Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School in Wasilla, founded in 1996, now serves 79 students, from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
The burgeoning school weathered the recent Nov. 30 earthquake without any major damage, and classes resumed the following Tuesday.
Over the years the school located on the grounds of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla has grown, not just in numbers but also in its approach to education.
It is currently in its fourth year of implementing a classical curriculum, with the aim of incorporating students into the wisdom of Catholic tradition, while forming virtuous habits in their souls. This approach looks to honor the natural stages of a child’s intellectual development while developing memory, sound reasoning and communication skills.
The grammar stage of the Trivium (the classical three-pronged approach to education, emphasizing grammar, logic and rhetoric as the bases of learning) includes songs, chants and rhymes to help children enjoy the learning experience. This is followed by the logic stage, where students begin to pay attention to cause and effect, and the way facts fit together into a reasonable framework. The final stage, rhetoric, allows students the opportunity to articulate and defend certain positions based on what they have learned.
Beyond the rigorous academics challenges, students participate in the Alaska State Spelling Bee, Alaska National Geography Bee, Alaska Science and Engineering Fair, National Latin Program, Our Lady of the Valley Writers Workshop, and Catholic Truth Pursuit. Students also participate in the Mat-Su School District cross-country and track and field programs.
Having all students dual enroll with the Mat-Su School District affords them access more than $2,000 per student for enrichment and remedial opportunities. It has also significantly enriched the school’s extra-curricular offerings.
Leadership at the school, which includes Principal Joyce Lund and Administrator Karen Smith, embraces a school-wide virtue curriculum that teaches students about a different virtue each month with tools for learning how to incorporate the teachings into daily living. The approach focuses on one saint per month and provides role models for students to emulate.
Education, however, goes beyond the classroom at Our Lady of the Valley. The school regularly shares the Catholic faith with the wider community. Throughout the year students participate in many services for their churches. This includes daily student-led chapel, weekly Mass, Veterans Day Mass, singing for Sunday Mass (including the Spanish language Mass) at Sacred Heart, veiling of Mary Mass, All Saints Day pageant, and various other feast day celebrations and liturgies. Students also assist the Knights of Columbus with Sunday breakfasts, clean the church and prepare the parish hall for various events. These services are integrated into the student’s virtue studies curriculum with the goal of developing life-long habits.
Beyond the school and parish circles, students also sing at the Providence Hospital Cancer Center in Anchorage. Others participate in music ministry at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer, where children read stories, play board games and musical instruments and do artwork with senior citizens. Still others sing for the residents at the Primrose Retirement Community in Wasilla. Students also make survival bags that are distributed to the homeless at Bean’s Cafe in Anchorage.
This past June students donated 75 polar fleece blankets to Catholic Social Services, and many baby clothes.
When spring arrives the students team up with Trinity Lutheran Church in Palmer, using their community garden to grow and harvest vegetables for donation to the Palmer Food Bank.
In past years students have collected food for needy families at Thanksgiving. They also made cookies for Mat-Su police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders, and put on a patriotic performance by singing at the State American Legion Pearl Harbor Remembrance Banquet.
The cost of tuition at Our Lady of the Valley is $4,660 annually.