Catholic schools prepare for an exciting year

By Kanobia Russell-Blackmon
Correspondent

Students across the Diocese of Austin are back in the classrooms, as the 2017-2018 academic year begins in the 21 Catholic schools across the diocese. This year is filled with the anticipation of a new building for San Juan Diego Catholic High School in Austin, a new Montessori track at St. Louis Catholic School in Austin, and new leadership in the diocesan Catholic Schools Office. Misty Poe began as the new superintendent in early June, and Robert Whitworth started as the assistant superintendent in July. 
San Juan Diego Catholic High School
Construction is underway for the new San Juan Diego Catholic High School facility which is set to open in January 2018. The high school provides students with a college preparatory education and work experience as each student participates in a corporate internship program. During a visit to the construction site, Pam Jupe, president of San Juan Diego, described the impact of the school on the community. 
“We have a sense of pride and we know, as a faculty and staff, we are making a huge difference, not only in the kids’ lives but also in their families for generations to come,” she said.
The new facility will include a gym, state of the art science labs, and a resource and technology lab. The students are excited about “having a place to call their own,” Jupe said. 
In addition to the new facility, the school will display the new school color red and a new logo that displays a rose. 
“Red is bold and we want everyone to know that San Juan Diego is here to stay,” Jupe explained. “The rose is a critical part. It is the story of Juan Diego and the miracle of the rose.”
Poe said the new facility gives the school more opportunity for growth. “Moving into the new facility in January will allow them to double their enrollment,” she said. Upon completion of the first phase, the school will be able to accommodate 250 students. 
Following the second phase, that number will increase to 450 students. Construction is set to be completed in November, with students starting class in in the new building in January. The ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony is set for Dec. 9, the feast of St. Juan Diego.
New Montessori program
St. Louis Catholic School in Austin is excited to offer the diocese’s first dual track offering a traditional and Montessori model. Principal Cindy Gee said the program currently serves children ages 3 and 4, but next year the program will serve children ages 3 to 5. The program is off to a promising start with a full class. 
Gee said the child is the focus of the Montessori program. The goal is for the student to master a lesson before they move on to the next one. Students are encouraged to do things for themselves while learning self-help skills. Gee explained that “the guide in the classroom is there to facilitate the learning of the kids,” allowing students to be independent learners.
The addition of the Montessori program gives parents a choice. Gee is thankful to the Catholic School’s Office for the invitation to host the first Catholic Montessori program in the diocese because Catholic parents who believe in the Montessori philosophy now have the option of a Catholic environment to send their children. 
Gee also credits the support of Father James Misko, pastor of St. Louis Parish, and many volunteers for helping “to get the program off the ground.”
New opportunities
Poe said the Montessori program is just one of several models that Catholic schools are working on to meet the needs of students. Recognizing the need to implement and strengthen more models and partnerships that demonstrate academic quality and effective financial sustainability, Poe spotlights the partnership between Sacred Heart Parish in Austin and the Cathedral School of St. Mary and San Juan Diego Catholic High School. 
During the 2016-2017 school year, 124 students benefited from a Catholic education thanks to this partnership. This partnership and model illustrates what is possible for Catholic education when “parishes help with financing a child’s education in conjunction with parents and the school,” Poe explained. “We are trying to expand that program through other parishes and schools.”
The Catholic Schools Office is rolling out a new website to communicate the Good News of Catholic education, and to serve as a resource for students, parents and all those interested in Catholic education. 
Visit www.csdatx.org for more announcements about Catholic schools in the diocese. 
For more information about San Juan Diego Catholic School, visit www.sjdchs.org/capital-campaign. For more information about the Montessori Program at St. Louis Catholic School, visit www.slcsaustin.org.