CHARLOTTE — Learning to use a parachute can teach a kindergartener teamwork and cooperation, noted Gary Chatfield, physical education teacher at Holy Cross, an elementary school operated by the Diocese of Rochester on Lake Avenue.
Chatfield doesn’t order the children to don parachutes and jump out of a plane — he encourages them to work together in a circle, using the parachute to make “popcorn.”
“Find your space on the outside of the parachute!” Chatfield invited his students during a recent class. The children gleefully followed his command to make waves in the parachute as he emptied a bucket of multi-colored balls in the middle. The balls “popped” all over the place as Chatfield instructed the kids not to chase any “popcorn” that escaped the parachute’s confines.
Taking a break from class while his student got drinks of water, Chatfield marveled at the renovated gymnasium in which the children were playing.
“Once they got in here that first day, they were like, ‘Wow, what a big difference!'” he said.
What a big difference, indeed, according to Holy Cross parish and school officials, who held a Jan. 2 dedication ceremony at the gym. Father Thomas Wheeland, pastor at Holy Cross Parish, noted that the gym had not been renovated since 1932.
This improvement included installation of new bleachers with padded handrails; a synthetic wood floor with padding underneath; a new stage curtain and a new public-address system.
Father Wheeland noted that the gym was renovated to the tune of $110,000, $70,000 of which came from the parish’s share of contributions to Partners In Faith, the recently completed diocesan-wide capital campaign. Another $33,000 came from the Monroe County Catholic School Capital Improvement budget, with the balance coming from parish funds, Father Wheeland said. The pastor added that a new scoreboard also was donated by parishioners.
School and parish officials said the gym renovation was necessary, in part, because its old tiled floor was becoming dangerous for running.
“Kids fall down all the time,” Chatfield added. “This (new) floor is better for your feet.”
Children’s feet aren’t the only ones enjoying the new gym floor, according to Edward A. DiPonzio, a coach of Catholic Youth Organization basketball at the parish and chairman of its parish life committee. The facility is used for special Masses, school dances and plays, casino nights and other events, DiPonzio said.
In addition to serving parishioners and 280 students, the gym is also used by 160 children who participate in CYO activities, according to William H. Kohlmeier, CYO athletic director at Holy Cross. He added that CYO teams include high school students who belong to the parish.
“This keeps kids in the parish,” Kohlmeier said of CYO. “I think they stay in the parish because of the connections and the friends they make.”
DiPonzio added that CYO coaches from other parishes have been impressed with the gym.
“I’ve personally got a lot of compliments from the other coaches who’ve said, ‘Wow, this is a nice facility to play in,'” DiPonzio said.
He noted that the gym’s new sound system replaced one that was showing signs of age.
“The speakers were 40-years-old,” he said.
A disc jockey who has performed for various Holy Cross dances, DiPonzio noted that the new system has a CD player, so he doesn’t have to haul his own equipment in for events.
Georgianne Menz, the school’s music teacher, also raved about the new sound system, which she said has made it easier to amplify concerts.
“It’s much more effective and loud,” she said.
She noted that the gym also puts Holy Cross on par with other schools in the area.
“I’ve worked in the (Rochester) school district, and this is really a top gym,” she said.
Chatfield noted that the gym’s walls previously were black, and that he preferred the new blue, white and gold paint.
“The previous gym was like a dungeon,” he remarked.
Most important, DiPonzio noted that the enhanced environment has affected the spirits of the parish’s children.
“It’s improved the morale of the kids to have a new facility to play in,” he said.