New school year heralds celebrations

August 7, 2012

HOUSTON — A 25th anniversary celebration, new facilities, new leadership and new technology await students and staff of schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston this fall.

The Kinder Foundation funded a technology makeover for five low income, Inner City Catholic schools to enhance teaching and learning, while a federal grant has given three other schools a technology boost. The Kinder Foundation’s $5 million gift is enhancing technology, instruction, teacher pay, professional development and cooperative facilities.

Students at Resurrection, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Augustine, St. Peter the Apostle and St. Pius V in Pasadena, all part of the Inner City Catholic Schools Cooperative, will benefit from the new 30-iPad lab carts, projectors and interactive boards, while teachers will take control with new MacBook Air notebooks.

“The most important point about this is to put technology in front of (the students),” said Enrique Benitez, director of the Catholic Schools Cooperative. “Many of our students won’t have used iPads.” 

Teachers at Corpus Christi, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Cristo Rey Jesuit high school recently received iPads, and the requisite training, to help them teach and engage students. 

Claire Mueller, principal of Corpus Christi, a prekindergarten through eighth grade campus, and Michael Duran, principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, also a prekindergarten through eighth grade campus, said the practical applications are endless.

Mueller envisions teachers using education resources from banks, for instance, to teach students financial literacy in math class. She said also the iPads will enable teachers to more accurately track individual student achievement and tailor lessons accordingly.

“This is a very exciting opportunity,” Mueller said. “It’s very motivating for our teachers.”

Duran believes both teaching and student achievement will improve with the new tool, a luxury for the many students from low income families.
“The more engaged (the students) are, the faster they learn,” he said. “I think it’s a tremendous benefit for our kids to have access to this kind of technology.”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas High School purchased Asus tablets for all its faculty and students in a bid to better prepare students for college and lessen the financial burden on lower income students.

At other schools in the Archdiocese, new facilities have come on line.

Students at St. Agnes Academy will have more sporting options with the recent opening of a new athletics facility, complete with softball park, three multipurpose fields and concessions buildings. The facility, a short ride from the land-locked school on Bellaire Boulevard, allows more students to participate in more sports, including lacrosse and field hockey.

The new school year also heralds full use of Strake Jesuit’s new Retreat and Leadership Center, where students and staff can unplug and reflect, as well as access the outdoors. More parking and more athletics fields are round the corner for Strake with the recent acquisition of land lost in a 1971 bankruptcy. The acquisition gives the school more options on where to place a science and engineering building, currently in the planning stages.

As principal of the school she helped found as a parent 25 years ago, Janie Hengst can’t believe her luck that she’s still around to participate in John Paul II Catholic School’s special anniversary.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo will kick off the celebrations with a Mass Sept. 21, and monthly activities and events, including a silver-themed day, are planned throughout the year. In addition, Father Jonathan Raia, a student from the school’s first graduating class, is returning to conduct the first Mass on Aug. 24.
“It’s not often you get to see your dreams fulfilled to this extent,” Hengst said.

Students at St. Agnes Academy have started training for the school year, using their new softball park, Lynn Kercheval Softball Park, named after the long-time varsity softball and volleyball coach. (Photo courtesy of St. Agnes Academy

The west Houston school started with 54 students in prekindergarten through third grade, housed in five temporary buildings, and has grown to 715 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart is under new leadership, with Patricia Swenson taking the helm from Sister Jan Dunn and the appointment of new middle and lower school heads. 

Swenson, who has notched up more than three decades of experience as a principal, pledged to continue to challenge students, help them explore their options and, “give them a voice and nurture their spirit.”

Tony Houle is the new head of middle school. Houle came from Emery/Weiner School in Houston, where he was a dean. He also taught history and language arts at public and private schools and served in Iraq with the U.S. Navy.

Ginger Montalbano was promoted to head the lower school after 11 years teaching preschool at Duchesne. 

A new middle and upper school library and classrooms and a newly renovated health center, dining hall and kitchen also will open this fall at Duchesne.

There’s more on the horizon for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese. Construction of Frassati Catholic High School in north Houston will begin this school year, with the groundbreaking set for Aug. 25 at 9:30 a.m. at 22151 Frassati Way. Construction of Phase 1A of the campus will take 10 months and $10 million to complete. This phase includes a 21,580 square-foot, two-story building with classroom space for up to 150 students, a temporary chapel, a library/seminar space, an assembly hall, administrative offices and two science labs.


John Paul Catholic School opens new chapel
Like many schools in the Archdiocese, John Paul II Catholic School, 1400 Parkway Plaza Dr., is opening a new facility. Yet, perhaps no facility is so central to a Catholic school as its chapel. After 25 years, instead of a multipurpose room, the west Houston school is able to offer the community a dedicated place to pray and reflect with the recent completion of a 75-seat chapel.

“Finally we have a dedicated spiritual place to be able to go and be with our Lord,” Principal Janie Hengst said. “This completes the school.”
Set on the second floor of the school’s new office complex, completed last year, the chapel features a stained glass window depicting Jesus holding two children with the message, “Let the Children Come to me.” 

While the chapel opened in late last spring, a dedication will be conducted by Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza on Sept. 16.