Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Immaculate High School to Light The Way for Students at 16th Annual Gala

DANBURY—Immaculate High School will be hosting their 16th annual Gala on May 1, 2021 at 7 pm. This year, the gala will be held virtually and everyone is invited to attend! In lieu of admission or ticket prices, Immaculate is asking everyone to become a sponsor at any level. Sponsorship options can be found at immaculatehs.org/gala. In traditional fashion, Immaculate will be honoring two members of their community with the Nancy K. Dolan Leadership Award and the Distinguished Service Award.

Brian P. McGovern, a member of the Immaculate Class of 1989, is the recipient of the Nancy K. Dolan Leadership Award. Brian stayed active in the Immaculate community after graduating by helping to plan the Class of 1989 reunions and furthered his involvement in 2009 by becoming a member of the school’s Advisory Board. In this role, he was able to lead the initiative to bring better technology such as projectors and laptops into the classrooms. He also the Immaculate Alumni Association, which keeps graduates of the school in close communication with happenings at Immaculate. Brian is presently a General Manager at Miratech, overseeing the company’s industry leading workflow management products that deliver business results across a variety of industries.

John G. Capilli, Sr. is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for his commitment to Immaculate High School as a member of the community for the past eleven years. Along with being aparent of Cara ‘14 and Johnny Jr. ‘17, John has continued to serve on the Mustang All Sports Club (MASC), the Annual Golf Outing Committee and is a member of the School Advisory Board. He has also been a generous sponsor of numerous athletics fundraising events, the Tuition Assistance Program, Annual Golf Outing and Annual Gala. John is the Division President of Classic Equipment Services, Inc., a subsidiary of Vault Structures, Inc. out of Fort Myers, Florida and Cedarville, New Jersey.

The theme of this year’s gala is Light the Way and will feature a virtual silent auction, a $10,000 cash raffle and more! For more information and to become a sponsor, visit immaculatehs.org/gala.

St. Rose Kindergarteners on parade

NEWTOWN—On Monday, March 29, Kindergarten students at St. Rose School in Newtown were decked out in their Easter finest, including handmade Easter bonnets, hats and bow ties.

Students and their parents paraded around the school parking lot, calling out Happy Easter! They then brought their joy across the street to Church Hill Village, an assisted living facility.

Many residents were seated in front of the building with a special guest—the Easter Bunny!

Students waved and called out Happy Easter, giving high fives to the Easter Bunny. The Bunny led students to the back of the facility where they waved to other residents who were watching from their windows.

Their little feet walked many steps and warmed many hearts with Christ’s love!

St. Mark 8th-grader working FASTER to find a food allergy cure

STRATFORD—Shaelyn Averaimo, an eighth-grade student at St. Mark School in Stratford, recently met with Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office about passing the Food Allergy Safety Treatment Education & Research (FASTER) Act.

According to Shaelyn, the FASTER Act would ensure food ingredients are listed in “plain” wording and allocate more money towards research and development for a food allergy cure.

Shaelyn has a life-threatening food allergy and is a strong advocate for herself and other young people like her. She is a Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the world’s largest private funder of food allergy research. Shaelyn works on youth projects, creates content for the company’s website, and serves as a leader at national events.

She recently attended Courage at Congress 2021, FARE’s second annual advocacy event on March 8-10. The three-day event was a virtual gathering this year, allowing more members of the community to have their voices heard by key members of Congress and work on passing H.R. 1202, the FASTER Act.

The bill would update allergen labeling laws to include sesame and would require the federal government to analyze the most promising research opportunities to help scientists develop more effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure for food allergies.

“More than 1.5 million people are allergic to sesame, yet it is not required to be included on any product labels,” shares Shaelyn. “We will not stop advocating for this critical piece of legislation until we get sesame labeled.”

Shaelyn adds, “Also, 32 million people suffer from food allergies, but there is only one FDA-approved treatment, and it only helps those with peanut allergy. We must collect national data on Americans’ exposure to food allergens and prevalence of food allergies to specific allergens.”

In 2020, the FASTER Act passed the United States House of Representatives on November 17 and the United States Senate on December 9. Due to some minor changes in the bill in the Senate, it needed to go back to the House for a final vote. Unfortunately, the legislative clock ran out.

In February 2021, the bill was reintroduced and on March 3, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the FASTER Act, moving the legislation one step closer to law.

Shaelyn suggests, “If you live with a food allergy or have a loved one with a food allergy, please contact your Representative, ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 1202 and pass it.  Also, please contact your Senator and let them know that more needs to be done by way of funding and research to protect over 32 million people from life-threatening food allergies.”

