Published January 24, 2008
What is special about your school? Eighteen archdiocesan Catholic schools and six independent Catholic schools in North Georgia answer the question in their own words.
Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell, Archdiocesan High School
Blessed Trinity High School introduced a house/family system in the school last fall. Principal Frank Moore and faculty and student representatives visited Trinity Catholic High School in Louisville, Ky., which has been using the system for seven years. It divides the school into eight houses of about 105-110 students each, freshmen through seniors. Students stay in the same house for their full four years. Each house is led by a faculty house director and five faculty/staff mentors. Student leadership consists of two senior captains and one junior, sophomore and freshman class leader, elected by their peers. These 40 students form the student government. Each house is divided into five families of 20-22 students across all grade levels and they meet weekly for 20 minutes with their family mentor. These meetings are the heart of the system, with older and younger students interacting and discussing topics of common interest. “This system turns the large school/grade-level community into smaller family-centered communities,” said Moore, “with students gaining a deeper sense of belonging and ownership of the school. Students are encouraged through this system to support their fellow students in their athletic, artistic, academic and service endeavors. Students who come to BT as the only one or one of a very small group from an eighth-grade program will immediately be able to connect with a family group they see on a regular basis.”
Christ the King School, Atlanta. Archdiocesan Elementary School
On Oct. 2, 2007, Christ the King School, the oldest operating Catholic school in the archdiocese, received the good news that the school had been designated a 2007 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, one of the most revered education awards in the country. This was the school’s second time to receive this recognition from the U.S. Department of Education. The school has three sections for each grade K-6 and two sections each in seventh and eighth grades. CKS is the only school within the archdiocese to have a pre-first class, offering families the opportunity to give their children “a gift of time” before moving to first grade.
The faculty continues the outstanding tradition of academic excellence, begun by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, the first educators to “Light the Way” at the school. Their hospitality and trust in God’s providence continues through the faculty as well as through the Parent Volunteer Association, who assures that everyone is welcome and feels part of the family. This wonderful organization invites parents to become active members of the Spiritual Life Committee to care for the spiritual and physical needs of the community. They also enlist the help of fifth- and sixth-grade students and their families to become Guardian Angels for new families. During the summer months, host families meet with new community members to help them acclimate to their new city and school, while the “guardian angels” assist their little charges during the beginning weeks of school. Christ the King School is a community based on school, family, faith and outstanding service.
Holy Redeemer School, Alpharetta, Archdiocesan Elementary School
Holy Redeemer middle school operates on a block schedule. Foreign language is a core subject for middle school students and, upon graduation, students have had the opportunity to fulfill the first-year high school foreign language requirement.
Holy Redeemer’s present student body is 100 percent Catholic and is supported by the Spiritual Life program, which consists of over 100 parent volunteers who assist with service projects, school and family events, prayer and liturgies, retreats and family support.
Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta, Independent Catholic School
Holy Spirit Preparatory School is unique in the area of academics in that it affords its students the availability of course offerings through Holy Spirit College, which is accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education. Several courses at Holy Spirit Prep are designated as college courses, designed to provide students with an academic experience similar to that encountered in a college or university. These courses may also prepare students for the appropriate Advanced Placement test, which offers students the opportunity to earn college credits via examination. Holy Spirit Prep offers two course levels to students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades (college preparatory and honors); three course levels to students in 10th grade (college preparatory, honors and college level); and four course levels to students in 11th and 12th grades (college preparatory, honors, college level and courses administered by Holy Spirit College).
We are truly blessed to be able to offer students a developmentally appropriate and academic program on three separate campuses where unique educational, faith and character formation opportunities abound. Our preschool classes, located on the Northside Drive campus, are staffed by specialized preschool teachers, with a student:teacher ratio of 6:1. Interactions with the Lower Schools as well as assigning preschoolers “buddies” on the Lower School campus allows for a seamless transition to the Long Island campus for kindergarten through sixth grade. Once in the fifth grade, students begin their transition back to the Northside Drive campus where the Upper School is located. In conjunction with Holy Spirit College, the program offers each student the opportunity to spend 16 years at Holy Spirit in four distinct programs.
Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Atlanta, Archdiocesan Elementary School
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” For the past seven years, the seventh-grade students of Immaculate Heart of Mary School have discovered just that. These students volunteer their time at Margaret Harris High School, an Atlanta-area public school that serves the needs of students with severe and profound intellectual and physical disabilities. The program, which runs under the guidance of middle school coordinator Haydee Vader and religion coordinator Carmen Graciaa, sends six to eight seventh-graders to Margaret Harris each week to assist these handicapped students in the classroom. The students at Margaret Harris thoroughly enjoy the interaction with the IHM students, and the IHM students learn valuable lessons in compassion, empathy and patience. Seventh-grader Frances Harrison remarked, “Going to Margaret Harris makes me feel good that I am helping out the people that need it most. I have never experienced anything like this before. … To be able to do something like this is a great feeling.”
