T H E E VA N G E L I S T
February 3, 2011
YOUNG FAITH CATHOLIC SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT
Glens Falls students develop cultural awareness early on BY ANGELA CAVE STA F F W R I T E R
Thirteen three-year-olds tilted their heads up and watched, wide-eyed, as a red quetzal with green tail feathers and a grayand-white eagle swapped stories and details about their homelands: Central America and North America. The tykes seemed to forget their daycare teacher animated the avian hand-puppets behind a desk — but they did notice their foreign language and cultural arts teacher strumming her guitar and setting the show to music. Minutes later, the kids were singing along and leaping to their feet to dance a Spanish hokey pokey, followed by the “elbow mambo,” showing off their knowledge of the Spanish words for body parts. The Monday sessions at St. Mary’s/St. Alphonsus School in Glens Falls last less than a half hour, but resonate with the children. “When I’m singing with them, they are just alive,” noted LisaRenee Ackermann, the teacher in the foreign language and cultural arts program, a distinctive element of the school. She sees daycare, preKindergarten and elementary students once a week. “The day goes by so fast because they’re all so excited.” The youngest children, she said, absorb new languages quickly: “They don’t see it as another language. They just see it as more things.”
Mrs. Ackermann started the program six years ago after she was hired as the middle school Spanish teacher. “I think it complements the other classes,” said principal Kate Fowler. The cultural program “is about the joy of learning at the littlest age.” Mrs. Ackermann also ties Catholicism into her projects and lessons: for instance, students learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas; and the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday connected to All Saints’ Day. “It lets them realize that other people might think of God in a different way,” Mrs. Ackermann explained. Mrs. Fowler said of the course: “Their first experiences about
THREE-YEAR-OLDS DANCE to Mrs. Ackermann’s music for the “elbow mambo.” (Angela Cave photos) other cultures will be positive. She’s so gifted in the way she’s able to bring that all together.”
In the beginning
The class is the latest innovation in a school with a long history. Catholic schools in Glens Falls date back more than 135 years, starting on the city’s French-speaking west side in 1873 with the Academy of Our Lady, later renamed Ecole St. Alphonse by French nuns. On the east side, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened St. Mary’s Academy in 1883 to serve the Irish and Italian immigrants of St. Mary’s parish. In 1932, the Kindergartenthrough-high-school St. Mary’s Academy moved 1,200 students to the current structure on Warren Street, a three-story, dark gray gothic building designed by Ralph Adams Cram. It features terrazzo floors, a two-story stained glass window depicting the history of Catholic education and an auditorium modeled after Westminster Hall. (Currently, the hall also serves as a worship site for St. Mary’s parish while the church is being renovated.) After St. Mary’s high school program closed in 1989, St. Alphonsus School closed and merged with St. Mary’s. Over the past nine years, the school was renovated using $1.4 million in donations and a $120,000 New York State energy-efficiency grant. A recent $50,000 donation from an alumnus will replace the furniture in the elementary rooms. The school also gives out tens of thousands of dollars in tuition assistance annually. Today, 244 students are enrolled in pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade at St.
Mary’s/St. Alphonsus; about 50 children attend day care. The school is the only one in Warren and Washington Counties accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The school retains 80 and 90 percent of its students. The principal credits the preservation of programs like Mrs. Ackermann’s for that, as well as studio art, theater and music. “Our belief is every child can succeed at something,” Mrs. Fowler said. About 80 percent of students at St. Mary’s/St. Alphonsus are Catholic. All students attend Mass on Fridays — with nonperishable food in tow for the parish food pantry. Last year, the school raised $7,000 in 24 hours for a family displaced by a fire.
Classmates and checkmates BY ANGELA CAVE
STA F F W R I T E R
Some members of the chess club at St. Mary’s/St. Alphonsus School in Glens Falls call the pastime as competitive as a sport; others say it’s relaxing. Either way, the game is a scientifically-proven way to
Mrs. Ackermann guides her students to learn prayers in Spanish and to help others. Students hear from medical missionaries and sponsor families in Guatemala. They also send alphabet books and soccer equipment to children in Namibia. Mrs. Ackermann noted that, when four- and five-year-olds say prayers in other languages, some worry, “Will God know what we’re saying?” Older students are reassured. Maggie Greene, a first-grader, said she prays for her aunt’s safety in snowy Colorado. Maggie and her classmates crafted worry dolls in Mrs. Ackermann’s class last week. “If you, like, worry about something,” Maggie explained, “first you pray and then you talk to someone about it and then you make a worry doll and then you put it under your pillow. My favorite part about [the worry doll] was finishing it so I could play with it.” Sydney Bennefield enjoyed embellishing her new yarn-spun friend. “We got to decorate the hair,” she told The Evangelist, adding that she’ll pray for her 98year-old, sick great-aunt. Mrs. Ackermann has taught guitar, piano and cultural music for 20 years. She lived in Guatemala for a year after deciding to adopt a native boy, now 11. Her goal at St. Mary’s/St. Alphonsus is to get children passionate about learning. “I don’t care what they want to learn, as long as they want to learn,” she declared.