Next fall, Shaelyn will be attending Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden where she hopes to join the Track Team, the Drama Club and focus on Science, Mandarin, and making new friends.  She also hopes to continue to advocate for food allergy awareness when the opportunity presents itself.

For more information, please visit Shaelyn’s Instagram Account (shaeallergy07) and website (www.nowheyshae.com), both dedicated to food allergy awareness.

St. Rose School celebrates Pi Day

NEWTOWN—On Friday, March 12, 5-8th graders at St. Rose School participated in activities to celebrate Pi Day.

Students in Mrs. Cicarelli’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grades created a “Pi-Line, Skyline” project. Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 around the world and the Greek letter “π” is the symbol used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, approximately 3.14159. 

Students shared in a mini-lesson discussing pi and translated the famous number into their very own artwork. Students created a vertical bar graph, where each bar’s height corresponds to each digit of Pi. The completed graph gives the impression of a city skyline, which the students then colored in to enhance the buildings.

As a special treat, 7th-graders received individual-sized apple pies (donated by generous parents) to eat while they worked on their Pi-Line projects.

Students in Mrs. Bokuniewicz’s 5th-grade class were challenged to name as many digits in Pi as they could—winners named as many as 151! It was an innovative, engaging and memorable lesson.

Immaculate Students welcoming a season of renewal

DANBURY—Continuing with a rigorous academic program, Immaculate High School students are awakening their hearts to transform challenging times into caring times. This vibrant school community ignites its charisms of service and educates the whole student while preparing for a joyful Easter season. During Lent, students have stepped up to support one another and those in the community who are facing daily hardships while pursuing their coursework and extracurricular activities with vigor and grace. Consciously spending more time in prayer whether in the school’s Monsignor Hossan Memorial Chapel or at home, students are embracing their faith through self-reflection, repentance and almsgiving.

During this time of renewal and new beginnings, the school is discontinuing its twelve months of student cohorts and virtual learning by inviting all students to attend class in person. “When reviewing our current mitigation practices, we feel confident with opening our doors to all students to return to the school building,” shares school President Mary Maloney. The school will continue to adhere to all CDC and Danbury Public Health guidance, especially the wearing of face masks for the remainder of the school year.

The school has been able to offer its students the ability to engage in a synchronous hybrid learning environment where fifty percent of the students were in the building and fifty percent attended class remotely. To assist students with the challenges of the hybrid program, the counseling department began offering an increased number of advisory programs and grade level meetings, as well as created a Helping Peer Excel Program, a Scholars Program, a Freshman in the Fold program and a Virtual Calming room, an online space where students can access visuals, sounds and activities designed to help lower stress.  In addition, PSAT, SAT and ACT tests have been administered, students have been participating in regular club activities, and have earned awards in Mock Trial, Cyber Patriots, Engineering, Writing and Art competitions. The school’s athletic teams have been able to participate in league competitions in the fall and winter. Principal Wendy Neil compliments the efforts of teachers, building maintenance teams, support staff and parents for sustaining the ability to provide students with a positive experience. “Everyone has worked so hard to maintain our excellent programs and now we are looking forward to being back together with all of our students,” she exclaims.

With the significant reduction of local positive cases in the Danbury area and the ability for school personnel to be vaccinated, the school’s decision to invite all student’s back to the building was welcomed by faculty and administrators. The school will continue to offer the option for parents who have family members or students who are at high risk of severe illness due to exposure to the disease, to have their child remain enrolled on the school’s virtual student roster.

“Although so many are uncertain about what life may be like after the pandemic, we are certain that our experiences have strengthened our understanding of the lessons of humility, the importance of caring for others, and our need to trust in God’s love. We are extremely thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon our school community and pray that Easter blessings will be abundant for all,” states Maloney.

Immaculate food drive helps those in need

DANBURY—Celebrating Catholic Schools Week, Immaculate High School in Danbury held a week-long food drive for the FAITH Food Pantry in Newtown.

“I’ve always wanted to do a fundraiser through my school,” said Sophia Pertoso, a junior at Immaculate High School who organized the food drive.

A collection bin was set up in the school and one bin was stationed outside the school for any virtual students who wanted to drop off food items.

Pertoso, who also volunteers to make sandwiches for Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury and visits a nursing home near her school to spend time with residents bringing home-baked cookies and good conversation to brighten their day, chose FAITH pantry to help people in her hometown.

“We really, really appreciate what Sophia did,” said Lee Paulsen, president of FAITH Food Pantry, adding that the demand for food and household items has doubled since the pandemic.

FAITH food pantry established in 1984, provides one week of groceries to Newtown residents in need, once a month. The letters in the nonprofit volunteer organization’s name stands for Food Assistance, Immediate, Temporary Help.