Marist School, Atlanta, Independent Catholic School
The Foundations Program is a Marist community-within-a-community that supports seventh- and eighth-graders at a critical time in their development. Marist has created five houses, each guided by men and women on the faculty who teach seventh and eighth grade. Seventh- and eighth-graders are mixed in the houses. Homerooms are organized by gender. Each eighth-grader is assigned a seventh-grader of the same gender to mentor. House leaders have daily contact with the students for two years. Houses are in friendly competition, earning points for service projects and games. The program addresses two very basic needs: the need to feel a sense of significance and belonging and the need to have fun.
More than 25 percent of the Marist faculty participates in a peer coaching program in which a colleague observes and offers two compliments and two suggestions to a teacher. The goal is to improve classroom instruction, foster collegiality and inspire collaboration between teachers of different disciplines.
Marist’s advanced placement art history class has been recognized by the National College Board as the best class for any school its size.
The Marist spirituality is extended to lay people in the Marist community through a movement called The Marist Way. Five hallmarks of Mary’s life are encouraged: humility, inclusion, hospitality, mercy and service.
Monsignor Donovan Catholic High School, Athens, Independent Catholic School
Since opening its doors in 2003, Monsignor Donovan Catholic High School in Athens has sought to make stewardship a central aspect of its mission. Students at Donovan participate in a wide variety of service activities, reaching out to their local community and growing in appreciation of their own gifts. As part of their theology class, seniors travel to a local elementary school once a week to read to kindergarten students. Donovan students work on a regular basis with the Athens Area homeless shelter and organize clothing and food drives during the year to benefit the Oasis Católico Santa Rafaela, a mission to the local Hispanic community. Students kick off the year by participating in the Memorial Service for the Unborn on Jan. 22. These and other programs are coordinated by faculty sponsors and bring together teachers and students to work toward the common goal of serving the local community.
Notre Dame Academy, Duluth, Independent Catholic School
Notre Dame Academy is a candidate school in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme with many unique curriculum offerings.
The NDA Service Learning Program matches students with 12 local nonprofits to perform service projects for various societal needs.
Daily physical education is provided to optimize student fitness. Art, music, Spanish and computer science are taught in a hands-on learning environment, including the use of Smart Board classrooms, a foreign language lab, science lab and computer lab.
Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fairburn, Archdiocesan High School
Our Lady of Mercy offers three elective classes in theology that underscore the school’s pursuit of current issues in the context of the Catholic faith. They are Social Justice, Theology of the Body/Bioethics and Campus Ministry.
Social Justice explores the many issues faced by people around the world as they relate to human dignity and the treatment of persons. The class looks at issues such as immigration, poverty, stewardship of the earth, capital punishment, human trafficking, war and others. Students explore causes and contributing factors as well as possible movements toward solutions. Theology of the Body/Bioethics looks at issues related to human sexuality and its related subject. Using Pope John Paul II’s’ “Theology of the Body” as the platform, the class explores the church’s position toward a proper understanding of human sexuality, marriage, fertility issues, contraception, stem cell research, parenthood and other related topics. The Campus Ministry course is designed to teach the basic elements of youth ministry and service, including the planning and implementing of various school and community activities. Students in this class are responsible for helping in school-sponsored projects such as the Atlanta Youth Walk, pro-life trip to Washington, D.C., and Nicaragua mission trip.
In the life of the school beyond academics, Mercy choir directors and faculty members Cynthia and Franck Launay-Fallasse learned Taizé singing in France, a form of Christian music with repetitive simplicity and melodies designed to reach the heart. Through their guidance, the school formed the Taizé choir five years ago. The Taizé choir has sung at a number of events in the archdiocese, including at the Chrism Mass in 2004.
The Taizé community in France, which began in the 1940s, is a towering symbol of ecumenical welcoming and the spiritual discipline of simplicity. The students of Our Lady of Mercy have given Atlantans a taste of Taizé with their melodious message.
Our Lady of the Assumption School, Atlanta, Archdiocesan Elementary School
One true testament of an outstanding school is when alumni enroll their children in the school they attended. Another good indicator is when its students return to teach there. Our Lady of the Assumption School is blessed to have several alumni teachers. When asked “what brought you back to OLA to teach?” their responses emphasize the importance of faith and community.
