GENEVA — "This is home," Leah Morrow recently said of St. Francis-St. Stephen School, where she has worked as an administrative assistant for two years.
Coming from most people, that statement might be a bit of an exaggeration. Spoken by Morrow, however, it’s not too far off the mark. St. Francis-St. Stephen School is woven into the fabric of her family’s history.
Morrow’s grandmother, Ellen "Nonnie" Stolp began teaching at St. Stephen School in 1956 and retired in 1989. Stolp’s daughter, Elaine Morrow, joined the faculty in 1971 and taught for 17 years before becoming principal. She retired in June 2012, but not before imparting her love of the school to her daughter.
"I think my mom brought me in two weeks after I was born, and I haven’t left since," said Morrow, 26. "I have worked here on and off since I was about 13."
Morrow spent many of her childhood summers helping the school’s office staff, painting and even waxing the floors. She eventually went on to become a teacher like her mother and grandmother before her, and she worked for the Penn Yan Central School District for two years before layoffs in the fall of 2012 left her looking for a new job. She wasn’t sure what to expect when she took the administrative assistant position at St. Francis-St. Stephen and was pleasantly surprised to find she loved her new job.
"It’s like coming home," she said.
When Morrow started working at the school in 2012 four of her former teachers still worked there. Sandy Schading, Mary Friday and Mary Ann Bender retired last year, but Morrow’s former English language arts teacher, Catherine Caster, still teaches at St. Francis-St. Stephen. Caster, Friday and Bender also taught Kathleen Booth, the school’s secretary and lunch monitor. Booth, who joined St. Francis-St. Stephen’s staff three years ago, said working alongside former teachers gave her a newfound appreciation for their dedication and hard work.
"I guess I did not realize it as a kid, but their hearts and souls are in this, and they honestly and truly care about every kid here," said Booth, who graduated from the school in 1992.
Courier photo by Sam Oldenburg
Kathleen Booth, an alumna of St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, works as the school’s secretary. On March 21, she serves an ice pop to a student during lunch.
That’s one of the reasons Booth and her husband send their children to St. Francis-St. Stephen, where they’re in second and fourth grades. Caster said quite a few alumni later send their children to the school, and she enjoys seeing familiar faces in the classroom.
"It’s great to have the family back in the classroom. It’s exciting when you look and see your former students sitting in front of you in their children," Caster remarked.
It’s also exciting when those former students become coworkers, she added. Kindergarten teacher Deborah Sindoni, a 1979 graduate of St. Stephen School, said the most exciting part about joining her alma mater’s faculty was getting to teach in the her old kindergarten classroom.
"The first couple weeks … I would walk into a classroom and a memory would flash back," Sindoni recalled with a laugh.
Many things about the school have changed since Sindoni was a student. Morrow’s office, for example, was Sindoni’s second-grade classroom. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the school’s focus on the Catholic faith. The school’s faculty and staff always have incorporated faith into everything from academics to discipline, which is why Sindoni and her husband send their own two children to the school.
"I wanted my faith and my children’s faith instilled in them, not just once a week on Sunday or at religious education. The faith I learned and grew to love, I wanted that for them, too," Sindoni said.
The school’s tight-knit yet welcoming community was another attractive feature for the Booth family. Booth said her teachers at St. Francis-St. Stephen taught her to be accepting of everyone, and she definitely wants to instill that same value in her children. Morrow said she remembers always feeling loved and happy at school, where the community felt like a family. That hasn’t changed, she added.
"It’s very family-oriented and everyone is very close," she said. "I loved that as a kid and I still do."Tags: Ontario County News