Students return to 5 Catholic schools across Southcentral Alaska

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Chilly mornings and termination dust spell one thing for area students: it’s back to school. That’s no different for the five Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where students are just now settling into their first weeks back in the classroom. What makes school’s beginning different in Catholic schools: the reminder each day that education revolves around Christ through prayer, liturgy and service.

OUR LADY OF THE VALLEY

In Wasilla, Our Lady of the Valley School, which serves the four parishes of the Mat-Su Valley, has an enrollment of 76, pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Before and after school programs are available. Basic tuition for one child is $4,660, with breaks for additional students. Higher tuition rates apply to families who do not participate in fundraising. The website olvwasilla.com provides admissions and pricing information.

Joyce Lund returned as principal this year and Karen Smith continues to serve as administrative assistant.

Our Lady of the Valley, which began life in a strip mall, has seen continued growth and is now housed on the campus of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla.

According to Smith the school has added two more bathrooms to its growing campus to accommodate its four stand-alone buildings. Parents and Sacred Heart parishioners worked all summer on the project.

A second Fall Poker Tournament Fundraiser Oct. 6 will help in defraying costs.

Community service and service to the poor are hallmarks of Catholic education at Our Lady of the Valley and extend through the summer months.

This is the third year the school is working with Trinity Lutheran Church in a garden project that serves the Mat-Su Food Bank. Smith said students work hard throughout the summer planting early, transplanting to the garden, and weeding, feeding and harvesting 5:30-7:30 p.m. every Wednesday.

Additionally, Smith reports that students and parishioners throughout the Valley spent the summer collecting and donating school supplies for a school in Mexico, where residents live and scavenge at a local dump. An alumni grandparent, Donna Green, and her granddaughter Paige, who recently graduated from Our Lady of the Valley, delivered supplies in late August.

Our Lady of the Valley adopted a classical curriculum four years ago based on St. Jerome’s Classical School in Hyattsvill, Maryland.

MARY’S SCHOOL IN KODIAK

Enrollment at St. Mary’s, a ministry of St. Mary Church, continues steady at 80-85 students, said principal Brian Cleary. Situated on Alaska’s largest island, the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school has historically struggled with finances, but enjoys tremendous community support and serve a diverse cultural population.

Cleary is part of a unique collaborative administrative program at St. Mary’s, sharing leadership with Teri Schneider.

“Teri and I co-principal,” Cleary said. “We overlap in August and early September, after Christmas for two weeks and the last two weeks of school. I’m full-time in the fall and Teri the spring. Our theory is that we have individual strengths that together make us stronger.”

Cleary said two new classroom teachers compliment the curriculum.

Erin Mannelin is the new kindergarten teacher. A Kodiak native and graduate of St. Mary’s School, Erin received her bachelor’s degree from Evergreen College and is currently enrolled in the University of Alaska Juneau Masters of Teaching program.

The new first-second grade teacher is Maria Offer. Cleary said the “long time educator” was attracted to the school in part “because of our emphasis on teaching the Catholic Social Justice curriculum.” Maria is an accomplished early literacy teacher with experience in bi-lingual teaching.

“For many years maintenance has been deferred due to funding shortfalls,” the principal said. “With Father Frank Reiter’s leadership, the parish raised $45,000, which was matched by Catholic Extension,” a national Catholic group which assists mission dioceses in the United States.

“Those funds will be allocated to repair the most needed projects, of which there are many,” Cleary said.

The annual appeal raised money to replace 25-year-old carpet in a classroom.

Cleary noted that the school has also “taken possession of a 30-by 72-foot greenhouse.”

With the help of the RASKOB foundation, the greenhouse will become an integral part of the school science program. It will also provide fresh vegetables for students and food for parishioners. Any excess will be donated to the Kodiak Food Bank.

Information on tuition, option for payments and tuition assistance is available at St. Mary’s website, smskodiak.org/tuition.

ELIZABETH ANN SETON SCHOOL

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School is a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade ministry of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in South Anchorage. This is the first year that the school, established in 1980, has offered a pre-kindergarten program.

Principal Kathy Gustafson said the program was the result of two years of research into programs in the community and surveys of parish and school interest.

“Father Steven Moore was instrumental in helping get it underway,” said Gustafson. Father Moore, who passed away in late 2017, was pastor of St. Elizabeth. The new pre-kindergarten dedication ceremony on June 12 was held in his memory.

