What makes Immaculate Conception School in Ithaca so special? Let its students count the ways — starting with 6-year-old Stella Frank, who rattled off four good reasons.
"I like the teachers, I like the principal, I like the books and I like field trips," stated Stella, a first-grader.
For Jack Salmon, 11, and Priscilla Ziefle, 8, their social ties at the school rank high.
"There’s not a lot of, like, big classes. So I get to know everybody in my classes, which is nice," said Jack, who is in fifth grade.
"Each year I get to be with the same friends. It’s really easy; everybody’s nice to me," said Priscilla, a third-grader.
"Everybody’s nice and kind. You always have somebody to talk to," added Marcy Marquez, 11, a sixth-grade student.
Richie Kuhar, 10, a fourth-grader, said, "the teachers don’t let you slack off," but also that "they let us have dress-down days and parties." Another big plus for him is being able to openly express his religious beliefs: "You can say ‘Christmas’ in a Catholic school."
Anna Nguyen, 10, a fifth-grader, said being able to learn about and practice her faith is "really important to me. You don’t do that in public schools." Marcy agreed that in a secular-school setting "you just have to keep your religion to yourself," but at Immaculate Conception she can share her Catholic faith with others through such activities as the Living Rosary.
Armed with these affirming commentaries, Immaculate Conception is celebrating its 125th-anniversary year of 2009-10 on a high note. The prekindergarten through grade 6 school, located at 320 W. Buffalo St., is the only Catholic school in Tompkins County. Diana Oravec, fifth-year principal, noted that the school’s 102 students hail not only from Ithaca but also the surrounding communities of Lansing, Groton, Dryden, Trumansburg, Newark Valley, Moravia, Cortland and Watkins Glen — with some students traveling up to 25 miles each way.
"ICS allows us to provide a Christ-centered educational alternative to those families who want one," Oravec said, adding that the school features ethnic as well as geographic diversity: "We share cultures and traditions as we learn from one another. It is not unusual to hear Korean or Spanish being spoken in the hallways as parents say goodbye to their children in the mornings." In fact, the school held an Ethnic Heritage Festival last Oct. 26 with songs, dances, posters, flags and food representing numerous countries.
Another big event during the fall was the Fun Walk on Oct.16, which involved students walking numerous laps around the school and collecting donations through sponsorships. Oravec said some $13,000 was raised — a testament, she noted, to the ongoing support of Immaculate Conception by families, parishioners and community members.
Oravec added that many events throughout 2009-10 are geared toward the 125th anniversary — such as an alumni basketball game and a call for students and parents to each perform 125 service hours, continuing a strong tradition of service that has seen Immaculate Conception assist with food pantries, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Alumni also are being asked to share anecdotes, pictures and newspaper articles with current students by serving as guest speakers during the school year. In addition, each class is working on representing a different decade from the school’s history.
"There are several multigenerational families who have attended ICS. It’s interesting to watch parents and grandparents point out their pictures on the wall in the main hallway to their children and grandchildren. Many students can find their relatives in the graduation pictures," Oravec said.
The school’s roots go back to Sept. 5, 1884, when seven Sisters of St. Joseph from Rochester arrived in Ithaca by train to get the school ready. Immaculate Conception was officially dedicated by Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid three days later.
Though the faces have changed, one constant was observed by Ladeen Case, a first-grade teacher, based on feedback she receives from middle and high schools.
"My personal experience is, I’ve heard over and over again they can tell the kids who came from Immaculate (Conception)," said Case, who’s in her 20th year at the school. "I think the work ethic has a lot to do with it."