It wasn’t your typical essay contest, at least not for seventh and eighth graders. But students at Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School in Atlantic City rose to the challenge to research and write about a 1924 confrontation between the Ku Klux Klan and students at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
The contest was sponsored by a group of Notre Dame alumni and friends who support Our Lady Star of the Sea School, and the topic was inspired by the 2017 white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, that resulted in violence and led to the death of a protester.
In addition to prize awards, the contest yielded a congratulatory letter from current Notre Dame president Father John I. Jenkins. The letter was addressed to the author of the winning essay, Ahnjeles Maldonado.
“What you and others learn from an essay contest like this can help you prepare to address such questions later on: studying issues carefully, deciding on the right response (not the easiest or most popular response), and having the courage to carry it out,” said Father Jenkins in his letter.
At the August contest award ceremony, Ahnjeles was reflective about the process and the topic. “I learned about the overall structure of writing an essay,” she said. “I also learned that sometimes you have to take a step back from a situation and analyze it — see what is the better thing to do, for the future and the present.”
Ahnjeles and Father Jenkins seemed to agree that the better thing would have been to avoid violence — a path the Notre Dame students did not choose in 1924.
Our Lady Star of the Sea School has an ongoing connection with Notre Dame. Former long-time state senator and Notre Dame graduate Bill Gormley is a dedicated supporter of the school and has enlisted other “Irish” alums and friends to teach creative writing and architecture, serve as mentors, provide tuition assistance, and support the school’s annual scholarship fundraiser.
Several Our Lady Star of the Sea students participate in NDIgnite, a leadership development program that provides online enrichment to high-achieving students as early as seventh grade. Finding the right college is a key program component, and some participants have a chance to attend conferences on-site at the university.
Our Lady Star of the Sea is the sole Catholic school on Absecon Island. Its mission is “to unite our multicultural community through the Catholic values of academic excellence, compassionate service and respect for all.” To meet its students’ diverse academic needs, the school has increasingly gained recognition for its commitment to blended learning, where students experience a combination of mini-lessons, computer based instruction and practice, and one-on-one time from the teacher, all focused on a student’s individual needs.
“We are lucky and grateful for generous local support and connections to Notre Dame,” said Our Lady Star of the Sea Star principal Susan Tarrant. “We operate on a tight budget, and our school could not survive without volunteers and benefactors. We’re really proud of our students’ accomplishments. The support of local Notre Dame alums reinforces our mission and our efforts.”