he/she would be expected to fall somewhere in that range. Preparing the whole person equips the student to deal with the host of dragons that get in the way of scoring at the upper end of his/her range. And that score difference can be very important! For example, a high school senior came to me a few years ago and told me she had been accepted into her first choice college and she was awarded a scholarship. But her SAT scores were a bit low. The school informed her that her scholarship would increase if she could raise her SAT scores. She took my course and then took the test. Her SAT score increased by 70 points, which is about seven questions and within her performance range. For those seven questions, they gave her an additional $20,000 dollars in scholarship! So, to answer your question about professional assistance: Yes, unequivocally! Professional assistance is needed to address the host of dragons that get in the way of personal best.

Q: For those with younger children, what can parents do at an early age to help develop students’ passion for learning?

Instilling wonder and awe for creation and tying that wonder and awe into each subject being taught (and tested!) needs to begin at the earliest possible moment within the child’s consciousness. Such an approach will ward off the dragons that destroy the love of learning and can ultimately thwart talent development.

Parents can instill wonder by helping their children observe the patterns, relationships, connections between all manner of things. Young children need to see how the big picture is connected to the detail: how the forest is connected to the tree, the tree to the leaf, the leaf to the cell, the cell to the quark, the quark to the forest. Likewise, parents need to show how talent is connected to their children’s best dreams of themselves, which is all connected to the Creator of the universe. Parents can surround their children with people who have a love of learning and a reverence for life, with people who see their goodness, the goodness in creation, and the value of each of God’s creatures. Parents can steep their children in nature; awaken their senses by listening to the sounds of nature, detecting its scents, touching its multifold textures, and by playing in nature—run, skip, jump, and discover with your children. Show them how all that they hear, see, touch, and think is connected to math, geography, history, art, music, faith, science, engineering, business, inventing—every field of human endeavor. And why not do all this on retreat grounds? I highly recommend that parents take retreats with their young children so that they grow together in their experience of creation on holy grounds. By doing this they will build a sacred history that their children can always fall back on, remember, and carry forward. In short, nurture body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Together, plant the seed of learning in wonder and awe—in its truest form, in health and wholeness, the way God intends—and watch goodness and talent grow.

Q: Is there a correlation between faith and values formation and educational performance?

As a matter of fact, my contribution to the field of education shows that there is a correlation between faith and educational performance. And if I have been able to demonstrate a correlation between God and standardized tests—a seemingly incongruous pair according to most students!—surely there is a correlation between faith and values formation! In fact, I liken my programs to the Gospel story of the paralyzed man to whom Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven you.” The people present were neither satisfied with nor trusting of that effect. It was only when Jesus told the man to walk—and he did indeed walk!—that they believed. Likewise, people are sometimes skeptical that spiritual-academic programs have a real impact on students by helping them regain their trust, re-order their lives, and practice discernment so that they no longer allow personal dragons to sabotage personal best. But when these same people see their children’s test scores significantly increase, they believe. So, yes, a significant correlation between faith and educational performance does indeed exist! 

Q: What advice do you have for parents as we prepare to begin a new school semester?

Parents can begin the new school semester by asking God every day to deepen their trust: trust in themselves and trust that God is at every moment co-laboring with them to help their children’s talents fulfill God’s dreams for them and for the world.

Q: How can readers who are interested in your programs learn more?

I recommend they visit my website: www.drpaceseminars.com. It provides a lot of information about my programs and products, including point increases and personal testimonies from teachers, principals, parents, and students, as well as articles written in a variety of publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to The Intelligencer. A good place to learn about my spiritual-academic approach is from my book, The Last of the Dragon Slayers: The Ultimate Guides to Personal Best Performance. In it, parents will find excellent ways to nurture the genius within their children, that is, the talents they are bringing into the world. If they want to contact me or order my book, I can be reached at [email protected] or at 215-725-6568.

 

Q: Are there any additional comments you wish to share with our readers?

Thank you for this opportunity to share my spiritual-academic approach to personal best performance! My hope is that parents who read this interview will be inspired to look into and pursue these programs for their children, and all children!

 

 

 

 

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

34 Comments

  1. Thank you for bringing more attention to Dr. Pace and her services. I am a former student who holds her in the highest regards.