Melissa Myers will serve as the first pre-kindergarten teacher. The program is a full-day and costs $900 a month, which includes before and after school care at no additional cost. The program “offers a journey of spiritual, emotional and cognitive development,” said Gustafson, and will introduce students to math, language arts, science, social studies and religion.

The pre-kindergarten class, with 20 seats, is full, and kindergarten through sixth grade enrollment is about 150. Regular tuition begins at $5,500 yearly for the first child. The school offers before and after school care, an after school homework club, and an after school band program for grades fourth through sixth, along with sewing club, art class, and chess club.

New staff includes Becky Bolin as pre-kindergarten aide and Rachel Richardson as music teacher.

The annual school auction will be held at the school Nov. 9.

St. Elizabeth holds weekly Mass during which students are encouraged to develop their active involvement in the liturgical life of the church by serving as liturgical ministers, ranging from altar servers to lectors and musicians. The school offers the traditional rituals of the church year, from Lenten Stations of the Cross to a May crowning of Mary’s statue, and service projects emphasizing the social ministry of the church are encouraged throughout the year.

LUMEN CHRISTI HIGH SCHOOL

Principal Brian Ross reports that at Lumen Christi, with 70 students in grades seventh through 12th, “We are very much looking forward to the start of this school year.”

Lumen Christi is a ministry of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage.

Ross told the Anchor, “We go into the new year excited to provide a rigorous Catholic education in a Christ-like environment and live out our core values of faith, family, and excellence on a daily basis.”

Lumen Christi begins the new school year partnering with a program called “SportsLeader.” Ross said the program is “a Catholic-based formation/sports ministry program based on four pillars — virtue, mentoring, ceremony and Catholic identity.” Information on the program is available at sportsleader.org. The week before school began, a representative from the program visited from Kentucky to talk with teachers and hold a mini-retreat with coaches.

“We believe that SportsLeader will further enhance an already exceptional athletic program here at Lumen,” said Ross. “This is evident already with 20 of our fall sports student athletes attending Mass at St. Benedict’s together last night on the Feast Day of the Assumption.”

New staff at Lumen includes Anne Gore, who became administrative assistant, and Claude “Pete” McCall, a long-term substitute for Megan Spillers, who is out on maternity leave after welcoming, with her husband, a new daughter named Zoey. McCall has over 18 years teaching experience in Catholic schools in Louisiana, and spent last year teaching in Kotlik in the Lower Yukon School District.

Ross said the entire seventh grade class is returning this fall, and 22 students and their families are new to the school.

“Thanks to the generosity of our community,” said Ross, “we raised enough money to install Smart TVs in each classroom for use with multimedia presentations, video streaming and classroom instruction.” Additionally, Lumen’s library has been painted, recarpeted and supplied with new laptops and Mac computers.

HOLY ROSARY ACADEMY

Holy Rosary Academy is an independent kindergarten through 12th grade Catholic school in Anchorage, which operates separately from the archdiocese but with approval from the archbishop. It has new leadership this year. Longtime principal Catherine Neumayr left Alaska for California to assist her aging parents, and teacher Lisa Williams is the new principal, assisted by Austin Welsh as vice-principal.

Williams is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. After serving in the Marine Corps as an intelligence officer, she retired to spend time with her growing family. The mom of four sons has a master’s degree in education from Alaska Pacific University with a focus on school administration.

With school just getting underway, enrollment at Holy Rosary looks to be about 135-140, up from the final tally at the end of last year of 120.

Using a classical education, Holy Rosary’s students spend time reading original documents and sources. This year, said Williams, there will an emphasis on developing student government and a debate program.

The Dominican priests of Holy Family Cathedral continue to serve as chaplains to the school, hearing confessions and celebrating school Masses. Diocesan priests also come in for elementary Masses.

Deanna Mancino, certified in Montessori education, is the new kindergarten teaching assistant, with John Coe the new sixth grade teacher and Joshua Kenz joining the upper school faculty.

Tuition at Holy Rosary ranges from $5,000 for kindergarten, and $5,250 per year for grades 1-6. Upper level tuition is $6,500. However, these figures apply to families who contribute volunteer hours to help defray additional costs. Like all area Catholic schools, Holy Rosary offers tuition breaks after the first child in a family. Financial help is also available to those who demonstrate need. For more information, visit hraak.com.


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