By NANCY CZABALA
HILTON HEAD — In its fourth year, St. Francis by the Sea School still has a lot of growing to do, and they’re coming together full force to reach their maximum potential.
The start of the school year introduced the third, fourth and fifth grades, who joined the already established pre-kindergarten through second grades. Three classrooms, currently being used for religious classes, await the arrival of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, which will be added over the next three years.
Students at St. Francis by the Sea School Mary Fallon, first year principal at the school, is confident and enthusiastic about the growth. As she looked out her office window at land waiting to be developed, she described it as if it’s already there — the future of the school.
An assisted-living facility will soon neighbor the school, and Fallon hopes to make it a target service project for the students. The kids would read with the residents, do projects with them and make cards and gifts on special occasions.
A nearby hospital and library are also on Fallon’s list of community projects. “Our service ministry will be expanding with the addition of third, fourth and fifth grades,” Fallon said.
The fifth grade is working on an extended project entitled, “From our Window.” The students keep a daily journal on their observations of the growth of the school, so they can track the progress the young school is making.
Bishop David Thompson dedicated a 22,000-square-foot addition that opened this fall. The building houses a media center, computer lab, art room, music room, science lab, cafeteria and administrative offices. The library is across from the main doors of the school, where each morning the students gather before heading to class.
Fallon plans to bring on a librarian next year who will bring the media center up to full speed. “I want us to be a ‘reading school,'” said Fallon. “Everything else — math, science, computer — depends on reading.”
Call Fallon’s voice mail, and, “I’m not at my desk right now, I hope I’m in a class reading to children,” will be your greeting.
“Read to us, we’ll read to you,” she says.
Students become aquainted with computers in their classrooms, where they are used to accommodate different skill levels, as one student may use the computer for reinforcement another may use it for enrichment.
“It’s important that students be able to work in their own scope,” said Fallon. “Every child is gifted by God and it’s our job to help students find that gift.”
Plans are in the works for Spanish instruction, from which the children would learn the language and heritage of the Hispanic culture.
Fifth graders are encouraged to be the leaders of the school, guiding the younger students. They work on projects with the younger students and help with afternoon and morning programs.
Parent are told that an important part of enrolling students is taking an active part in living the faith. A handbook for Catholics is offered to parents as a guide for them to practice the faith as their children learn it everyday at school. Fallon stressed that being a Catholic school is the most important aspect of their mission.
Father Michael McCafferty, pastor, celebrates the liturgy with the students, who are involved in the parish Mass each Friday. “He is a big proponent of Catholic education,” said Fallon. “He’s a real shepherd.” On his own birthday, Father McCafferty treated the kids to pizza and cookies.
This year, rather than having a Christmas program, the school will participate in an Advent program. “We tend to skim over Advent,” said Fallon. “We need to teach about preparing. What Christmas really is.” The program will involve the parents coming to school to stop and remember what the season means.
For Catholic Schools Week, Notre Dame graduates will offer a parenting seminar at the school, and local acting groups will educate children on the lives of saints.
“I want children to be aware of the saints that have gone before us,” said Fallon.
Students were even asked to come dressed as their favorite storybook character or a saint for Halloween, rather than the usual ghosts and goblins.
The Family School Association gears up each year for the school’s annual gala, a parishwide event. The last shindig brought 518 people out for dinner and dancing and raised $50,000, which will be used to furnish the science and computer labs with learning tools.
“We learn something new every day, and it’s OK not to know all the answers or questions,” said Fallon, adding, “Education is a life-long pursuit.”