    • Thank you, Jen! You remain a beacon of light to me! I remember your efforts with all of our youth group’s social justice projects so many years ago. Thank you for staying in touch!

  2. I have known and worked with Dr. Pace for ten years. As a high school principal I have seen first hand the positive impact the SAT Retreat and Dr. Pace’s seminars have had on my students. I am a major fan and bring Dr. Pace to my school to help the students every chance I get.
    Seeing is believing and I have seen the results first hand. This program works and works beautifully.
    As a principal of a Catholic high school I find these programs of even greater benefit in that I am able to put the process of taking these high stakes tests in the proper perspective and keep our students focused on what truly matters.

    • Thank you, Mary! It is a joy and an honor to work with your students! I am especially grateful for the responses of your freshman class to my Learning Skills program. Your ongoing support of my holistic approach to learning and test-prep has made a world of difference to a lot of students.

  3. My son took this course in August of 2011. It was recommended to me by sister whose daughter had taken the course. This course is directed to students that are in the average to above average range of intelligence. I am proud to say that my son falls with in this range. However, he has had the challenge of dealing with the symptoms of ADHD in his academic life for the past 12 years. Through hard work and determination, my son has had first honors since fourth grade. He ranks in the top 18 percent of his class of 329. Unfortunately, this course did NOT benefit my son because Dr. Pace did not know how to deal with my son’s Adhd challenges. There were times that situations arised that I felt could have been better professionally handled by Dr. Pace. As the old saying goes, there are three sides to every story. “Mine, yours and the truth.” If you choose to pay almost $500 for this course and your child has add or adhd, I do NOT recommend spending the money or the time. In conclusion, I happy to share that my son’s hard work has prevailed because of his faith in himself and God.He has been accepted to two colleges and has received an $8000 scholarship from a very prestigious Catholic University. Thank the Lord!

  4. What a wonderful interview with Dr. Patricia Sisca Pace! As the Director of Counseling Services at a small private Catholic academy where Dr. Pace has been helping our students to prepare for the PSAT/SAT over the last 10 years, I can attest that her programs are invaluable as they focus on strategies for helping all students to achieve their personal best. Standardized tests can be daunting but Dr. Pace gives our students the necessary tools for removing the emotional barriers to successful test-taking. Most SAT prep programs limit themselves to addressing Critical Reading, Math, and Writing Skills. Dr. Pace’s program is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to preparing oneself to “slay the dragons” of standardized testing.

    • Thank you, Lois, for taking the time to submit such a positive response to this interview! My deepest hope is that your endorsement will help expand the reach of these valuable programs. I cannot thank you enough! I very much look forward to returning to work with your wonderful junior class in February.

  5. Our daughter, Olivia enrolled in 2 of Dr. Pace’s courses. I can honestly say that her test scores and her faith in herself has greatly improved. Olivia has ADD and has been able to manage her attention and focus, however, with the help of the techniques that Dr. Pace has taught her, this has improved a tremendous amount. As Olivia is only in 6th grade, I am not sure what path she will pursue; but I do know with the help she has received from Dr. Pace,her decisions will be based in a strong sense of herself and her God given talents. With the help of Dr. Pace, she has increased her test scores, decreased her anxiety which has lead to a happier child and parent! Thank you Dr. Pace!!

    • Mrs. Bozzomo, I am deeply moved by what you wrote. Thank you so much! I loved working with your family, and Olivia has a special place in my prayers of gratitude.

  6. Catherine Owens on

    I really liked what you said about “instilling wonder and awe for creation” needing to begin at the earliest possible age. I still remember how you encouraged me in so many ways from the time I was six!

    • Hi, Cathy! How easy it was to instill wonder and awe in you! And how fortunate I have been to know you throughout your life! Keeping your family and your talents (and their talents) in prayer, dp

  7. Dr. Pace is an unsung hero for those of us who know her. Her teachings have resonated in my life over the last 22 years. SAT instruction was only a small part of how she had influenced my life. And that is what I believe to be an important idea in her works: SAT’s and academics is not all we should focus on, it’s the whole bigger picture of living a good life. She always taught us the importance of balancing mind, body,and spirit. As I had said to the runners I had coached in a previous life, “Be a good person first, then the winning will come.”

