SILVER SPRING, Md. — A new international school, sponsored by St. Camillus Parish here and St. Mark the Evangelist Church in nearby Hyattsville, has been getting a lot of media attention lately, hailed as an example of Catholic school innovation.
St. Francis International School will open in September, following the merger of St. Camillus School in Silver Spring and St. Mark the Evangelist School in Hyattsville.
“This new school is an example of the innovative educational leadership we have in our Catholic schools,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. She was quoted on the website Private Schools earlier this year.
Private Schools reported that St. Francis International School will offer a new leadership model for Catholic elementary schools with two principals, not one, and teachers serving as department chairs and grade heads. An integrated curriculum, designed by faculty and administration and based on archdiocesan standards, will focus on the skills to help students develop into leaders in a diverse world, including critical thinking, teamwork, ethics, language and technology.
Students Look Ahead
News of the school was most recently reported in the June 10 edition of The Catholic Standard, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. Editor Mark Zimmerman interviewed students, parents and friars associated with the new school. He asked St. Camillus seventh-graders to reflect on the legacy of their old school and the promise of their new school.
Swetha Thomas, a St. Camillus student since kindergarten, whose parents are from India, summed it up best: “We have learned that God is always there for us, and no matter what race we are, we can always stay friends and stick together.”
Michael Johnson, OFM, pastor of St. Camillus, said: “The idea of St. Francis was a dream we came up with together, the two pastors and two principals. We’re very excited about blending the Franciscan charism and the spirit of both schools.”
He was also quoted in The Catholic Standard as saying: “The Franciscan charism includes building bridges and working for peace and justice in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. A big piece of the Franciscan charism is love of creation.” At the new school, students will collect food for the church food pantry, and tend a greenhouse.
The new school, which will be initially located on the St. Camillus campus, will offer a Catholic, standards-based education with a global perspective to reflect both the diverse student population and the need for today’s students to have new skills to become leaders in a diverse world.
Roughly 81 percent of St. Camillus’ 257 students have at least one parent born in another country, totaling nearly 50 countries.
In an earlier interview with Catholic Standard reporter Laura Wright, St. Camillus principal Tobias Harkleroad said, “It’s sad to see the name St. Camillus disappear as its own individual school, but it’s not disappearing with doors that are going to close forever.”
Harkleroad will serve as co-principal of the new St. Francis International School, along with St. Mark principal Matt Russell. The schools held a science fair together this past year, and St. Camillus students attended the mission festival at St. Mark School.
“I am excited about the amount of opportunity that is ahead of us,” said Harkleroad, a graduate of St. Lawrence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, Wis., sponsored by the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph. “One of the things our schools focused on for awhile was struggles. For the last 10 years, we have struggled with things like finances and enrollment. It distracted us from our core mission. Now, many of the distractions are taken care of, and the focus can be on education, faith formation, and the building of community.” Harkleroad has worked in Catholic elementary and high schools in the Archdiocese of Washington for the past six years, according to the Weekly re:Cap newsletter.
School Buries Time Capsule
To pay tribute to their school’s legacy, members of the St. Camillus community buried a time capsule, with mementos including a yearbook, uniforms, photos and assignments.
The principal said one thing they will carry forward with them into their new school is the understanding that comes from the students from almost 50 countries holding hands each day and praying the Our Father together. “The underlying thing that is most important at St. Camillus School, is we are brothers and sisters,” he said.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to this newsletter.