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St. Peter the Apostle School partners with Saint Mark’s High School to provide resources to students

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St. Peter School in New Castle. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

NEW CASTLE — Tucked away in Old New Castle, St. Peter the Apostle Parish and its school have been part of the community since 1906. The school remains a constant, but the way it educates its students continues to evolve.

This year, under the guidance of second-year principal Carlo Testa, St. Peter’s is establishing a partnership with Saint Mark’s High School that will allow the elementary school to take advantage of some of the assets Saint Mark’s has to offer. This includes facilities and talent that will benefit students of all ages.

Testa said the genesis of the partnership is the outdoor classroom that went up at Saint Mark’s this summer. There are plans to put a similar facility at St. Peter the Apostle on a part of the lawn in front of the school. Testa said it would be available to all grade levels and for any subject. He said they plan to put it out front for a few reasons. One is that it will be closer to both the elementary and middle school buildings, and the other is that it will be visible to traffic driving by.

“We want people to see this. This is something that adds to what we offer. Our thought right now is to put this front and center,” Testa said.

No shovels have hit the ground yet, but the principal said he expects it to be done this year. It will be a three-season space that could host other events. A local company has already donated outdoor seating.

Carlo Testa is principal at St. Peter in New Castle.

The outdoor classroom is just one aspect of the partnership between St. Peter’s and Saint Mark’s. Testa and Saint Mark’s principal Tom Fertal spent time discussing ways to share resources, and some ideas emerged.

“They were already building the things that kind of made this possible. We ended up having some conversations,” Testa said.

The result is access to Saint Mark’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) resources; leadership training for St. Peter’s students; use of the ropes leadership course at Saint Mark’s; and perhaps students from Saint Mark’s tutoring at St. Peter’s; and more.

“Their campus ministry offered to facilitate retreat experiences for our middle schoolers,” Testa said.

Fertal said when he was an administrator at the lone Catholic high school in Lancaster County, Pa., relationships with the seven elementary schools were a given, “often adding value to their programs because we, as a high school, tend to have more resources, particularly in terms of space and staff.”

His approach at Saint Mark’s is the same.

“We absolutely want the greater community to benefit as well — with our Catholic elementary schools being first and foremost in that regard,” Fertal said.

Principal Tom Fertal adresses students. Saint Mark’s High School hosted its 50th anniversary opening school liturgy on Sept. 6, 2019. Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

He said the Saint Mark’s staff will be developing general programs for all of the elementary schools, and there will be “custom partnerships” with individual schools. Discussions with other elementary schools is ongoing.

St. Peter the Apostle had 10 eighth-graders last year, and four of them enrolled at Saint Mark’s. Testa said three of them were drawn by the school’s new esports arena. Saint Mark’s has shown interest in the New Castle school, he added. Testa acknowledges that Saint Mark’s will get exposure from the partnership, “ut really the focus on the St. Peter’s end of this is these are innovative opportunities that will be available to all of our middle-school students, whether they go to Saint Mark’s or not. And some of those things — the music, the outdoor classroom — will reach into the elementary grades.”

Testa said this partnership will act as sort of a pilot program for other elementary schools.

“The facilities, going out there to use the ropes course, is great,” he said. “Maybe there’s ways they could work closer with the elementary schools. This could serve hopefully … as a positive example of what we can do when we sort of innovate together.”

He sees the initiative as a way of strengthening the “path” of pre-K through high school Catholic education. Testa added that the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Father Tim Nolan, was very open to the idea. Father Nolan graduated from Saint Mark’s in 1984.

“He saw it as an opportunity to think outside the box, to create something new for our students using the things that Saint Mark’s has available,” Testa said.

Testa said the partnership is just one of the positives at St. Peter’s this year. He happily noted that close to three dozen new families have enrolled their children at the school for 2023-24, most from outside of Catholic education.

“They found something here that they want to connect with. That tells me that what we’re doing her is being well received by the community,” he said.