    • Hi, Lawrence! I’m not sure who has been the teacher all these years, you or me? Probably went both ways in a very balanced way. Thanks for witnessing to the gift God has granted us in allowing us and our communities to do so much good in the world! I’m hoping some of those students you coached read what you wrote!
      No doubt in my mind, ever, you are the greatest! Embrace your beautiful, little Lauren for me, and give my best to your parents and your brothers. dp

  8. I have taken several courses with Dr. Pace over the years and she is an excellent teacher who cares deeply about her students. Bringing God into taking tests was a great approach that made me appreciate both the value of the test and the importance of keeping the test in perspective.

    • Thank you for what you wrote, Matthew, about how you gained an appreciation for the value of the test! That’s a point lost on so many students, and it is so worth saying!! I miss working with you on the SAT!!! Your love of learning and love of God inspire me. I can only hope you will do the same for many others for years to come! dp

  9. What a wonderful interview. My family and I have known Dr. Pace for years. We are truly blessed to have her in our lives. I have complete faith in the programs Dr. Pace has created. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, I know that she has the best interest of her students in her mind and heart at all times, and that’s what truly makes these programs successful.

    • I appreciate your faith in the programs, John! And I appreciate your trust that I have my students best interest at heart. Thank you for taking the time to comment on the interview. My very best to your family, dp

  10. this course is really for students who are in an academy. those students who are home schooled or in public schools find this course difficult and Dr. Pace does not know how to redirect these students. Her interations with them can be hurtful as they do not respond with the adoration or over indulgence she wants. It is important to be balanced in the feedback here as it is a great deal of money to put out if your child needs a person who is reflective of their reactions and behviors towards non-catholic chilren who are not familiar with her style.

    • I agree with you Gwen. I know first had what you mean by your comments here. Again, there are sides of my story not stated here.

    • Gwen, I am not sure if I’ve had the opportunity to work with any of your children, as I don’t recognize your name, but I’d like to address the points you made. Concerning students from different types of schools–I work with students from every type of school, including public, parochial, academies, private, and some home-schooled.The type of school doesn’t factor into their achievements in my class or on their test scores. For example, last year my highest scoring student on the PSAT attended an archdiocesan school; this year the highest scoring student attends a public school. Both students earned over 300 points in my 25-hour seminar.Your point about faith deserves attention. Students from most major religious traditions attend my programs. In addition, a good number of my students are agnostics and some are atheists. Their belief system doesn’t determine performance; what does matter is their openness to learn and to try. Concerning academic levels–my programs take students where they are and have them assess where they want to be. Then they are given the tools necessary to achieve their goals. A few students don’t see improvement in my class or the first time they take the test. But if they continue to practice, both on academic problems and with the nonacademic techniques they learned, they eventually improve their performance. It’s just a matter of effort and time, and some students need more time, for whatever reason. Your point about money–the current fee for my most expensive program is $445 for 25 hours of class time, plus tutorials before class, and online/phone assistance. When the fees for books and material are subtracted, as well as the donation to the host school, the amount comes to a little over $13 per class hour, not counting the time for extra assistance. Moreover, the maximum class size I admit for this program is 20 to 24 students. Taking all of these factors into consideration, most parents find $445 a fair price and a good investment, given the cost of a college degree and the amount of scholarship money higher test scores often bring. I provide one example of scholarship in my interview with Lisa Hendey. Other examples are available on my website. Concerning your point about adoration and over-indulgence–I prefer words like appreciation, respect, gratitude, goodness, love of learning, enthusiasm, inspiration. No teacher can help every student. I am no exception to that truth. However, my programs do help the greater majority of the students who attend them. Some statistics are available on my website.

