For The Dialog
‘Real family’ atmosphere pervades at Easton where elementary school and high school are uniting as one
EASTON, Md. – When Alison McDaniel Beyer went to an orientation meeting for parents of Ss. Peter and Paul Elementary School last year, “it was like a reunion for me.”
Beyer and her family had just moved back to her childhood home from Florida, and she had enrolled her son, Mike, for pre-kindergarten at Ss. Peter and Paul.
On Aug. 25, the first day of school at Ss. Peter and Paul, the reunion atmosphere continued. Beyer quickly spotted classmate Jimmy Corson talking with Michele Callahan, who was a year behind them when they attended the same school in the late 1980s-early 1990s. All three have students attending the school.
Nearby Connie Webster, Beyer’s third-grade teacher and mother of classmate Brad Webster, was greeting current students and students past as principal of the Talbot County School.
“I’ve never seen this many parents and grandparents here,” at least for the first day of class, she said.
One reason for that might be the fact that the first day of school marked the 60th anniversary of Ss. Peter and Paul offering a Catholic education to families in Talbot County. Many of its 355 students are children and grandchildren of former students. Five of the 30 teachers also are former students.
That sense of family may explain the pride parents take in the school, evidenced this summer as they transformed the school’s cafetorium, where hot meals are offered and where school assemblies are held, including payer services every Wednesday. David Rath, who became president of Ss. Peter and Paul School in July under a new leadership structure, marveled at the transformation.
He had seen it while being interviewed earlier in the year, before the renovation. “They really made that space a showpiece,” Rath said, with new paint and the school’s name and motto, “Body Mind Spirit,” in large letters on one wall.
New bleachers are now being installed in the gymnasium shared by the elementary and high school. A monthly whole-school Mass is celebrated in the gym.
Part of Rath’s duties will be to transform the image of the elementary school, which opened in 1955, and the high school next door, which started three years later, as being one entity.
“We’re going back to the idea of one school,” he said. He hopes to increase high school enrollment to 250 students; currently it is about 75 students short of that mark. Students include Rath’s 16-year-old twins, Maureen “Dolly” and William, who are sophomores.
Rath is charged with uniting the schools by being the external contact for Ss. Peter and Paul school with the community at large. His work on development and the school’s public image will allow Webster and high school principal James Nemeth to concentrate on the educational programs.
Webster has been part of the school’s history for just more than half of its history, starting her 31st year. After teaching third grade, she became a middle school instructor before becoming principal in 1989.
Her tenure as principal has provided a new stability to the post. “When I became principal, I was my son’s (older son Will’s) sixth principal,” she said.
Besides a strong academic program, Webster encourages the spiritual development of students. “I think spirituality is more important than academics,” she said.
Her association with the school extends back several more years as her two children, Brad and Bill, attended Ss. Peter and Paul. Now, three grandchildren go to Ss. Peter and Paul. When she decided to return to teaching after nine years as a stay-at-home mom, her choice of where to work was easy. “When we moved here I decided this was the place for my children. Then when I went back to teaching I thought this was the place for me.”
Her former students agree.
Callahan, whose daughter Madeline is in first grade, said while the school has grown since she was a student, the school maintains a “close-knit atmosphere.” Madeline is a third-generation student; Callahan’s father, Donald Callahan, also attended Ss. Peter and Paul.
“There’s still some of the same teachers that we had,” she said.
Beyer, whose mother, Ann Schultz, graduated from Ss. Peter and Paul, had an easy decision on what school her son Mike would attend after her family moved to Talbot County from Merritt Island, Fla., two years ago.
“I knew this was where I was going to send him,” she said. “I didn’t even look anywhere else. And Mike loves it.”
Mike began kindergarten this year.
The family ties and deep friendships formed at Ss. Peter and Paul make it a special place, said Corson, whose son Parker is also in first grade and daughter Caroline is in pre-kindergarten.
“The tradition and the values have been constant since I was here till now,” said the 1997 graduate of Ss. Peter and Paul High School. “It is a real family.”