SENECA FALLS — Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, the bleachers in the gymnasium at St. Patrick’s School slowly fill up before the clock even hits 7:55. Each of these mornings, more than a dozen parents and grandparents are welcomed to the school, where they have gathered to watch their children spend 15 minutes in song and prayer before beginning the school day.
Through the school’s Morning Program, students in kindergarten through third grade meet in the school’s gym before class three times a week. At the start of the program, one student takes the microphone to lead a prayer, followed by another student who leads those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance.
All of the students sing two songs together during Morning Program, and individual students come up to announce the date and day of the week, the day’s lunch menu and the word of the day. After that the students form a line and approach the microphone one at a time for one of the program’s highlights — the welcoming line.
During the welcoming line, each student has a chance to take the microphone, introduce themselves and welcome any family members that are present. They can also welcome their teachers, the principal and anyone else they know in the gymnasium.
Morning Program serves several purposes, according to first-grade teacher Cathy DeBellis. Bringing all four classes together three times a week helps build a sense of community within the school, she said. The program also helps students get used to speaking in front of an audience on a regular basis, which improves their public-speaking skills, DeBellis said.
The wife of former principal Louis Rizzieri brought Morning Program to St. Patrick’s in January 1994, according to Mary Beall, who teaches junior-high science, math and religion at the school. The couple originally came from South New Berlin, where they had been involved in the program’s formation.
“The main focus was on self-esteem and public speaking and giving the kids confidence in themselves,” said Beall, who taught third grade at the time of the program’s inception at St. Patrick’s.
“It’s an interesting way for them to start the morning,” said Diana Oravec, principal.
The four classes take turns hosting Morning Program. Students from the host class lead the prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and pass around a guestbook for parents and family members to sign. They also form the rhythm committee for the morning’s songs, lending tambourine, bell and triangle accompaniment.
“It’s really a lot of fun. I’ve had parents this year say that they missed it because their child has graduated from Morning Program,” DeBellis said. Several parents have even asked if they can keep coming to the program even though they no longer have children in it, she added.
Carol Goodall tries to attend each Morning Program to watch her son, Noah, who is in kindergarten.
“It kind of starts my day right, and he wants me to come,” Goodall said. “I think it gives them a good start to their day, and they enjoy it. They get excited.”
Fellow parent Missy Jones also attends Morning Program as often as she can to watch her son, Jake, who is also in kindergarten. It’s important for her to be there to support her son and the other children, she said.
“I think it means a lot to the kids to have their family here. I think it builds their self-confidence because they get up and greet their families,” Jones said.
Jones said her daughter, Rachel, who is now in fourth grade, was very shy when she was younger. As a kindergartner, Rachel didn’t get up the nerve to welcome her mother during Morning Program until the very last day. When she did, however, all the other students and teachers applauded her.
The next year Rachel occasionally was bold enough to welcome her mother, and by the time she was in third grade, she got up every day and confidently took the microphone, Jones said.
Morning Program has helped several students overcome their shyness, DeBellis said.
“It’s amazing to watch them grow,” she added.
First-grader Henry John’s mother, Doreen, and grandmother, Pat, attend Morning Program every chance they get.
“It’s a good confidence builder,” John said. “We try to come every time to show support for the children. I think it makes them feel like a bigger family in school.”
In late January or early February, that family will feel even larger, as the school’s preschoolers will then start participating in Morning Program, DeBellis said.