Wearing neatly pressed uniforms and carrying brightly colored backpacks filled with fresh notebooks, pens, pencils, students in the Diocese’s seven high school and 31 elementary schools stepped back into the classroom, ready and eager to begin the 2016-2017 academic year.
According to school officials, the nearly 17,000 students returning to the classroom this year can look forward to a year that promises to be one filled with new exciting and new learning experiences in their studies through enhanced and updated technology programs and courses, participating in engaging science projects, developing skills through the language arts and learning about the beauty and richness of their Catholic faith in a Christ-centered environment.
In Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Maple Shade, academic and technological enhancements highlight the new year with the expansion of the STEM program to include STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math). The school has developed a strong musical theater, instrumental music (choral, band and strings) and visual arts program over the past three years. For students in grades five through eight, additional electives are being offered to include introduction to biology and advanced biology, culinary skills, coding, a capella, creative writing, debate, visual arts and introduction to STEM and advanced STREAM.
“We are looking forward to expanding our academic and co-curricular programs to meet the ever growing curiosity of our students,” principal Carl Jankowski said. “We are very excited to continue growing our school-wide STREAM programs while continuing to serve our community by living our mission statement, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help enable students to celebrate their God-given talents by serving others in the Spirit of Christ and growing as lifelong learners.”
Jankowski was also pleased to note that the school faculty and staff includes four OLPH alumni: Jennifer Ugolick Bove, second grade; Kelly Merget, first grade; Joanne Di Nunzio, school music teacher and music minister for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, and Deanna Marz, school nurse.
“Returning to OLPH as an alum(na) to teach feels like a homecoming,” exclaimed Ugolick Bove, noting that her previous experience includes teaching in the Moorestown Township public school system for about seven years.
Ugolick Bove, who has also served as a catechist in her parish, Sacred Heart, Riverton, finds the opportunity to teach second graders in their sacramental year to be an “honor and offers boundless blessings.” She said she looks forward to sharing her “passion and enthusiasm for learning and showing the children how to use their God-given talents for his purpose and to spark within them the friendship with Jesus.”
“It is our responsibility as educators to show children the way to follow Christ and, more importantly, fall in love with their faith!” she said.
Merget, who is also a graduate of Holy Cross Academy, Delran, said that OLPH School and Parish “are like a home to me.”
Now a teacher, Merget said she looks forward to “another wonderful-fun-filled school year.”
“I hope I make a positive difference in the students that I see every day just like the teachers did for me when I was an Our Lady of Perpetual Help student!”
Integrating education, faith
“Oh my gosh! How are you?” a parent at St. Dominic School, Brick, said to another as the school’s song played over speakers and children squealed with laughter, hugging each other and the school’s Blue Jay mascot standing outside on the balloon-lined walkway.
Dozens of parents reunited with familiar faces Sept. 6 as they saw their children back to school, taking photos and adjusting backpacks.
“The academics are great – the families are great,” Scott Steiner said after he and his wife walked their third-grade twin girls to the school’s front door. “I graduated from here in 1986. I loved the experience and wanted my kids to have that, too.”
Jolie Lombino also praised the academics, saying the curriculum is one reason she wanted her daughter, Madalena, to attend the school. Madalena, however, had other things on her mind as she watched the big blue mascot take her fellow classmates under its wing for photos.
“I’m excited for new friends and new teachers,” the seventh-grader said, smiling.
Principal Carol Bathmann noted her anticipation for continued growth in the school’s STREAM program.
“We are very excited to begin a new school year here at St. Dominic School and enhance our STREAM program,” she said. “Our students will be given many opportunities during the school year to gather and evaluate evidence, use critical thinking skills, incorporate engineering concepts, and use a variety of technological resources.”
Central to each of those components, she said, is faith.
“Of course, our Catholic faith is essential to STREAM,” Bathmann noted. “As with all disciplines, Church teachings and Gospel values will be seamlessly integrated throughout the STREAM program."
‘New this and new that in Mercerville’
East State Street was bustling Sept. 6 as cars and buses carrying Our Lady of Sorrows School students pulled into the parking lot. On hand to make sure everyone entered the premises safely, longtime crossing guard James Fulmore smiled and had a friendly hello as he spotted familiar faces on the first day of school.
“I love it here,” he said, “everyone is so friendly, the kids and their parents.”
Cheerful greetings such as “Welcome back!” “You look sharp” and “It’s great to see you!” came from principal Donald Constantino as he welcomed the students heading into the building.
Constantino told of how busy it has been with making refurbishments over the past several years -- painting throughout, upgrades to the restrooms, new flooring in the hallways and installing new windows and air conditioning in the classrooms.
Constantino delighted in telling about the new uniforms that the students are sporting this school year. “It was not our decision to introduce new uniforms,” Constantino said, meaning faculty and parents. “It was the students who came to me and asked if they could get new uniforms. They did the research, the came up with the colors and style and here they are! They look great!”
After escorting her fourth grader, Amanda, to her classroom, Lisa Kerr, with her kindergartner, Ashley, in tow, raved about the warm environment and “quality of education” her children receive at OLS.
“It’s like a big family here,” she said.
Physical education teacher Suzanne Albanese who noted how she looks forward to introducing line dancing into this year’s physical education curriculum.
A main reason for teaching dance, she said, is to help with developing social skills and that students will feel comfortable attending school dances, Albanese said.
Noting that her three children all graduated from OLS School, Albanese, who is now in her 10th year with the school, commented on how her “kids received a great education here and now I’m happy to be here as a teacher. It’s true, Our Lady of Sorrows School is a great place to be a kid.”
A Feeling of Family
A quick downfall of heavy rain wasn’t enough to damper spirits Sept. 1 in St. Veronica School, Howell.
“He’s very excited about the first day of school, especially seeing his friends,” Karin Burke said as her seven-year-old son, Navarre, removed his hoodie, shaking off the rain with a smile.
Though her family lives in Brick, she says the academic program at St. Veronica School is worth the drive. “He’s had a very good experience here, and they have excellent education,” she said, watching her second-grade son head off down the hallway.
As principal, Resurrection Sister Cherree Power welcomed students in the foyer, Elia Landino, school PTA president, and Audra Scarlotta, PTA corresponding secretary, walked in, past their daughters who were manning the door as greeters.
“When you walk in, you can feel it’s alive,” said Scarlotta, a 1986 alumna . “It has a heartbeat. It’s like a family.”
Elia Landino agreed, saying she’s heard that sentiment expressed by others as well. “I had one parent tell me, ‘When you walk in, you feel hugged.’”
Landino, also an alumna, stressed the importance of Catholic education and the combining of academics and faith. “Catholic education is important, but most important is faith. Without the faith, you fall.”
Scarlotta’s daughter, Nicolette, is a safety officer this year. Nicolette said she was excited about being back at school, not just to meet new teachers, but also because as a seventh-grader this year, she will get to take part in Living Stations during Lent.
Elia Landino’s daughter, Gia, grinned when asked what excited her about going into sixth grade. “I get my own locker this year.”
Associate Editors Mary Stadnyk and Jennifer Mauro, and Correspondent David Karas contributed to this report.