Monroe County Catholic schools welcome new, returning students - Catholic Courier

Monroe County Catholic schools welcome new, returning students

This week thousands of students began the new school year at 11 diocesan Catholic schools and two brand-new junior-high schools in Monroe County. Enrollments have surged at many diocesan schools due to the closing of 13 Monroe County Catholic schools last June. School officials said they worked hard throughout the summer to find ways to make new and returning students alike feel like old friends when the school year began.

Christ the King

Apparently it’s safe to say the first day of school went smoothly at Christ the King School in Irondequoit.

"We are having a blast here today," Principal Colleen D’Hondt said. "I’ve been into every classroom and the teachers are very happy."

Approximately 120 students displaced by the closing of 13 Monroe County Catholic schools last June enrolled at Christ the King, where their classmates welcomed them into the school community during a Sept. 3 prayer service. This school year’s theme is F.R.O.G.G.I.E. — or Fully Rely on God’s Grace In Everything — so existing Christ the King students stood near the altar and handed ceramic frogs to their new classmates as they were introduced to the school community, D’Hondt said.

The school’s staff worked hard during the summer to find ways to be inclusive of all. During the prayer service, the entire student body as well as all faculty and staff members wore purple shirts that read, "Christ the King — Positively Proud."

"We have a sense of community, of school spirit, right off the bat," D’Hondt said.

Mother of Sorrows

At Mother of Sorrows School in Greece, a big jump in enrollment was accompanied by a big opening-week event.

On the evening of Sept. 2, some 600 participants attended a picnic and party on school grounds that served as a kickoff to the 2008-09 school year that was due to begin Thursday, Sept. 4.

According to Sam Zalacca, Mother of Sorrows’ principal, many families from Catholic schools that closed this past June — particularly nearby Holy Cross in Charlotte and Catherine McAuley in Greece — took part in the festive gathering.

"It was excellent, excellent, excellent. It helped settle a lot of anxiety and initial fear," Zalacca said.

He added that the blending-in process will be gradual not only for the displaced students and families, but also for those returning to Mother of Sorrows.

"Obviously there’s some healing that has to be done, and we know that," he said. "We are forming a whole new school community."

Zalacca said Sept. 3 that enrollment in kindergarten through grade 8 stood at 354 students — well up from last year’s total of 240. Additional staff has been hired to address the increased numbers.

"We have been able to accommodate all the students, and still have some room left in a few grades," Zalacca said.

St. Joseph

Students at St. Joseph School in Penfield started their new school year by planting a "Tree of Life" in some very symbolic soil, said Sister Christina Luczynski, CSSF, principal.

Last June Sister Luczynski sent large plastic bags to each of the 13 closing Catholic schools in Monroe County whose students had indicated they’d be attending St. Joseph in the fall. The bags were returned to St. Joseph with soil from each of those schools — St. John of Rochester in Fairport, St. Margaret Mary in Irondequoit, Holy Cross in Charlotte, Good Shepherd in Henrietta, St. Boniface in Rochester and Holy Trinity in Webster. The Tree of Life was planted in that soil during a prayer service at St. Joseph on Sept. 3.

"It touched the hearts of families. It’s a symbol of a firm foundation and of the friendships and relationships that are going to grow. It’s giving the families a firm foundation," Sister Luczynski said.

St. Joseph took in approximately 112 students from the closed schools, boosting its total enrollment up to 435 with an average of 26 or 27 students in each class. School officials encouraged the students from St. Joseph and the other schools to get to know each other by hosting three play dates during the summer and by pairing new families with families who’ve been involved with the school community for a long time.

St. Lawrence

Pieces of the past are, quite literally, following new students to Greece’s St. Lawrence School.

According to Joseph Holleran, principal, soil has been taken from the properties of Catholic schools that closed this past June. This dirt will be mixed into the ground at St. Lawrence during a prayer service set to be held near the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4. Holleran said the service will be in keeping with the school’s theme for 2008-09: "One bread, one body, one Lord of all."

Holleran noted that the kindergarten through grade 8 school has 51 new students from 31 families. Most newcomers are formerly connected with St. John the Evangelist School in Spencerport, located a few miles to St. Lawrence’s southwest. Holleran said many new families have visited St. Lawrence in advance of its opening day on Thursday, Sept. 4.