  11. Sue Ann Southerland on

    Let me begin by saying that my son is Dr. Pace’s nephew. He attended her Dragon Slayers class several years ago and has consistently requested to attend one of her summer courses ever since. Not sure how many teenage boys would enjoy spending their summer vacation attending an SAT prep class. Having your aunt as a teacher is certainly a mixed opportunity as the expectations for a family member are very high. I’m amazed that my painfully shy son who hails from a very small town in Central Texas is able to blend so well with other students from very different educational backgrounds. Unfortunately, there is not currently any type of SAT prep courses offered where we live in Texas. Certainly, the concept of a class that allows students to be awakened on a spiritual level and challenged on an intellectual level is unheard of in many areas. Parents who seek these types of holistic courses for their children and the students who take them are unique in that they understand how important preparation for standardized testing is to their future success in College placement. I’m lucky in that I’ve had the benefit of experiencing firsthand how my aunt’s expertise in this area molded three of my younger cousins’ College paths. I was a believer in her experience and curriculum long before my son attended her class. From a parental standpoint, the 440 point increase on my son’s last test result speaks volumes about the positive influence a teacher can have on a student who is willing and wants to learn. I can assure you that the only dollar signs my Aunt is aware of is when she hears that a student has scored well enough to attain a scholarship offer. She has devoted her life to focus on this area of learning and testing because she feels students are not given the proper tools to master tests and yet they are expected to do just that.

    • Sue Ann, I appreciate all that you wrote! Thank you for taking the time! I’m just sorry you and your family live so far away. I’ll talk to you soon! My best to your gang, ap

  12. Though I am a senior citizen and did not have the opportunity to attend college, I wanted my grandson to have the holistic experiernce that Doctor Pace has provided in her classroom. He has taken a few of her courses and his test scores have soared. Doctor Pace is unique teacher in today’s secular society. She understands the fears and pressures that teens face and she has designed a program that addresses these issues so that a willing student can learn to love the academic experience. I truly hope my other grandchildren will be able to attend her classes. Keep on Going Doctor Pace.

    • Thank you, Mrs. G! Your presence in class with your grandson was deeply appreciated! Grandparents are such a welcome addition to my programs!

  13. My older two daughters have attended Dr. Pace’s courses. I believe that the most profound thing that sets Dr. Pace apart from other test prep educators, is that she encourages each child to do THEIR best. This doesn’t mean to try to be perfect, or to worry about being THE BEST, rather she encourages the kids to hand over their stress and worries to God, relax and do their best. Be prepared, stay calm and think rationally. She truly centers her courses on God – I can’t think of anyone better to focus on!

  14. I am a former student of Dr. Pace and was one of the first students to experience this type of holistic course. To take this course and to appreciate it and learn from it, you do not need to be an extremely religious person. Dr. Pace’s courses have improved my SAT scores immensely which allowed me to get into my top choice college.

    • Yes, Tina, you were one of the first! And I remember well your rational analysis of my spiritual-academic approach. I respected you then for hanging in with the program and giving it a fair chance, even though it wasn’t your cup of tea. And I respect you now for making a public statement of support! Amazing!

  15. I’ve had the honor of working with Dr. Pace for the past four years and have seen first hand the results of her programs. Student scores rise as they become more confident in themselves and their knowledge. I’m so happy that Dr. Pace is getting this recognition. She is truly an unsung hero of education.

    • Fran, thanks for taking the time to comment on this blog! I appreciate it, as I deeply appreciate all the many ways your assistance has allowed me to go forward in this work.

  16. The following comment comes from Anna Maria, who sent it directly to Lisa Hendey. Anna Maria asked that I place her comment on this blog site because her computer isn’t cooperating. I am very happy to help and thank Anna Maria for her kindness! So, here it is:
    Dr Pace comes across as a humble, loving person who has a deep belief in God and what she is set out to do.
    As a grandmom, I brought my grand daughter Katie, to her educational seminar a few years ago. I also sat in the seminar and was inspired by Dr. Pace’s lecture. Katie participated with enthusiasm for the few short days she attended classes. When it was time for Katie to take her test at high school, she admitted she felt more peaceful. She applied Dr. Pace’s strategies, prayed ,went to bed early without tv, and ate a healthy breakfast. She felt prepared and her scores did increase.
    We are forver grateful to Dr. Pace and her program.

    • Dr. Pace has been working with our students for many years. She has prepared hundreds of students for their SAT’s and has also worked with the faculty and staff giving spiritual retreats. Our students have always appreciated her and have come to realize how important her work is. I would recommend Dr. Pace to everyone! She is a highly intelligent person and extremely spiritual.

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