Faith. Academics. Service. All are values integrated into Catholic education, and this year, the words comprise the theme for National Catholic Schools week — which five schools in Howard County are celebrating with gusto this week.
"This week is an opportunity to celebrate what makes Catholic education unique and extraordinary," said Terry Weiss, principal at St. Louis Catholic School in Clarksville. "We're focusing on the value that Catholic education provides to our students and the contributions it makes to our community."
St. Louis is one of five Catholic K-8 schools in Howard County. St. Louis and St. Augustine Catholic School in Elkridge, and Resurrection-St. Paul School, Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and Trinity School, all in Ellicott City, serve K-8 students from Howard and neighboring counties. There are no Catholic high schools in the county.
All of the schools operate under the Archdiocese of Baltimore, except Trinity, which is run by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
Since 1974, Catholic Schools Week has been an annual celebration of Catholic schools across the nation. The purpose of the week, according to the National Catholic Schools website, is to build community awareness of, and involvement in, Catholic schools.
There's more to Catholic education than just the students, Weiss said, so the week is about celebrating parents, alumni, teachers and community members as well. Nationally, Sunday, Jan. 29 was designated Parish Family Appreciation Day, Monday was Community Appreciation Day, Tuesday, Student Appreciation Day, and Thursday, Religious and Clergy Appreciation Day.
At Student Appreciation Day Tuesday, the festivities at Our Lady of Perpetual Helpwere taken to a new level.
In previous years, said Principal Rose Goeres, "student appreciation" meant a treat at lunch, for example. But this year it was a no-uniform day, and students in the fourth through eighth grade crowded into the cafeteria in the afternoon to build poster board houses. The younger grades built three-dimensional houses as well, and at an assembly paraded their "Community of Love" into the gym. All projects were based on the metaphor of building a better person through faith, Goeres said.
"You have to make a strong foundation if you want your house to stand up," said Tom Rolando, a fifth-grade teacher at OLPH. "It's the same with our faith. If we encounter problems, if we have built up our faith, we can depend on it."
For students, creating the houses meant fingers made sticky with glue and some extra lessons on the saints pasted onto the poster board.
Sixth-grader Abby Kallmyer, 12, was part of a group working on a house decorated with an image of Mother Theresa on Tuesday. She and her friends agreed the best part about a Catholic education was being able to talk about their faith openly.
A stand-alone religion class notwithstanding, Catholic education is infused into all the classes at OLPH, as well as other Catholic schools.
"We can talk about the rain cycle, about the clouds and rivers and evaporation, but then we can also talk about the creator from where all that came," Goeres said. "We can take it a step further."
Another key focus of Catholic education — and of the week — is service, Weiss said.
"It's a natural thing for our students," she said. "They've embraced it."
At St. Louis, second-graders, as a service project this week, made Valentine's Day cards to send to residents of local nursing homes. .
"Sometimes (the elderly) are lonely, and they're ill and they can't go where they want to," said Megan Reed, 8. "They're alone sometimes, so this is to try to help them not be lonely."
A charitable heart lasts a lifetime, said Renee VanSchoor, development director at Trinity School.
"It trickles down, from the sisters to our teachers to our students," she said. "By the time they're in fifth, sixth grade, students are already finding ways on their own to serve others. Our students are so motivated, and in the future that bodes well for the country."