Teachers and students at Our Lady of the Valley School in Wasilla are drawn to the Catholic school because it incorporates a distinctive classical academic curriculum that includes Scripture and Catholic teaching throughout the curriculum.
Having completed its 11th year of operation, the steadily growing school enrolled 75 students in grades preschool through eighth grade this past year.
“I love teaching the faith to my students,” said fifth sixth-grade teacher Heather Grisso. “It’s my vocation, my life-calling.”
Principal Joyce Lund agreed.
“Incorporating religion into everything I teach is a blessing indeed,” she said. “God has a plan for all of us and being his servant is a privilege.”
A joint mission of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla, St. Michael Church in Palmer and Our Lady of the Lake Church in Big Lake, the school is now in its third year of implementing a classical curriculum. The approach incorporates the trivium, which aims to honor the natural stages of a child’s intellectual growth, developing grammar (memory), logic (sound reasoning) and then rhetoric (communication skills). The grammar stage includes songs, chants and rhymes to help children engage with the learning experience. In the logic stage students pay special attention to cause and effect and the way facts fit together into a coherent framework. The final stage, rhetoric, equips students with the ability to articulate what they have learned.
“I love that children are held at a high standard and are taught virtues that help them to become successful leaders,” said kindergarten teacher Deb Waisanen.
In addition to classroom studies students participate in a number of state and national programs such as the Alaska State Spelling Bee, Alaska National Geography Bee, Alaska Science and Engineering Fair, National Latin Program and others. Students also participate in the Mat-Su School District’s cross-country and track & field programs.
Students generally dual enroll with the Mat-Su School District and utilize the $2,200 per student allotment for enrichment and remedial opportunities outside of school.
Students also participate in a three-year virtue curriculum, learning about a different virtue each month and working to live them out in daily life. The study of one saint each month provides a role model for students.
Sixth-grader Rosie Hennemann praised the program.
“The virtues taught will impact my life because they have changed me into a holier and better person,” she said. “Also, Our Lady of the Valley’s teachers have given me a solid foundation in my faith so that I can keep my faith later in my life.”
In an effort to put faith into action, the school has a number of outreaches. Students participate in daily student-led chapel, Friday Mass, Veterans Day Mass, singing for Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church once a month, Stations of the Cross, All Saints Day pageant, cleaning the church and many others outreaches. Students also are altar servers, lectors, cantors, sacristans and greeters at their home parishes.
Seventh grader Audrey Cain appreciates the application of faith at the school.
“At OLV I have learned that having a community centered around God helps us all,” she said. “We give to others in the name of the Lord and I think that is a very special thing.”
Students bring their faith out to the wider community by volunteering with local food banks, creating survival bags for Bean’s Café, making Christmas stockings for homeless teens in Wasilla and participating in food drives for the hungry.
The all-school choir regularly performs free concerts at assisted living homes, hospitals, soup kitchens, parishes and other venues.
Ellie Hennemann, who just completed 8th grade and thus graduated from the school, said she feels prepared for the next step in life.
“OLV has taught me how to truly love my neighbor as myself in my actions and in my words,” she said. “I will be sure to apply this next year in high school and invite God into every aspect of my life.”