Over the past few years, the educational system has been challenged in inconceivable ways, and we have weathered those challenges with dignity and grace.
Two years ago our enrollment was 14, next year 33, this year 42. While I attribute our initial boost in enrollment to the instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I attribute the retention and growth to our mission. So what exactly do families see in St. John Paul II Academy that they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary for this choice? In order to capture the essence of why we do what we do, we need to explore how our mission impacts the beautiful children and families entrusted to us.
Let’s start with one of the most defining features of our mission: We support parents in their God-given role as the primary educators of their children. We often hear the myth that private Catholic schools are only for the wealthy. At John Paul II, we have vowed to never deny a child the opportunity to attend our school based on financial reasons.
“But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” — 1 John 3:17.
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Parents welcome the opportunity to share their gifts by volunteering at school, cleaning, organizing school events, driving for field trips, etc. We also vow to include parents in how to effectively address behavioral or academic concerns. These examples of humility and sacrifice on the part of parents, teachers and the numerous volunteers grow the trust necessary to work together and ensure success. We accept responsibility, communicate regularly and give glory to God for our success.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” — 1 Peter 5:6.
The second most important aspect of our mission is training the hearts and minds of young people through a Catholic classical education. In order to create a safe and effective learning environment, we make sure that every child is instructed at his/her academic ability. Our focus is based on a level of learning (e.g. primary, grammatical or dialectical) rather than a grade level. All too often, schools pass children along from year to year without a solid foundation in all content areas. Children come to us so weak in basic math, literacy and/or writing skills that they are broken emotionally and therefore, shut down academically. We meet each child at his/her academic ability, set reasonable goals and watch them flourish.
For example, we have a student in “fourth grade” who tested at a seventh grade spelling level, and an “eighth grader” testing at a fifth grade math level. Once the children are comfortable with this model, their anxiety is replaced with smiles, confidence, hope and accomplishment.
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:31.
This confidence also inspires children to explore life outside their comfort zone. Recently, a student’s mother told me that her son asked about being an altar server because he saw one of our older students serving mass at St. Alphonsus. She was surprised, joyful and credited John Paul II for her son’s growth. Every month we study, memorize and recite a poem or prayer. You would be amazed at how eloquently each child, ages 4 to 14, performs in front of the class, feeling assured that if they do their best, God takes care of the rest.
This month, we are celebrating the Virgin Mary by reciting the Memorare: “Remember, O Most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided.” Inspired by St. Mother Teresa’s “Flying Novena," each child is praying for special intentions. The mother of three new students emailed me that their family started praying the rosary together, and how much of a powerful change it has made in their home. The primary class is reciting Christopher Columbus in honor of his perseverance and courage in carrying out his God-given mission to explore new lands and bring the light of the Gospel.
Benjamin Franklin sums it up the best: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
A recipe for successful learning involves God, teachers, parents, children and friends all learning together.
Jennifer T. Furnia is principal and head teacher at St. John Paul II Academy and the mother of three boys at the school. For more information, or to schedule a visit, visit jp2academy.com, call (315) 252-4393, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to St. John Paul II Academy, 6201 Center St., Cayuga, NY 13034 or P.O. Box 1318, Auburn, NY 13021.