enhance reasoning skills. It helps the group’s first- through eighth-graders think differently than they do in school —- and gives them a chance to be with friends. “You have to really think hard about it,” said Kerrigan Doty, a fifth-grader and a beginner at chess. “You have to think ahead of things.” Still, she said, “It’s a calm game. It’s not too competitive.” Her friend and classmate, Jordan Knapp, has played for two years. “I thought it would be a really good challenge,” Jordan
explained. “And I wanted to find out what that challenge was.” Jordan won a first-place trophy in last year’s school tournament. Lily Duerr, a third-grader, has never missed a session, though her mother says she struggles with the game sometimes. “Chess is hard,” Lily admitted. “You have to remember all the pieces. I like seeing my friends and interacting with other people.” “She feels comfortable here,” said Sheila Duerr, Lily’s mom, adding that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels inspired Lily to learn the game. “I think the older players mentor the younger ones.”
From top, fourth-grader Kyle Vachon ponders his next move, fifth-graders Kerrigan Doty and Deanna Lebel rejoice, third-grader Joshua Defayette strategizes and fifth- and sixth-graders challenge one another across chessboards.
T H E E VA N G E L I S T
April 28, 2011
YOUNG FAITH ‘Enrollment at St. Augustine’s has increased at a rate of 20 percent for the last three years; it’s jumped from 115 students to 214 in a decade.’ CATHOLIC SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT
St. Augustine’s, an example of growth BY ANGELA CAVE
STA F F W R I T E R
At a time when many Catholic schools are struggling, St. Augustine’s School in Troy is growing. The school’s principal, Jim Clement, pointed out that St. Augustine’s has three universal pre-Kindergarten classes, which are free and non-denominational. When young students have a good experience in these, Mr. Clement said, parents are likely to send the children to St. Augustine’s for Kindergarten through grade six, as well. Fundraisers, like the thriceweekly bingo games that bring in about $75,000 a year, help make tuition more affordable for financially-strapped families. St. Augustine’s also has a program through which families can swap uniforms or buy used ones; and the school saves money through decisions like buying surplus computers from New York State offices for its computer labs. Teachers and parents at St. Augustine’s also notice the smaller touches that make the school special: the weekly newsletter and parent-teacher folder; the spring swimming unit at the nearby Boys and Girls Club; the school nurse who texts teachers with a student’s progress. There’s a 20-player marching band for grades three through six — the only one of its kind in the Albany Diocese. There are Kindergarten- through sixthgrade Spanish classes, and a year-round nursery school that stays open on snow days and most school holidays.
Jon Brookins, father of a preKindergartner and a first-grader, says St. Augustine’s is adept at creating a community. “I can’t go anywhere in town without someone saying, ‘There’s Emma,’ or, ‘There’s Cora,’” Mr. Brookins said of the many people who recognize his children. He also recalled running into a third-grade teacher who introduced the Brookins family to her husband and told them how to find her Facebook page. “The teachers teach — but, at the same time, the other teachers go out of their way to encour-
age the kids,” Mr. Brookins said. For example, first-grader Emma knew the teacher described above through an after-care program that keeps her busy with playtime and homework help until 5 p.m. “When they get home, all I really have to do is look over their homework,” Mr. Brookins said, adding that he feels comfortable knowing who watches his kids after the school day ends: “It’s the teachers from school. It’s not some random person.” Emma had started at the school through the universal pre-Kindergarten offering. Last year, that program was responsible for enrolling 20 out of 25 Kindergartners, said Mr. Clement. The pre-K program has been so successful that “we could have another classroom if we wanted to,” the principal added.
Keep on growing
Enrollment at St. Augustine’s has increased at a rate of 20 percent for the last three years; it’s jumped from 115 students to 214 in a decade. When Mr. Clement started as principal 10 years ago, the 110year-old school struggled with enrollment and testing scores. Within three years, each subject area was evaluated and consistent curriculum written. The increasing number of new students seemed to follow. “Word of mouth is our best advertising,” Mr. Clement said — adding that, ironically, the school isn’t on a main street: “People are sometimes surprised when they find us.” Tuition at St. Augustine’s increases about two percent every year. Next year’s bill will be $3,500 for one child and $4,700 for a family. About half of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Forty percent of students hail from Lansingburgh, 40 percent from Troy and 20 percent from Shenendehowa, Berlin, Schaghticoke, Mechanicville, Waterford, Watervliet, Cohoes and other districts. About 70 percent of students are Catholic. “We definitely fill a need in Lansingburgh,” said first-grade teacher Anne Graham, referring to the 2009 closure of Our Lady
of Victory School in Troy, leaving just St. Augustine’s and Sacred Heart School for Catholic school options in the greater city of Troy.
