Good evening/morning, this weekend we celebrate Catholic Schools across the country. On behalf of the faculty, staff and families of our school, it is my privilege as principal to share with you information about our parish school.
This past week, I observed a Kindergarten classroom. Observing classrooms is a ritual that involves a twenty minute visit to the classroom and completing an observation form. On this day, the students had just returned from the music room, where they were writing their own class song with an artist in residence and our music teacher. They were excited about their newly created hit song, and full of enthusiasm. Once in the classroom, snacks were distributed, and it was time for the students to eat. But then, before anything was eaten, the students all stood up at their seats. Much to my surprise, each student put out one hand to the side. It was an odd pose, and I noticed students helping others assume the correct position. Once they were all correctly posed with their right hand extended, the teacher began, “In the name of the Father, and …” This was followed by all giving thanks to the Lord for their gift of food. As the students began eating, one young man came to me with a bag of chocolate covered Teddy Grams. “Mom packed me a full serving” he exclaimed, “so I have plenty to share with you!” “Would you like some?” I know who I want nominated for Secretary of State …, even if he is only five.
As they ate their snacks, the teacher went from table to table to discuss what students had learned from their homework. Their assignment was to “look up” with their parents help, something interesting about the previous day’s lesson on animals. One student leaned over to me to let me know that a group of bears is known as a “sleuth”. How is it that a five year old knows that, and I didn’t? I forgot about filling in the observation form, and really got into the lesson!
After snack time, the students gathered in front of the teacher to continue their lesson. Today, they were classifying animals as “Migrating”, “Hibernating”, or “Adapting”. Visions of 10th grade biology class entered my head, and it was only when the teacher began to read from a storybook that I remembered that these students were emerging readers. The students listened as the book was read, describing the habits of ground hogs. The teacher asked one student to “tell Dr. Dertinger what we learned yesterday about the tunnels ground hogs make.” The class giggled, and one student shared that groundhog tunnels have a bathroom chamber built in, just like our classroom that has a bathroom. Whether you are 5 or 75, this is good to know!
It was now time for the students to go to P.E. class and learn how to dribble basketballs. My twenty-minute observation was now 40 minutes long, and I completely forgot to fill out the form!
Everything I want to share about Catholic Schools today was demonstrated in this brief encounter with a Kindergarten Class. First and foremost, students integrate a love of Christ into everything they do. Parents and teachers have already instilled a sense of gratitude for what they receive, and the students proudly proclaim their thanks. By the way, I noticed that when the Kindergarten students were leaving the school Mass, as they passed the font on the right side, they found it convenient to use their left hand to bless themselves. The teacher smiled and whispered to me, “We’re working on it!”
Students at Saint Mary’s learn about the wonders of the world, and they succeed academically. Inquiry skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing and arithmetic are all learned and practiced. As we heard last year from Jesse Grapes, Headmaster of Benedictine College Preparatory, our students are well prepared and ready to take on High school challenges when they graduate from us.
Our students develop their creativity. Music, art and other creative endeavors are experienced each day. Writing songs with a professional musician, singing with the Richmond Symphony, exploring the dramatic arts with plays and performances, and expressing themselves with an appreciation for the visual art methods and techniques learned in art class are experiences they will remember for life.
And our students grow while building strong bodies and learning about their health.
As we celebrate the school’s fiftieth anniversary our school is financially strong. Our enrollment reaches near capacity. We have a reputation in the community producing exceptional graduates who are both academically well prepared as well as practicing Gospel values. Our school board, along with some additional stakeholders, is currently engaged in creating a 10 year strategic plan for the school. As they chart the course of the school over the next decade, Fr. Renninger has challenged them to examine each decision with the question “What would Christ want us to do?” Meeting this challenge will surely result in another 50 years of excellence.