"You can tell there’s a little anxiety. But we pride ourselves on our hospitality; we always have," he said. "I don’t think we can do enough for the new families coming on board. If there’s a little hesitation, a little bitterness, it’s our responsibility to take care of that."

St. Louis

New and returning students and faculty alike saw plenty of familiar faces on the first day of school at St. Louis School in Pittsford.

The school welcomed 12 former Good Shepherd students and 16 former St. John of Rochester students into its fold, bringing its preschool through sixth-grade enrollment up to 401, said Principal Kathleen Carroll. Two former teachers from each school — and one from Corpus Christi School in Rochester — also joined St. Louis’ staff, she said.

Carroll said she and her staff worked very hard during the summer to make sure no one would feel like a stranger in the St. Louis School community. They paired new school families with longtime school families, and those pairs held several play dates and picnics throughout the summer.

"One of the parents said to me this morning, ‘Those play dates really helped because we feel that we’re not walking into a strange place,’" Carroll said Sept. 3.

St. Pius Tenth

On Sept. 3, St. Pius Tenth School in Chili opened its doors to 375 students, 165 of them brand new to the school.

"I haven’t had a day this smooth in years," Principal Stephen Oberst told the Catholic Courier shortly before dismissal time that day. "It went very well in spite of the large influx of students that we had."

Sixty of those new students were new to the Catholic-school system, either because they’d attended public schools in the past or because they were just starting school as preschoolers or kindergartners. These students’ families may have chosen St. Pius because of the school’s strong marketing campaign last year, the lack of other Catholic schools in the area or the new reduced tuition, Oberst said.

The remaining 105 new students came from several of the Monroe County Catholic schools that recently closed, Oberst said. The majority had previously attended St. John the Evangelist School in Spencerport and Good Shepherd, but several had attended Rochester’s St. Boniface, Holy Family and St. Monica schools.

Seton Catholic

"It was a wonderful first day. There’s nothing better than a child’s smile on the first day of school," Marty Swenson, principal at Seton Catholic School in Brighton, said Sept. 3.

This year Seton Catholic welcomed 13 children who were displaced by the closing of Good Shepherd, St. Boniface, St. John the Evangelist, St. John of Rochester and Corpus Christi schools. Those 13 were quickly welcomed into the school community by the other 438 students in preschool through sixth grade, Swenson said.

"We have students from a large number of districts and communities, as far away as Victor and Honeoye Falls. They all join together here. They welcome each other as a matter of course," he said.

Experienced school families took on families new to the school as "partner families" to help them adjust to the community and to answer any questions they might have, he added.

Aquinas Institute

In more than 100 years of existence, going back to its days as Cathedral High School, Rochester’s Aquinas Institute had never featured a junior-high component. That status changed on Sept. 3, 2008 — and Ted Mancini, for one, was ecstatic.

"It is a very historic day. I get to be a part of history, and it’s great for me," said Mancini, the junior high’s director, as the first day of operation neared its conclusion. "It’s been awesome today, real exciting."

The new junior high is at full capacity, housing a total of 165 seventh- and eighth-graders.

"We have kids coming from so many different places — some from closing schools, some at the end of sixth grade from Catholic schools that stayed open (but don’t have junior-high grades), and some from public school," Mancini said. "It’s a real melting pot."

He added that the junior high’s planning team didn’t simply rest on Aquinas’ strong reputation as a high school.

"The vision was really very focused on creating the best possible experience we could," Mancini said. "We went the extra mile. … Aquinas has taken great pride in doing this the right way."

Bishop Kearney

It also was a historic day at Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School, which also opened a junior-high school Sept. 3, when seventh- and eighth-graders came to the school for half a day to meet their teachers and classmates and find their classrooms.

"The kids were all excited. It was so smooth and … they just seemed to be in a good flow," said Lori Pringle-Garratt, public-relations coordinator.

The new school hit the ground running, with a total enrollment of more than 170 seventh- and eighth-grade students. There are 120 in the seventh grade, with several more currently on a waiting list, she said. School officials are excited to have more than 50 students in the new eighth grade, she added.

"That was really surprising to us to have as many as we do in eighth grade. When you’re (already) in junior high, it’s hard to make a switch mid-stream to go to a whole new junior high," Pringle-Garratt said.

Approximately one-third of the junior-high’s students came from the recently closed diocesan schools in Monroe County, and the other two-thirds came from other Catholic schools and from area public-school districts, she said.

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