Students attend Mass at nearby St. Augustine’s Church the first Friday of every month, plus religious holidays and extra days during Lent. A chapel is available in the old convent that’s also used for nursery school now. Prayers and intentions are read over the school’s loudspeaker every morning, and monthly prayer services are organized by children. “They get an empathy for what’s happening with families because we can talk about God,” Mr. Clement said. Teachers make it a priority to work God into lessons, said Ann Bartholomew, who’s taught fourth grade at St. Augustine’s for 16 years. “The teachers who are here believe not just in education, but in Catholic education,” she said. For instance, during a history lesson on American Indians, she tells her class about the discrimination the group faced for not
Science in action
being Christian and asks the students how Jesus would react to it. That form of faith education is “just intertwined,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a set religion class.” According to parents like Mr.
Brookins, it shows. “My kids say the dinnertime prayer every night,” even when they’re at someone else’s house, he said. And they always ask questions about God. “That makes me happy because it shows that they care.”
KARLEIGH COMBS AND Byron Bennett float an egg in an experiment (above) while second-grader Tyler Smith dyes one for Easter (right). (Angela Cave photos)
BY ANGELA CAVE
STA F F W R I T E R
Most of the fourth-graders at St. Augustine’s School in Troy had finished recording the results of their science experiment. They sat patiently, waiting to listen to a lesson on buoyancy. But Candace Moon’s group just couldn’t get the egg to float. So the others turned in their chairs, gathered around and stared at the submerged egg as if waiting for it to shoot up to the ceiling. The group added teaspoon after teaspoon of salt to weigh down the water, making sure to stir it, but nothing happened. Finally, the teacher mercifully switched out the egg for one with fewer blemishes. But this led to an important
lesson: Scientists constantly revise their hypotheses. “Unfortunately, I changed the variables — and not on purpose,” admitted Ann Bartholomew, the class’ full-time teacher, causing the kids to giggle. In preparing for the lab, she had boiled some eggs for an extra 50 minutes. “By overcooking it, I’ve done something to the egg,” Mrs. Bartholomew told the class. “That’s why scientists sometimes have to do an experiment over and over again.” The shell of Candace’s original egg was scorched and cracked in spots. Her partner, Emma
Richards, theorized: “It could have affected the insides of the egg, too.” Karleigh Combs, whose egg required 11 teaspoons of salt to float, said that all the experiments her class performs are this interesting. She remembered the time they molded boats out of Play-Doh. “We get to do them with groups,” she said. “They’re actually a lot of fun.” “We get to learn new stuff with experiments,” agreed BJ Bennett. Some lessons even defy the “don’t try this at home” adage, because “we can buy them and do it at home.”
T H E E VA N G E L I S T
November 10, 2011
YOUNG FAITH CATHOLIC SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT
Hiking club finds God in Adirondacks
St. Pius X: Big school, big heart BY ANGELA CAVE STA F F W R I T E R
On a recent Wednesday at St. Pius X School in Loudonville, third-graders dug the seeds out of pumpkins to count them, stopping frequently to wash their hands — and plug their noses. In other classrooms, secondgraders finished letters to elderly and homebound parishioners of St. Pius X Church and eighthgraders studied iPad tablet computers in a cinnamon-scented technology lab lit with snowman lamps and Halloween lights. Eighth-graders Jaclyn Hunziker and Morgan Percy dragged their fingers across the interactive SMART Board on their classroom wall, creating an “Under the Sea” science game on animal trivia, using inspiration from the SpongeBob Square Pants cartoon TV series. The students say the board engages them. “It’s more interactive than a computer,” Jaclyn declared. “Using your fingers is a lot more fun than using the mouse.”