Spanish teacher Thais (Edwards) Diaz, class of 1982, said, “I wanted to be part of a community that values Catholicism. I had such a memorable experience at OLA as a child that I could not imagine teaching anywhere else. … I enjoy teaching every day because I get to experience the nurturing and caring environment of OLA.”
Betsy (Seggerson) Howting, class of 1982, works in Student Support Services, and said, “Returning to OLA as a teacher is like coming home. After working in the public schools for 12 years, I am realizing what I missed—the community spirit that makes OLA so special. … The school has modernized a lot since I was here—state of the art computers, smart boards, acoustic sound systems in the classrooms, foreign language and new buildings, but the high academic standards and the warm OLA family spirit remain the same. I know I’m back where I belong.”
Pre-K teacher Caitlin Kelly, class of 1999, is also helping coach the eighth-grade girls basketball team. Mary Anne (Waddell) Sutter, class of 1978, is a part-time teaching assistant in the first grade while her 4-year-old daughter is in the Pre-K program. “It is wonderful watching my daughter grow up with all the same traditions I grew up with that still impact my life to this day,” she said.
Ali (Artime) Barton, class of 1999, teaches fifth grade and says she can relate well to the students “since I have walked in their shoes. I understand what they’re going through.”
“I chose to come back to OLA School because I like feeling comfortable in my work place; and what could be more comfortable and reassuring than working in a school I love? “
Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone, Archdiocesan Elementary School
Our Lady of Victory School in Tyrone is pleased to have a culturally diverse population of families and a strong academic curriculum. We offer many after school sports programs, including soccer, volleyball, basketball and track. We have weekly Masses and prayer buddies for our younger students. We offer many service and academic opportunities, such as our participation in the National Beta Club, the National Junior Honors Society and the Science Olympiad competitions.
Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, Independent Catholic School
Pinecrest Academy considers a complete education to include four pillars: academic, human (character), spiritual, and apostolic or service. Pinecrest strives to balance equally the emphasis that is placed in each area, or pillar. This philosophy of education is called “Integral Formation.” It is the process developed by the Legionaries of Christ to educate the whole child.
Recently, a unique day came about from a desire to reinforce to our students how much value the school places on service: service to each other and service to those less fortunate. To model this virtue, the academic team, under the guidance and direction of Principal John Tarpley, gave a day of academic time to let teachers, parents, and students go into the community and serve where there was a need. It was named “Apostolic Blitz Day” as there were teams of students going in nine different directions to “blitz” the community. Teachers, parents and students worked side-by-side. As the day coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, there was much excitement and celebration to accompany the workers on their way. “Apostolic Blitz Day 2007” was such a success that it will be remembered as the first of a long tradition.
Queen of Angels School, Roswell, Archdiocesan Elementary School
Queen of Angels Catholic School embraces its mission to provide a Christ-centered community with a challenging curriculum in a nurturing environment for all students.
Three standout events embodied our theme this year: Faith on Wheels, the Power of $1, and the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
Faith on Wheels, created by eighth-grade religion teacher Mary Beth Smith, is a multicultural initiative promoting an understanding of different religions. Students from the Epstein School, Sister Clare Muhammad School and Queen of Angels have been immersed in a rare opportunity to learn hands on about the traditions and beliefs of the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic faiths in a project funded by the National Catholic Educational Association.
On first Fridays, the school participates in the Power of $1, whose proceeds go to CURE Childhood Cancer and the St. Jude’s Research Hospital. This year our school community was hit hard by the realities of childhood cancer, as two of our students are undergoing treatment. Students bring in $1 and the school contributes $1 for every piece of pizza sold during lunch. We have raised over $2,000.
Last October our school was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Dr. Kathryn Wood, principal, stated, “(This) is one of the most prestigious awards in education. It takes a tremendous amount of work by the faculty, staff, students and parent community to continuously improve every facet of our education. The Blue Ribbon is an extraordinary recognition of all of the efforts.”
St. Catherine of Siena School, Kennesaw, Archdiocesan Elementary School
One unique aspect of St. Catherine of Siena School is a focus on developing the virtues. A virtue education program for kindergarten through eighth grade, developed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, is integrated into regular classroom instruction by all teachers.
The school is also committed to giving back to the community. As an example, before Christmas, several of Lorraine Dannehold’s first-grade students signed a contract with their parents to do extra chores to raise money to buy phone cards for the military unit that student Robbie Reilly’s dad, Col. Patrick Reilly, serves in. We raised $275, which was matched by classmate Megan Turpin’s grandparents for a total of $550. This money was used to buy 175 seven-minute phone cards, which Robbie’s dad will give out to soldiers in his unit serving in the Middle East.
