Atlantic City school has new initiatives, wide support

Outside the new community garden at Atlantic City’s Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School for its recent ribbon-cutting are, from left, Winston Ancheta, master gardener, Rutgers University Cooperative Extension; Joe Rubenstein, professor of anthropology, Stockton University; Page Vaccaro, president, C.R.O.P.S.; Carol Spina, principal, Our Lady Star of the Sea; Richard Dovey, president, ACUA; Brian Jackson, CFO, Stockton University; and Father Jon Thomas, pastor, Parish of Saint Monica, Atlantic City. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

ATLANTIC CITY — On a cold, rainy December morning, looking out at her school’s new community garden, Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School’s principal Carol Spina sees hope, and sunnier days to come.

Not just hope for the garden, and its promised crops of such fruits and vegetables as squash, peppers and kale for students and local residents, but hope and excitement for the future of Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School here.

Father Jon Thomas, pastor of the citywide Parish of Saint Monica, sees it, too. “Since Carol arrived here in August (as principal), there’s a new energy” in the school, he said.

The garden, whose ribbon-cutting was held earlier this month, is just the latest in a revitalization effort and marketing push the school has undertaken in the past few months. Freshly-painted bright blue hallway walls and refurbished classroom rugs and cabinets greet students. Lawn signs are prevalent throughout the city, and two billboards sit near the Black Horse Pike for passing motorists to discover the Catholic school. 

Located at 15 North Carolina Avenue, the school has a long proud history, surviving the resort city’s ups and downs since 1908. It is the only Catholic elementary school on the barrier islands from Brigantine to Longport, and it’s looking to the future with new initiatives.

New classroom offerings this year for students — in some cases taught by local volunteer “celebrities” in Atlantic City such as a judge, doctor and artist — include Creative Writing, Latin, Art, Architecture and even Baking and Cooking. Father Thomas, as well, is planning to teach a future class on Web Design.

“We’re providing a well-rounded education,” Spina says, adding that along with the teacher volunteers, “our generous supporters” from the surrounding community and beyond “want to be a part of the revitalization” of the school. “Our supporters are hitting the pavement, getting the word out,” she added.

For the garden alone, Spina thanked Cookie Till, founder of A Work in Progress; the Atlantic City Police Department; Stockton University; ACUA; Wells Fargo; and Steve and Cookies of Margate for donating their time, expertise and funding.

Our Lady Star of the Sea’s partners also include the Margate library, which has donated 11 desktop computers, and provided access to its E-Library; and Hackett Publishing, which donated over 500 books for a new school library.

The growing relationship between the school and its supporters have not only provided community leaders the opportunity “to work with, and get to know, Our Lady Star of the Sea’s students,” said Father Thomas, but also helped to “raise awareness, and let people know we’re still open, and still working to (strengthen) the city.”

Spina, a former teacher at a public school in West Philadelphia, and at charter schools along the Jersey shore, has seen firsthand the impact a Catholic education can have on students.

“My first day here at Our Lady Star of the Sea, I was welcomed by them, and struck by their kindness, respect and generosity,” she says.

“The students here are very hardworking,” she continued. “They see the value of the faith.”

Two new students began last week, and three more will enter the school at the beginning of 2020. The school’s Christmas pageant and parish’s Live Nativity are taking place this weekend.  A free “Mommy and Me” program for preschoolers and their mothers is in the works.

Seeds have been planted at Our Lady Star of the Sea School here on fertile soil, Spina and the school’s many supporters seem to think, and there are dedicated workers in the vineyard, ready for a fruitful harvest.