School strives for ‘family approach to recruitment’

School strives for ‘family approach to recruitment’

Photo by James A. McBride

assumptionkids-webSister Helene Cooke, principal of Assumption School, Atco, stands with, front row from left, Kristen O’Donnell, Derrick Dolan and Matthew Guerrero, and back row from left, Paige Sacco, Kylie O’Donnell and Michael Lassitere.

Third in an occasional series about successful schools in the Diocese of Camden.

ATCO — In September, Assumption Elementary School here opened its doors to 187 students, although a few years ago the future did not seem so certain.

In the 2008-09 school year, enrollment totaled only 157 students. But that same year the school began a partnership with the Catholic School Development Program (CSDP), a pro bono consulting service to schools in the Diocese of Camden which focuses on enrollment management, development, and communication. It helped Assumption formulate a strategic plan and effectively market the school to parents and their children in Atco, Waterford, Winslow and Marlton.

The school developed a motto (“A Family of Believers is a Family of Achievers), developed registration packets and brochures, and placed advertisements in newspapers and church bulletins, and on road signs.

“The focus was more on letting people know who we are,” said advancement director Tina Kennevan.

Citing the school’s “family approach to recruitment,” the advancement director wants the parents to “feel welcome before they’re (enrolled) here, and make them feel integrated into the school community.”

Marketing and advertising have their place, but what about the educational values of the school?

Kennevan said Assumption has 20 full or part-time teachers; a SMART board in every classroom; a media center; and an emphasis community service and extracurricular activities like band, newspaper and basketball. The students are “well-prepared” for what comes after grade school, she said.

Fundraisers include activities that involve the wider community, such as Coach bingo, golf outings, a fashion show, and the race for education. There is also a father/daughter dance, a Christmas show and the school musical.

The school has a new principal this year, Sister Helene Cooke, IHM. No stranger to the area, she has worked in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and she taught first grade at Holy Rosary School, Cherry Hill from 1979-81. Most recently, she was an interim principal in New York City.

One of the first things Sister Helene set out to do after starting her new job on July 1, she said, was to “pay attention, and listen to the parents, teachers, assistants, priests, and see what the school’s needs are.” She found the community “welcoming and engaging,” and described the students as “bright, and serious about their studies.”

She is excited about new initiatives, one that will strengthen the academic curriculum, and another that will foster a more accepting school atmosphere.

The first is Sister Helene’s goal of “expanding the math experience.”

“The students are strong in writing, reading and communication skills just to name a few,” the principal wrote in the school’s October newsletter to families. “These strengths can be broadened into another subject area— math. The students need to get to know math as relevant in their lives. The students also need to be able to write how they ‘got’ the answer, which shows the thought process. The goal is to enhance the thought process and expand the math brain,” making students “experienced mathematicians ready to face the demands and challenges of the 21st Century.”

Sister Helene also believes in “restorative practices” that help classrooms confront disruptive issues such as bullying. On an as-needed basis, Sister Helene will meet with the class and facilitate an activity and discussion, where both sides can be heard and understood, and a “positive connection is made,” she said. Teachers in grades 3-8 are currently in training, to facilitate these discussions themselves.

Religion class includes learning about Catholic social teaching, with its tenets of the dignity of the human person, the common good, and ecologic responsibility. Students also say the rosary together after school, participate in first Friday Masses at Christ the Redeemer, go on retreats, and are visited from the parish’s priests and deacons.

Christ the Redeemer pastor, Father Thomas Barcellona, is “hands on with the school, a big supporter,” said Kennevan, mentioning that the priest’s support has been “an integral part of our success.”

Father Barcellona knows Assumption is “one family, continuing the tradition established in 1955,” when the school was founded. “We’re small, but mighty,” he said. “Our staff is strong in our faith and teachings.”

Categories: Catholic School News

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