An excellent school works to ensure its future

Jadon Guerrara cracks the books at Saint Mary School in Vineland. The photo on page S1 of The Catholic Schools Week Supplement, shows Saint Mary students in church.
Jadon Guerrara cracks the books at Saint Mary School in Vineland. The photo on page S1 of The Catholic Schools Week Supplement, shows Saint Mary students in church.

Marketing, student ambassadors, outreach to the Latino community, new technology. Saint Mary School in Vineland has been working hard to ensure that its day-to-day achievements have a future.

“We need a group of people who are passionate about the mission and vision of the school,” said principal Steve Hogan. “It’s very important to remain positive and to realize that everyone is part of advancement — not just the person in the advancement director’s office. We all work together and need to take ownership of the school’s advancement goals.”

In October 2015, the Healey Education Foundation held its third annual award ceremony, the School Advancement Grants for Excellence (SAGE) in Philadelphia. The foundation works closely with Catholic elementary and high schools, providing grants, coaching, and strategies to help schools help themselves in creating mission-driven and sustainable communities of learning.

The biggest award of the night, the foundation’s $10,000 Founder’s Grant named after Robert T. Healey, went to Saint Mary School. For three years, Saint Mary’s received counsel from the foundation, under its Catholic School Development Program.

Saint Mary’s applied for the Founder’s Grant because of the “exceptional results gained at Saint Mary School by implementing the Healey Education Foundation Methodology,” it said in its application, continuing that the school “is committed to sustaining the future and committed to the ideals and practices taught to us.”

The letter detailed several initiatives the school has undertaken.

A public awareness campaign was started, with teachers being urged to create twice-monthly press releases on news in their classrooms, sent out through traditional or social media. One feature in a local paper alone resulted in 12 inquiries and nine new middle school enrollments.

The school now has student ambassadors, available to assist prospective students and their families at tours and open houses, and bringing their own school perspective to the enrollment committee.

In addition, there is a five-year plan to replace classroom Smartboards with large monitors that interact with iPads and Chromebooks, already in use.

The school board took two calculated risks. The first was to add a second fourth-grade classroom. (In prior years, by not accepting wait-listed students, the school lost the opportunity to register their siblings.) The second calculated risk was to change the age requirement from 3 to 2-and-a-half for the PK3 program.

Collaborating with the Diocese of Camden’s Field Consultant for the Schools Office’s Latino Enrollment Program, Marianela Nuñez, and Notre Dame University’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), Saint Mary’s has expanded its outreach to the surrounding Latino community, translating written documents into Spanish and communicating with prospective families.

Children “can’t get Catholic values anywhere else” but a Catholic school, said Nunez. “We’re making people aware that they are at Saint Mary’s.”

The approach has been effective. The school increased its Latino enrollment from 19 to 29 students.

“Catholic education is not a business; it is a ministry,” the school said in its report to the Healey Foundation. “We (Catholic schools) must open our doors to the Hispanic community and help pave the way for their future in the Catholic Church and the world.”

The new Latino students were part of an overall increase in enrollment of 70 new students this year.

Principal Hogan said the Founder’s Grant “is recognition that we have implemented (the Healey Education Foundation’s) methodology well,” and added that it’s great for “a little school, in the farmlands of South Jersey.”

Hogan added that the majority of the funds would be used to re-model the school’s existing science lab and enhance the implementation of the school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Initiatives.

Father Robert Sinatra, pastor of the nearby Saint Padre Pio Parish, sees classes come once a week to his church’s 8:45 a.m. weekday Mass, and calls the connection between Saint Mary and Saint Padre Pio as a “unified vision — the school is an extension of the parish, and the parish is an extension of the school.”

“Everything Saint Mary’s does is mission-specific, and that mission is the Gospel,” he added. The school motto, “Minds at Work, Hearts with God, Lives of Service,” is “woven into the fabric of the community, for the formation of young hearts, souls, and minds, in how they learn, serve, and pray.”