St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, Archdiocesan Elementary School
We are blessed to have some extraordinary people on the St. John the Evangelist School faculty. Our principal, Karen Vogtner, was named one of 12 distinguished principals in the United States by the National Catholic Educational Association last year. We knew how special she was all along! Another outstanding member of our faculty is Dr. Jeanne Rast, who holds a Ph.D. in math and teaches science and math lab classes to pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students, as well as in-services for teachers at St. John and at other schools. She received the NCEA’s distinguished teacher award and has been invited to present at national conventions of math educators. A more recent addition to the faculty, Deacon Dick Tolcher, was hired last year to be the middle school athletic director. A deacon at St. Philip Benizi Parish in Jonesboro, he soon became involved in many more aspects of school life. He took on the training of altar servers for school liturgies and helped coordinate student service projects. This year he has planned an ongoing series of service projects, ranging from raising money for the “Nothing but Nets” program (to buy mosquito nets for people in African countries) to collecting coats, gloves, hats and scarves for residents of a homeless shelter. We are so grateful that the Holy Spirit brought these amazing people to St. John the Evangelist to share their gifts with us.
St. John Neumann Regional School, Lilburn, Archdiocesan Elementary School
St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School is dedicated to giving the students a very good educational foundation that will help them meet life’s challenges. Its greatest academic quality is the early intervention program that addresses the academic weaknesses of students in kindergarten through second grades. The success of the academic coaching program based on the Orton-Gillingham reading program and the Title I program is proven each year with the standardized test scores at those grade levels.
The Buddy Program, which pairs an eighth-grader with a kindergarten student, has gone beyond the walls of the school. The eighth-graders truly bond with their little buddies as is shown in the interaction of the buddies outside of school hours.
St. Joseph School, Athens, Archdiocesan Elementary School
St. Joseph School in Athens is proud to be educating the next generation of Catholic leaders. We offer a rigorous, well-rounded curriculum by a highly qualified, experienced and collegial staff. We are proud of the community of positive, caring students who respect and value each other. St. Joseph’s offers many choices in extracurricular activities, including sports, performing arts and academic clubs.
St. Joseph School, Marietta, Archdiocesan Elementary School
St. Joseph School in Marietta is a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence with over 470 students in grades K-8. In the top 10 percent in the nation, our school interweaves high academic achievement with character building based upon our Catholic principles.
A cornerstone of the curriculum is service to others. Students perform extra charitable works for our community during Catholic Schools Week by making rosary beads and cards for children in Honduras, making sandwiches for the MUST shelter ministry, and collecting art supplies for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. One of the school’s favorite service projects is raising money for The Lighthouse Family Retreat, an organization that sponsors a week at the beach for the families of children with cancer. Throughout the school year each grade chooses a service project to raise money for The Lighthouse Family Retreat. Whether it is holding a pumpkin-carving contest or selling Valentine’s Day candy-grams or a running a mall of homemade student wares, our children are learning that service to others is a part of their daily life.
St. Jude the Apostle School, Atlanta, Archdiocesan Elementary School
St. Jude celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. This year our teachers are experiencing an in-depth study on brain research. We have partnered with Sucheta Kamath of Cerebral Matters to study and implement a program she developed to improve executive functioning skills for school-aged children. By the end of May, Sucheta will have presented 13 teacher-training sessions. The program is curriculum-based. Our goal is for students to be better prepared as learners in school and at home. Another vital element is for parents to understand the goal, what we are doing in the classroom and what you should expect from your child, and how to execute the program at home.
In a first for Georgia, 80 St. Jude middle school students embraced the impossible as they performed “under the big top” in the school gym through the Circus of the Kids’ two-week residency program. The program promotes teamwork, self-esteem, endurance, self-discipline and courage. All students had a chance to participate in circus activities—juggling, tightrope walking, ball balancing and more.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that teacher Sandy Kiphart read about Matt Hobby, a high school football player fighting cancer, inspired the Prayer Wall, now in its third year. She thought it would be wonderful if her fourth-grade students could reach out to Matt, as well as others with prayer and encouragement. Matt’s name was first, but gradually other names followed. The students decided to form groups. Every week they make cards for their assigned person, which are sent with a letter from the fourth-grade teachers. The fourth-graders gather each Friday afternoon to pray one rosary decade for all whose names appear on the wall. Last school year, over 1,200 cards were sent, and the students received letters of thanks from all over the country!
