Four parishes sponsoring new school in Elsmere
ELSMERE — Kindergartners led a parade of students into All Saints Catholic School Tuesday as some of the parents, gathered for their children’s first day of classes at the new school, sang “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Inside, the students from kindergarten through seventh grade lined the school’s hallway to greet the 84 eighth-graders who will become All Saints’ first graduating class next spring.
Moments earlier, at 8 a.m., principal Diana Thompson cut a ribbon stretched across a sidewalk leading from the school entrance to the parking lot, where students and their parents had gathered for a prayer service. Father Timothy Nolan, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish on whose grounds All Saints is situated, urged the students in his blessing to look upon the saints as role models.
The new school was formed from the merger of Corpus Christi, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Matthew’s schools. Four parishes — St. Catherine, St. Matthew, Corpus Christi, and St. Mary of the Assumption, which had co-sponsored Corpus Christi School — sponsor All Saints, which has 490 students.
Father John Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine, and Father Charles Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption, joined Father Nolan at the opening ceremony.
All Saints is billed as a STEM school, STEM being an acronym formed by the subjects science, technology, engineering and math. STEM “is not a curriculum,” Thompson said. “It’s an approach to education” that “involves a lot of critical-thinking skills and problem-solving for real-life situations.”
Parents seemed as excited as their children over the possibilities for All Saints.
“We are most excited for our children to experience a STEM program within a faith setting,” said Renee Pala, who served on a 12-member Parent Transitional Advisory Group. “To my knowledge, this is a first in the diocese.”
Three of Pala’s four children attend All Saints: Ryan in eighth grade, Marc in fifth and Rachael in third. They previously attended Corpus Christi.
Nadine Dempsey, a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, called the STEM approach very positive.
“I think for a Catholic school to focus on something like that, and to keep it faith-based as well, can only help Catholic education,” said Dempsey, who has two children at All Saints: Samantha in second grade and Zachary in kindergarten. Samantha attended Corpus Christi last year while Zachary attended the pre-school program at St. Mary.
Antoinette Fontana, whose daughter Madelyn is in the third grade, described the school’s opening as emotional. “We’ve always been at St. Matthew’s,” which Madelyn attended last year, said Fontana, “but this is a new journey.”
Tom Riccio stood near the school entrance with a digital camera, hoping to photograph each of his four children — first-grader Juliana, fourth-grader Mark, sixth-grader Joey and eighth-grader Nick — as they officially entered All Saints for classes.
“We’re excited,” Riccio said, “and we’re looking to help out in any way we can to make it successful for many years to come.” He was part of the Parent Transitional Advisory Group.
“A lot of the same traditions we had at St. Matthew’s are being carried on, which is encouraging,” Riccio said. He noted that some of those traditions were common among all three merged schools.
While “there’s going to be bumps in the road” as the new school makes its way toward its own traditions, Riccio is confident any obstacles can be overcome “if we all keep our cool” and remember “it’s all about the kids.”
The STEM approach at All Saints will unfold through a slightly longer school day that will allow several extra class periods during the week for additional emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “The extra period will not be the next chapter in the book,” Thompson said, but a hands-on experience that may be a month-long project or a one-class program.
Third-grade teacher Carol Monaghan, who taught at St. Matthew’s last year, said the extra STEM class periods, combined with Lab Learner science sessions that are hands-on learning experiences, will relate students’ education to their everyday life. Through the specialized instruction, teachers will “point out that science is part of what we do every day, that math is part of what we do every day, and that engineering is just how things work. And every student wants to figure out how things work.”
“Once you designate that as part of your curriculum, it just opens up a little more in-depth study of some things that might not have come up before,” Monaghan said.
One concern Thompson has with the STEM emphasis is that some may think “we’re forgetting about all the core subjects and religion, which is most important in any Catholic school. We still have music, we still have art; the fine arts are here as well.”
Over the summer most of the faculty and staff, along with volunteers, worked to transform the buildings that had housed Corpus Christi School into the new All Saints School. That included preparation of classrooms, determination of basic school functions such as student drop-off and pick-up procedures, development of curriculum plans and renovations as necessary.
All Saints’ computer room now has 28 new PCs instead of Apple computers used last year by Corpus Christi. The older equipment and computers from St. Matthew’s and St. Catherine’s will go into classrooms, each of which will have at least two computers with Internet access.
All Saints will provide a hot lunch program operated by Laura Burbage and Nancy Furlong, who operated a similar program at St. Matthew’s, Thompson said.
School colors will be navy blue and silver, and the mascot is the Crusaders.
Two events in August helped the three previous communities come together as “the All Saints Catholic School family,” Thompson said. A family picnic drew about 300 people, and a retreat was held for eighth-graders.
A comment Thompson overheard at the end of the retreat left her encouraged for the start of the school year. “It was all worthwhile,” she said, “when one of the eighth-graders said, ‘I made a lot of new friends today.’”
Now, with All Saints Catholic School officially open, Thompson believes even more new friendships will blossom.