All classrooms in grades three through eight at St. Pius are equipped with SMART Boards; kindergarten through secondgrade classrooms will acquire them by the end of this year. “Do they need that? No. But is it a great adjunct to learning? Yes,” said Theresa Galvin, a parent of three St. Pius students. She said that cutting-edge technology is just one advantage of sending her children to St. Pius, the Albany Diocese’s largest school. The pre-kindergarten-througheighth-grade school built two computer labs in 2000. After
BY ANGELA CAVE
STA F F W R I T E R
laptops, iPads joined the collection this year to offer even more learning opportunities. Students also benefit ABBY LAMOUTTE GIVES his group his pumpkin seed from almost count. Every year, third-graders make hypotheses on two acres of pumpkins’ diameters, weights, seed and line count and athletic fields, ability to float. (Angela Cave photos) three sections of each lower grade, an eclectic mix of after- her children from Clifton Park school activities and a Spanish because of St. Pius’ academic program that begins in kinder- reputation and because the school reinforces values she garten. This year, St. Pius will reevalu- teaches at home. Students take religion class ate its pre-kindergarten program, which is currently offered every day, attend Mass once or in both full-day and half-day for- twice a month and on Holy mats. The newer full-day format Days, participate in eucharistic raised enrollment when it start- adoration weekly and do service ed; but, in Dennis Mullahy’s 13 projects. Model behavior is years as principal, this was the rewarded with prizes. first enrollment decline he’s “The Gospel message is experienced: from 714 students everywhere,” Mr. Mullahy told to 690. The Evangelist. “It’s on every The school distributed a sign in the hallway. It’s a constant record-setting $300,000 in message they hear.” financial aid this year. Tuition is Mrs. Galvin, who has spotted $4,640, with a discount for each teachers folding chairs after additional child enrolled. assemblies and Mr. Mullahy picking up trash, noted: “They’re History, community proud of their school. They take St. Pius X School opened 57 ownership of it.” years ago and gained extra Mr. Mullahy said he would space in 1994 when the parish love to expand St. Pius. Still, he dedicated a parish center. About usually denies the oft-heard 40 percent of students’ families request to add a high school: also attend St. Pius X parish. “The sense of community in “When they get as tall as me, this school is overwhelming,” they have to go.” The principal added: “There’s Mr. Mullahy said. “It doesn’t no doubt that we are blessed to seem that large. I think it’s excitbe where we are and to have ing to have this many kids around. You probably have a few more what we have. If we didn’t have tears than most schools, but you an outstanding faculty and staff, we couldn’t be where we are.” have a lot more laughter.” Mrs. Galvin agreed. She sends
Eighth-graders at work: left, Morgan Percy and Jaclyn Hunziker design a game using a SMART Board; right, Gardenia Lind, Christina Whatley and Kathleen Duprey edit photos on an iPad.
St. Pius X School added a new classroom this fall: the Adirondack Mountains. After a year of preparation, fourth-grade teacher Ryan Lavigne launched a hiking club for students in grades four through eight. About 40 children signed up. They have learned about safety and navigated peaks — often with parents in tow — on Saturday field trips. Mr. Lavigne intends to teach the students how to use proper hiking equipment, read a map, work as a team and spot endangered plants and wild animals — and to be prepared for the unpredictable. Through the club, “they learn a lot about themselves,” Mr. Lavigne added. “Some of them had a lot of reservations at first.” So far, he said, it’s been “awesome. It’s very quickly turned into, ‘Can the parents keep up with the kids?’” Ian Burke, a fifth-grader at St. Pius, has already learned how to follow a trail that lacks markers. “You kind of look for the path that connects where there are no trees in the way,” he explained. Ian wants to learn how to distinguish edible plants from inedible ones in case he camps. He jumped at the chance to join the club; three of his closest friends are also members. “I enjoy walking outside and I just like to see all the beautiful sights at the top of the mountain,” Ian said. His favorite sighting thus far was an old fire tower at the top of Hadley Mountain: “It was kind of shaking when I walked on it,” he said. Ian’s parents are hikers, but
‘It was just a really cool experience to be able to practice your faith outdoors.’ Ryan Lavigne
‘It was kind of funny because there was no organ and it was hard to sing.’ Ian Burke his mother admitted that she often forgets to pack items like bandages, a compass and a whistle. Ian has participated in two outings, one of which took place Oct. 29, when the Northeast was hit with a surprise snowstorm. He wore four layers of clothing and hiking boots and carried hand warmers on that trip to protect against the 33-degree chill and the snow and ice on the ground. The club completed four hikes by Nov. 5 and will continue in January and February with snowshoeing, followed by more hiking in the summer. Students hiked up Prospect Mountain on a Sunday with Rev. James Walsh of the diocesan Vocations Team, who’s in residence at St. Pius parish. Father Walsh celebrated Mass at the summit; the children sat on rocks as pews. “It was just making memories,” Mr. Lavigne said. “It was just a really cool experience to be able to practice your faith outdoors.” Ian agreed: “It was kind of funny because there was no organ and it was hard to sing.” But “it was kind of like we’re appreciating the things that God gave us. It’s a lot more beautiful.”