St. Mary School, Rome, Archdiocesan Elementary School
In December, parents and friends of St. Mary’s School in Rome gathered for the fourth grade’s first Young Author’s Tea. The students were filled with the anticipation of reading their best original stories. Adding to the ambience were Christmas decorations, twinkling lights, and the aroma of hot, spiced tea and sweet treats. Fourth-grade teachers Liz Green and Amy Massey encouraged the young writers to choose their best work from their portfolios. Each student had completed several types of writing, including personal narratives, expository writing, biographies, poems and fiction. After choosing their favorites, they practiced reading the selections aloud to classmates. At the Young Author’s Tea, the audience was entertained with a range of stories. Each student’s performance received a huge round of applause, and proud smiles lit up the faces of parents, teachers and students. The fourth-grade teachers see many benefits. Students learned about each genre of writing and the attributes that make it unique and applied that knowledge. Each sample went through the entire writing process—drafting, revising, editing and publishing. By choosing their own presentations, students were given the opportunity to feel a real sense of ownership and pride. Finally, this experience provided the students with practice in public speaking, while allowing parents to share a priceless moment with their young author.
St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur, Archdiocesan Elementary School
Academically, our science program is exceptionally strong. We have been participating in the Science Olympiad with our middle school students for several years and this year have added our fourth- and fifth-grade students. Our students regularly win ribbons at the regional science fair where they compete against all public and private schools in DeKalb and Rockdale counties. Three years ago one of our students won first place in her division at the regional and then went on to compete at the state level, where she won first place in the junior division and second place overall.
Our extracurricular activities include “Girls on the Run” for third- to fifth-grade girls and “Girls on Track” for middle school girls, a national program that seeks to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. We have seven teams registered for the Catholic metro Atlanta basketball league this year where last year our eighth-grade girls were runners-up for the championship and our eighth-grade boys won the championship. We have a growing music program that includes a hand chimes choir that practices after school and plays for our weekly Masses.
St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, Archdiocesan High School
Apron strings—this is what makes the St. Pius X High School experience stand out in our minds. St. Pius X is a mother to teachers both in its own community and throughout the archdiocese. Year after year, students return to their alma mater to give back to the community that formed them. Since 2000, St. Pius X has had 20 alums return to campus to teach, coach, counsel and manage, and many others have gone to other schools in the archdiocese to share their talents. The sense of family that binds this community together is seen in the legacies that have passed through the school. Families have sent as many as 13 children (the de Golian family) through our halls, and sometimes even the parents return to teach and lead future generations in the SPX family. It is that sense of connectedness, of community, of family, that binds St. Pius to its alums for life.
St. Thomas More School, Decatur, Archdiocesan Elementary School
St. Thomas More School is a vibrant and harmonious mix of traditions, artistic expression and cultures. Even though our last teaching Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur left in 2000, STM’s energetic, dedicated and fun-loving faculty and staff carry on the mission of the Sisters: to educate students for life, both present and eternal. This mission is reflected in every aspect of K-8 school life, from the special relationship between our eighth-graders and their beloved kindergarten buddies, to the way in which the cultures of our students (16 in all!) are celebrated in the curriculum as well as during special school performances, where the music and the set design are created by the students.
A distinctive feature of the middle school (6th-8th grades) program is Encore, a time set aside four days a week for students to take exploratory courses such as band, chorus, specific media art classes, origami, typing, digital photography, robotics, sports, creative writing, culinary arts, object oriented programming, and math and language arts enrichment, to name a few. These experiences, in conjunction with our firm educational foundation and an emphasis on self-regulation and organizational skills, uniquely prepare St. Thomas More students for success in high school, college, and life.
The Solidarity School, Atlanta, Independent Catholic School
The academic mission of The Solidarity School is to provide its students with an excellent preschool education, in the context of a solid formation in the Catholic faith, and within a culturally sensitive environment. Academically, The Solidarity School fulfills this goal through its incremental English immersion program for preschool through kindergarten students. The curriculum is based on the Core Knowledge, is developmentally appropriate, and allows for students to graduate from kindergarten fluent in oral and written English, knowledgeable of both American and their native cultures, with Catholic tradition and values integrated throughout the school environment. Students transition into both public and private schools and are no longer tracked as ESL (English as a second language) students, affording them opportunities in on-level and accelerated classes. The uniqueness of The Solidarity School has had members from both the public and private sectors visit and observe.
The Solidarity School relies on support, whether financial, logistical or in-kind from many sources, both church-related and secular. Students from independent schools such as Holy Spirit Preparatory, Pinecrest, Holy Innocents, and Lovett provide opportunities that enhance the curricular program, including field trips to Cagle’s Dairy Farm and the Atlanta Aquarium, celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a monthly virtue program, field day, literacy workshops, and summer camps (to name a few). Solidarity students are the beneficiaries and look forward to the days when they will interact with the countless number of student volunteers who visit their school.