Catholic Educators Gather in Chicago
Most Rockford Diocese Schools Send Representatives to NCEA
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
May 16, 2019
ROCKFORD—Most all of the Catholic schools in the Rockford Diocese attended one, two or all three days of the NCEA conference in Chicago, says Vito DeFrisco, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Assessment and School Recognition for the diocese.
It was the 23rd NCEA conference for DeFrisco, who also is serving as interim superintendent at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock. His diocesan coworkers Michael Kagan and Elizabeth Heitkamp also were among the 9,000 attendees from around the country. 
Additionally, DeFrisco served as a presenter, part of a panel that shared information about an international partnership that has provided educational and medical expertise from the Midwest to the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka in Nigeria. Other panel members from Chicago were Carol Fendt, Ph.D., Gilbert Ezeugwu, Matthew Okwor, Brenna O’Hearn, Kathleen Johnson and Conelius Obe.
The program was initiated in 2007 when Bishop Emanuel Okobo and Cardinal Francis George, OMI, united to assist in the creation of a system for the Catholic schools of Bishop Okobo’s Nigerian diocese.
Although the archdiocese did not provide funding, DeFrisco explains they supported the effort by giving employees time to share educational expertise, providing facilitators for leadership training and planning for systemic improvements at Nsukka diocesan schools.
The effort included 17 Nsukka parishes, one hospital and one university, DeFrisco says. He traveled to Nigeria in 2010 and 2011 and was able to share some of his experiences and impressions of the challenges and hopes for the Diocese of Nsukka at the NCEA session.
Although the turnout for his last-day, after-lunch session was small, DeFrisco said the panel “energized” him and “allowed us to recommit” to the Nsukka partnership, which is no longer supported by the Chicago Archdiocese. 
Regular visits to Nigeria have been supplemented by frequent use of online conferencing to provide staff training and help in the development of a Catholic Education Office in Nsukka. 
The partnership has led to the development of a model school in Nsukka, development and support for health care, promotion of entrepreneurial learning, and development of a Montessori approach to education in Nsukka. It has broadened “understanding of self and others on both sides, and information, communication and technology development in Nsukka,” says the NCEA program.
“My Nsukka experience has allowed me to grow spiritually, professionally and personally,” DeFrisco says. “It has helped me become a better educator by understanding and experiencing a greater “global” picture. My worldview has changed.”
The people of Nsukka, he adds, “gave us an understanding of life that I will never forget. In life, it is not just the material things you own. It is the positive relationships you hold dear to your heart.
“I will never forget my rich experiences, and I hope to return to Nsukka someday and maintain my friendship with my friends from halfway around the world.”