St. Monica School made staff, students feel like family - Catholic Courier

St. Monica School made staff, students feel like family

ROCHESTER — St. Monica School is more than just a place to learn and a place to work, say many of the school’s students and teachers.

"It feels very much like being part of a family," said second-grade teacher Sue Strowe, who has belonged to the St. Monica family for seven years.

That family will be separated at the end of June, when St. Monica and 12 other diocesan-operated schools in Monroe County close permanently. Yet, students and staff put aside their sorrow on June 11 and instead played games and sporting activities during the school’s field day. They also told the Catholic Courier what the school has meant to them and the community during its long history.

St. Monica School opened in January 1899, shortly after St. Monica Parish was founded, and it has educated generations of Rochester’s children since then. In 1994 it became one of six Catholic schools — collectively known as the WIN schools — in Rochester’s inner city to be supported by the Wegman family.

"It’s very much a neighborhood community school," Strowe said.

It’s the students themselves who make the school such a wonderful place to be, said Karen Hepburn, art teacher at St. Monica and Holy Family School, another WIN school that will close at the end of June.

"You just love the kids. No matter if they’re from the suburbs or the city, kids are kids," Hepburn said.

Parents entrust their children to their teachers’ care and, similarly, the students place complete trust in their teachers at St. Monica, said sixth-grade teacher Lori Atvell.

"This is their haven. They trust you," Atvell said. "If they know you’re there for them, they’ll do anything for you."

She added that many students have home lives that are less than stable, so they look to their teachers for consistency.

"Your job is to be the role model, and you can’t fake them out. These kids are wise beyond their years, and they’re resilient," Atvell said.

Being consistent helped teachers develop a rapport with their students, which made discipline much easier, she said. Students appreciate this consistency, even if they’re not used to it, said sixth-grader Evan Murray, who transferred from Rochester City School 5 in March.

"It’s better here because it’s a better environment. Even though it’s strict, it’s still fun," Evan said.

Atvell and Hepburn both said they chose to teach at St. Monica because they wanted to do something worthwhile and make a difference in students’ lives.

"You do make a difference. You can see it, you can feel it," Atvell said. "I love this place. I love the dynamics of the inner city. To me, this is not a job."

Atvell is not alone in expressing such sentiments. Physical-education teacher Salvatore Rizzo, who planned the field day and spent much of his morning in a dunking booth set up on the lawn, said he turned down a job offer from the Rochester City School District two years ago so he could join the St. Monica family.

"I believe in Catholic education, and when I came in here I felt really comfortable," Rizzo said.

Sixth-grader Amy Do said she feels comfortable at the school, too, so comfortable that she doesn’t mind staying at the school from 6:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. most weekdays.

"I get help with my homework and (the teachers) help me a lot," said Amy, who will be attending the junior-high program at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton next year on a scholarship.

The majority of Amy’s classmates also will be attending Catholic schools next year, Atvell noted. Students from St. Monica have enrolled for the upcoming school year at a number of Catholic schools, including St. Pius Tenth in Chili, Mother of Sorrows and St. Lawrence in Greece, St. John Neumann School on the Rochester-Irondequoit border and Rochester’s Cathedral School at Holy Rosary.

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