February 4, 2017

Catholic Schools Week highlights faith and academic excellence

Story and photos by Carolee McGrath


DALTON – It has been a week of celebrations at Catholic schools across the Diocese of Springfield and the nation. Catholic Schools Week began Jan. 29 and concludes Saturday, Feb. 4. At St. Agnes Academy in Dalton, students and their families will gather for a special Mass this evening at the parish, located next to the school. They have been celebrating Catholic education all week long.

“We kicked off the week with a PTO sponsored Snow Ball dance,” said Jim Stankiewicz, the headmaster at St. Agnes.

“It’s a family dance. We had about 250 folks attending. There was food, and a DJ. It was a great time.”

Stankiewicz said the school sponsored different activities all week, including a book sale, organized by grade seven students. The proceeds will benefit the school library.

“It started off in religion class. We were trying to come up with some things we could do to help our school. It was originally my idea, then we we all started adding on,” said Karen Betit, a grade seven student.

“We came up with the book sale idea to sell books and we were going to use the money to put on Barnes and Noble gift cards to give our librarian.”

The book sale raised more than $300 for the school library.

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Second grade students at St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Adams make Valentine cards for men and women serving in the military during Catholic Schools Week.

“We are trying to help out our school and give the books to younger children,” added Parker Winters, who is also in grade seven.

The National Catholic Education Association has been celebrating Catholic Schools Week since 1974. The week gives administrators, teachers, students and their parents a time to showcase and be proud of their school. This year the theme was “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Students at St. Joan of Arc School in Chicopee paraded through the hallways, to showcase their young students who participate in the Super Kids reading program.

“Today kids in grades K through two are dressed up as Super Kids and those characters in our Super Kids to show off their costumes,” said Katelyn Kurpaska, a kindergarten teacher at St. Joan of Arc School.

Each day during the week also had a theme: Sunday, “In our Parish”; Monday, “In Our Community”; Tuesday, “Celebrating Your Student”; Wednesday, “Celebrating the Nation”; Thursday, “Celebrating Vocations”; Friday, “Celebrating Faculty, Staff and Volunteers”; and Saturday, “Celebrating Families.”

At St. Mary High School in Westfield, students learned about the Chinese New Year from international students who shared food and customs.

“Before I came to America I studied 10 years in China and I felt like I wanted to experience a different kind of education,” said Alex Oiu, a senior at St. Mary’s High School.

St. Mary’s is a small school so that every teacher and counselors can offer special care for us. I enjoy that feeling of being a small family.”

In Adams, students at St. Stanislaus Kostka School were busy all week, working on projects to thank those who serve.

Students in grade two made Valentine cards for those serving in the military, and for local police and firefighters.

“We are making cards for Army members and people who protect our world,” said Ava DeBenedetto. When asked why the project was important, the eight-year-old said, “Because they won’t have the inspiration to do what they do if we don’t make cards for them.”

Students in the upper grades made paper cranes to send to Washington.

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Middle school students at St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Adams make paper cranes to send to national leaders during Catholic Schools Week.

Our fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are having an origami crane workshop. Today they’re making cranes to send along with letters to our national leaders. The crane is a symbol of peace,” said Linda Reardon, the principal at St. Stanislaus Kostka School. She explained the idea came from a book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, in which a young girl developed leukemia after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. Sadako folded more than 1000 paper cranes when she was in the hospital. She died at the age of 12 in 1955. Reardon said the students were excited to try to fold 1000 paper cranes to show their commitment to peace.

“They’re going to write letters to our national leaders letting them know the value of Catholic education, but also we’re going to include cranes helping them to remember we yearn for a peaceful world,” said Reardon.

According the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic education “addresses the development of the whole person through spiritual and academic formation based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Father Chris Malatesta, the pastor at St. Agnes Parish said Catholic Schools Week highlights the gift of faith in the classroom.

“I’m a product of public school myself. The town I grew up in didn’t have a Catholic school. So ever since I was ordained, I’ve been involved in working in Catholic Schools and it makes all the difference in the world,” said Father Malastesta.

“Children are able to talk about Jesus, learn about Jesus, and hopefully treat each other like Jesus. We teach that through the conversations we have, learning about Jesus and then being able to do community service as well,” he said.

A video version of this story will be featured this Saturday, Feb. 4 on “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.