By NANCY CZABALA
NORTH CHARLESTON — Community is “at the heart of all Catholic education, not simply as a concept to be taught, but as a reality to be lived.” This statement, made by Pope John Paul II in New Orleans in 1987, is found at the top of St. John School’s philosophy statement, Verifying the Vision. The school’s main thrust in putting the faith into action comes from teaching the students about community and helping thy neighbor.
A thrift store run by the school and parish was established next door six years. Parishioners and parents wishing to donate goods have made a tremendous effort to stock the store for those in need around the community. The store has helped several families in the area who sustained major losses from fire damage.
Students also get involved with the community through a Prayer Partners program, where classes are paired up with shut-ins from the parish. Children are asked to pray for them, making cards for holidays and on occasion for anniversaries. “Getting the children involved makes them aware of their elders and death, it expresses the continuity of life,” says principal Harriet Condon.
The school gets rolling at 6:30 a.m., when children arrive for the morning care program. Early classes, advanced algebra and French, begin soon after. Students in advanced classes receive high school credit for courses at Bishop England. French and computer classes begin in pre-kindergarten and continue through the eighth-grade. Each class has a computer, and a computer lab is available for student instruction. Brother Ed Bergeron has applied for a grant which will be used in part to network the classrooms with internet access.
Brother Ed, pastoral administrator, Brother Bill Cronin, pastoral administrator, and Brother Tony Quinn, director of religious education and youth, all came from the Congregation of Christian Brothers in New York to help the parish and school, which is without a pastor. Father Ernest Kennedy, sacramental priest, comes in on the weekends to say Mass, occasionally saying Mass during the week for the students. The three brothers, at the parish and school fill-time, can be found throughout the school, helping to tutor students, giving weekly communion service and Stations of the Cross during Lent.
Students broaden their talents in music class. Each year classes perform during Christmas and in the Spring. They put their studies into action learning French carols which they also perform. Spring time also brings the Art Show, where students’ creations are displayed. The Science Fair, Math Counts and essay contests are held throughout the year as well, sparking students creative abilities. Difficult subjects are tackled in essay contests such as in the recent Holocaust Essay Contest sponsored by the Jewish Community Center, in which an eighth-grader at St. John’s won first place.
Classes get involved further with the community in helping with the city clean-up program, serving lunch at the Neighborhood House, collecting food for the food pantry, holding a Math-a-thon to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital and learning about the Diocesan Development Fund, which helps local communities. “In taking part in these programs, students gain an awareness of worldwide charities,” says Condon.
The school received a grant from the Sisters of Charity for an outdoor classroom, which will be completed in three phases over the next few years. Stage one was recently completed due to parent participation and includes recreational equipment, a small outdoor stage, sand box and playhouse.
Parents volunteer daily in the school, reading to students, in the lunch room and on the playground. The Home School Association, made up of parent volunteers, holds fund raisers throughout the year in conjunction with the School Board, including the World’s Finest Chocolate Fund Raiser, where kids sell such things as gift wrap and candy bars, receiving no homework and uniform-free day passes. The St. John’s Women’s Guild gets involved along with the School Board and HSA to put on the Spring Carnival each year, where kids get to play games and eat cotton candy. The parish and school come together at the Carnival for the Taste of St. John’s, where ethnic foods representing the parish and school community are displayed and tasted.
Parents are kept well informed with the Wednesday Communicator packet that goes home with students each week with papers for parents to sign and informational handouts. The students also remain connected with reading sessions between the upper and lower grades during the week. “We strive to maintain a family atmosphere,” says Condon.
The eighth-graders each year have given the school panes for the stained-glass window in the back of the school. The window, which is about half complete, depicts the life of Christ.
Each morning Condon reads the morning prayer over the intercom along with the saint of the day, reminding them, she says, that they are called to the position of a saint, mindful of a recent column by national columnist Father Thomas McSweeney who wrote, “We are meant for sainthood. … It is our destiny.”