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John Paul II Academy: Overcoming COVID-19 obstacles

John Paul II Academy: Overcoming COVID-19 obstacles

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It’s that enchanting time of year when leaves start turning, chrysanthemums adorn porches, and the smell of sweet pumpkin spice fills the air. Excitement stirs as families make trips to the apple orchard, children load their backpacks, and dew drops decorate the grass. September signals the end of summer, the beginning of autumn and the start of a new school year. While most children, parents and teachers are facing a year filled with uncertainty and virtual learning, St. John Paul II Academy has been blessed with organizing a full-time instructional model that provides a safe and responsible environment for all. We have diligently stayed faithful to our mission and patiently allowed God to do what he does best: “Be still and know that I am God.”

In July, we were preparing for school, anticipating 15 students. As the weeks went by, we found ourselves meeting with several new families and then reorganizing for 23 beautiful children and counting. We hired a primary classroom teacher, Erin Bethelmy, and are very excited to start a new journey with Erin and her family. Erin’s experience, passion for educating children and willingness to learn are inspiring. The classroom is a warm and loving space where 10 joyful children are learning Latin, listening to Miss Kat play her violin and appreciating time with their friends. For some, it is their first introduction to the Catholic faith — an ideal opportunity to evangelize. “It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you.” — St. John Paul II to the children.

The teachers, volunteers and families have worked so hard to overcome the hurdles in the midst of these difficult circumstances. We aren’t able to attend art class in Miss Suzi’s studio due to social distancing guidelines, but that didn’t stop Miss Suzi. She generously donated a large television and art kits so that she could virtually teach our children in the comfort of their classroom. When we realized that it would be difficult to teach all groups in one classroom, Mrs. Tonzi purchased another television for the upstairs classroom so that we could conveniently stay in that space without disrupting our schedule. These televisions will also open up a variety of teaching and educational opportunities, and we are eternally grateful. We would also like to thank Pastor Grish and the congregation for their continued support and willingness to share more of their space with us. Their generosity is humbling and greatly appreciated. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” — 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

We are enthusiastic about adding a new lesson into our repertoire: Greek and Latin roots. Many people don’t realize how valuable old Latin and Greek vocabulary is in the formulation of a finely structured English vocabulary. We benefit from a broad working vocabulary 10 times more for thinking than we do for talking. Most of the time, we do our talking and thinking in the reverse proportion — too much talking and not enough thinking. From "septem," Latin for "seven," we derive impressive new words. Did you know that September was the seventh month in the Roman calendar? Legend has it that Romulus, the first king of Rome, used a 10-month moon cycle calendar. Six months had 30 days and four had 31, totaling 304 days with a couple of nameless moon cycles left over in mid-winter. Rome’s second King, Numa Pompilius, took those blank mid-winter days and made two new months: January (Janus) and February (februum). As a result, September, the seventh month, became the ninth! From "septum" comes "septennial," a seven-year period or celebration; "septangle," a flat figure with seven sides and seven angles; and "septuagenarian," a person who is 70-79 years old. Students will learn to pull words apart and put them back together to gain a true understanding of the meaning of English words.

All of our families, old and new, have exceeded my expectations. Parents are enthusiastically pitching in and investing their time and energy to ensure a safe, healthy and happy school year. Everything from cleaning, running errands, making bulletin boards, laminating posters, purchasing supplies, etc. — you name it, they will help do it. Their hope and charity is overwhelming and it is a testament to our faith in God and love of our children. I look forward to working with all families to ensure an outstanding and faith-filled school year!

Jennifer T. Furnia is principal at St. John Paul II Academy and the mother of two boys at the school. For more information, or to schedule a visit, visit, call (315) 252-4393, email or write to St. John Paul II Academy, 6201 Center St., Cayuga, NY 13034 or P.O. Box 1318, Auburn, NY 13021.


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