By Maureen Smith
Almost 4,000 students flooded hallways once again at the 13 Catholic schools across the diocese during the second week of August. Many schools are embracing the theme of “joy” in one way or another thanks to the work of the Office of Education, Pope Francis and Bishop Joseph Kopacz.
The bishop distributed copies of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” or the Joy of the Gospel, to department heads at the chancery and has included discussions about it in regular meetings.
“We have quarterly sessions at each school focused on Catholic identity at our schools. This year, thanks to the leadership of the bishop, we decided to focus on Evangelii Gaudium in those sessions,” explained Catherine Cook, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese.
The diocese saw increases in enrollment at several schools, including a 25-student jump in Southaven, while other schools added facilities to make room for new students and programs. Here is a look at improvements, additions and expansions across the diocese:
Thanks to five years of steady increases in enrollment, Columbus Annunciation opened the doors to a new middle school building housing classrooms, a new computer lab and offices to be used for tutoring and speech therapy.
“Having this new, large space dedicated solely to our middle school students will allow us to better accommodate their specific educational and social needs,” said Annunciation principal Joni House.
Natchez Cathedral School dedicated a new middle school building Friday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. The facility was the second of a three-phase capital campaign for the school.
“Most of our time this summer has revolved around the new middle school building, so I think everyone is just excited to see that finally done and ready to go,” said Pat Sanguinetti, principal for the high school. The new building has eight classrooms and a science lab. The school has seen enough enrollment increases this year to create a waiting list. “That speaks highly of our school and the staff,” added Sanguinetti. Air conditioning is being added to the gym at Holly Springs Holy Family. “We just thank God, Sacred Heart Southern Missions, our families, our sponsors, and members of the community who rallied around us to get this done,” said Clara Isom, principal. This will also allow the school to host gatherings earlier in the year. Previously, the administration had to wait until cooler weather to hold family meetings for the whole school.
A second improvement at Holy Family is the addition of two Promethian boards so now every classroom has one. Promethean boards are interactive boards that allow teachers and students to access the internet, participate in online learning and group quizzes and more. Finally, seventh and eighth graders will have art classes at Holy Family this year.
Madison St. Anthony added a science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics lab (STREAM) inside an existing art lab. The school also welcomes new principal Julie Bordelon for the year.
Clarksdale St. Elizabeth offered a summer camp this year. Principal Jeannie Roberts said parents were thrilled. The days were themed and parents could use the camp when they needed it without having to make a season-long commitment. Students in grades three to six will add a typing skills lesson to their weekly routine this year and the school will continue the mother’s morning out program started last year.
Sister Margaret Sue Broker, OSF, takes on a new role at Southaven Sacred Heart, becoming the religious education director for the elementary school. Sister Broker has been connected to Sacred Heart for 50 years. The school also added Brother Clay Diaz, SCJ, as middle school religion teacher and transitional coach for new students and families. “One thing I really like about our school is that we represent 15 nationalities here,” said Bridget Martin, principal. “Brother Diaz is a native of Puerto Rico so he speaks Spanish fluently. He also speaks sign language and we have some hearing impaired parents so he can help us bridge communication gaps with those families. He is a great asset,” added Martin.
Madison St. Joseph added a science, technology, engineering and mathematics lab (STEM) utilizing new laptop computers, is building new seating for the baseball field and got new seating for the gymnasium.
Greenville St. Joseph has added Chromebook research stations to its STREAM curriculum. The tablets are part of “an effort to build a student-based community problem solving / critical thinking component into our STREAM classes,” said Paul Artman, principal. He added that the school is testing an initiative to give each student a dedicated tablet.
At Meridian St. Patrick work crews spent the summer transforming the old hardwired lab into a third-grade classroom and creating a mobile computer lab utilizing Chromebooks that can work in any classroom environment so it can go where the students are.
The iPad tablets are on the move at Jackson St. Richard where a cart with 20 of the devices was added so students can participate in group activities using them. Volunteer Angie Hembree spent the summer organizing a STREAM lab at St. Richard for pre-k through sixth grade students.
The St. Aloysius Student Writing Center at Vicksburg Catholic is a new resource of the English Department dedicated to supporting both students and faculty members in the pursuit of writing across the curriculum and the use of writing to develop critical thinking skills. Students in grades seven through 12 may access the center before school starts every day, where trained student partners will assist them with any writing assignment from any class.
The Writing Center will be staffed initially by senior English students who received training this summer from Dr. Alice Myatt, Associate Director of the Center for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi.
(Editor’s note: see related Back to School material on pages 8,9 and 15.)