Students at Franciscan Grade Schools Continue to Excel

Maria Hayes Around the Province

The end of the academic year brought accolades, celebrations and fond farewells for students at parish schools around the Province. From saying goodbye to beloved mentors to anticipating renovated spaces when the school year begins in the fall, children have a lot to be proud of and a lot to which to look forward.

Committed to Success
Throughout the first full year in their new school, the students of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, S.C., grew from 100 students in June 2013 to 160 students when school ended last Friday, June 13. The school’s projected student enrollment for next year is close to 170, with waiting lists for several grades.

In addition to the increase in enrollment, St. Anthony’s was named a National Beta School of Distinction. The national award “speaks highly of (the school’s) commitment to academic rigor and illustrates dedication to preparing students for college and career readiness.” To receive this award, the Jr. Beta club also needed to show a commitment to growth with at least a 10 percent increase in membership.

The students actively volunteered throughout the year, visiting patients in nursing homes, sorting newspapers and socializing with puppies at the Greenville Humane Society. The students also collected non-perishable food for the St. Anthony of Padua Food Pantry. They collected money throughout the year for the Sisters of St. Francis and their mission in Kenya, and raised enough money to sponsor two children in need.

Even while participating in clubs and extracurricular activities, students continue to maintain a high value of excellence. The garden club won two awards at the Greenville Garden Club Flower Show: first place for presentation and second place for education. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) club toured the facilities of several area companies and met with engineers, students and product development teams. St. Anthony’s other enrichment events include National Black History Month programs, the annual Arts and Music Festival, and concerts featuring the Boys Choir and Mixed Choir.

The school year concluded with the sixth grade graduation, held June 12. Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor, celebrated a special Mass for the graduates, four of whom had been at the school for 10 years, from K3 to sixth grade.

Preparing for Changes
In Maryland, St. Francis International School in Silver Spring bid a fond farewell last month to Gerald Hopeck, OFM, who has served as assistant principal since 2011. Pre-k and kindergarten students surprised him with singing and gifts. The whole school honored him at the end of a May 28 Mass with a plaque and statue to be placed in the school as a remembrance of his ministry there.

“Ministering at St. Francis International School has been a life-giving experience that has expanded my view of the world and my understanding of how interconnected we all are,” Gerald said. “It has given me the opportunity to see more than 10 children get baptized by the witness of the teachers and Franciscans.  But most of all I have witnessed countless children and families grow in their faith and love of God and creation.

“It will be hard to leave a place I have called home for four years,” he continued. “But I know the Spirit will continue the work it has allowed to do with me and share it with the new people that will follow. I never thought I would have returned to Catholic education, but I am glad to have been part of creating a new school for the 21st century.”

Gerald got the job through his summer ministry at St. Camillus Parish in 2011. While attending a development meeting, he learned the school needed additional leadership. Because Gerald had prior experience in Catholic education, he was asked to act as interim assistant principal while serving on the search committee. He was hired for the job that July.

One of the school’s crowning achievements this year was earning the rank of the number one “First in Math” school in Maryland and number 24 in the U.S. First in Math is an online math resource for students in grades kindergarten to eight that solidifies basic mathematics skills and helps improve test scores.

“I am proud that we have risen out of debt and that our test scores are moving toward Blue Ribbon Status,” Gerald said. “I am proud that our children have achieved 1st place in Maryland and 19th in the country for First in Math, but most of all, I am proud to have been part of forming a Franciscan family that continues to grow in love, faith and service.”

The school’s building, which has housed 60 years of Catholic education on the St. Camillus campus, has recently experienced some renovations. New entrance doors were installed to create a safer and more climate-controlled atrium in the lobby. The project was paid for through a grant from the Maryland Non-Public Aging School Building Program.

Now the school is asking for donations to update the stage and equipment in the Camilla Room. “Throughout the last 60 years, every generation of students has used the Camilla Room as a cafeteria, an auditorium, a multiple purpose room and, until 1970, a church,” according to a message from the school. “The stage in that room that has served so many is in desperate need of an upgrade. The stage curtains and lighting are 44 years old and the sound system is unreliable.”

Renovations are also taking place at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham, N.C. The library and computer lab are being transformed over the summer to create space for the school’s STEM program. The construction of a place for “innovative thinking” is officially underway, according to the school’s Facebook page, which provides photos.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.