“We need all the help we can get,” Paulsen said. “There are so many people in need right now.”

Although the pantry continues to get donations of fresh eggs and milk from local restaurants, donations for basic items are down due in part to the lack of contributions from school food drives since many public schools have been closed or partially closed due to the pandemic.

After contacting the pantry, Pertoso discovered donations are not as plentiful after the holidays but the need for items is still there. Her fellow classmates did not let her down.

“It was an overwhelming amount of donations,” she said. “The food pantry was over the moon excited. I don’t think they expected to get as much as they did.”

In fact, after the food drive was over, students continued to bring much needed items such as apple or cranberry juice, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, pancake mix, salt, pepper, taco kits and napkins.

Pertoso, a virtual student due to the pandemic, was planning to make a second trip to pick-up donations at the school and drop them off to the pantry.

“That’s the good thing about my school, everyone is very giving,” said Pertoso, who organized the food drive with school officials through zoom meetings.

“I admire young people like Sophia that think outside of the box, ‘Gee, maybe I can help somebody,’ well she did and I appreciate it,” Paulsen said. “What she did was terrific.”

“I want to help as much as I can,” Pertoso said. “You never know what people are going through. Maybe that chocolate chip cookie will make someone smile. The little things matter.”

Immaculate Students Win Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

DANBURY—Six Immaculate High School students had their work recognized and awarded at the annual Connecticut Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. Teens in grades 7-12 can apply in 28 categories of art and writing, and submissions are judged regionally and nationally by panels of creative industry experts.

Regional Art Awards were presented to Brooke Squitieri ‘21 who received an honorable mention in the drawing and illustration category for her piece “Discriminating Digits”; Anna Kopec ‘23 who received a Silver Key in the drawing and illustration category for her piece “Tiger King”; and Olivia Esposito ‘23 who received an Honorable Mention in the design category for her piece “Trivia Tile Game”. Student artwork is juried by professional artists and university art faculty and is selected on merit for inclusion in a state-wide art exhibition that is traditionally held at the Hartford Art School. Beyond the honor of being selected for this high quality exhibit, students may be awarded Gold or Silver keys and Honorable Mention Awards in each of 18 media categories. Students whose art pieces were recognized in the 2021 Regional Art Awards will be honored at a virtual celebration with winners from other schools on February 26. A virtual gallery of all the entries can be viewed here.

In the Regional Writing Awards, Spencer Squitieri ‘21 with his essay “Finding the Words for Why,” Zachary Meyerson ‘21 with his essay “More In Common” and Caitlin Doherty ‘21 with her essay “Unspoken” all received Silver Keys in the personal essay & memoir category. Annually, over 1,500 students from across Connecticut submit entries vividly demonstrating their passion for the craft of writing. From this large pool of poetry, essays, stories, and drama, submissions in Poetry and Prose are awarded to be published or honored at each grade level. Students who were awarded for their pieces will be celebrated at a virtual celebration on March 7. View the full list of award recipients.


Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.

Immaculate’s Brave Engineers Qualify for National/International Tournament

DANBURY—Immaculate High School’s Brave Engineers team participated in the Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), receiving second place in the State Finals. This incredible performance qualified the Brave Engineers for the RWDC National/International competition in April. The team will also have the opportunity to compete for merit awards at the National/International Competition.

The Brave Engineers, coached by Jeanine Antonios, includes members Mario Perez ‘22, Carolyn Jandura ‘22, Nikolas Badinelli ‘22, Meryl McKenna ‘21, Shaun McKenna ‘23 and Zifeng Zhan ’22.

The Real World Design Challenge is an annual competition that provides high school students, grades 9-12, the opportunity to work on real world engineering challenges in a team environment. Each year, student teams are asked to address a challenge that confronts our nation’s leading industries. Students utilize professional engineering software to develop their solutions and also generate presentations that convincingly demonstrate the value of their solutions. The RWDC provides students with opportunities to apply the lessons of the classroom to the technical problems that are being faced in the workplace.

Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.

Immaculate High School CyberPatriots Team Competes Nationally

DANBURY—Immaculate High School’s CyberPatriots team has been competing in the CyberPatriots XII National Tournament. There are three qualifying rounds in order to be considered for a spot in the National Finals, Immaculate placed fifth and first in the opening two rounds and finished the third round strong with a first-place win for the gold tier and third overall for the state of Connecticut.

Immaculate’s CyberPatriots team, coached by Dave Cirella, includes members Perry Gosh ‘21, Kolbe Mosher ‘21, Anish Nanda ‘22, Ethan Goodman ‘21, Aidan Doolabh ‘23, and Logan McAloon ‘21.

CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.

Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.

Catholic Schools Week and beyond at St. Rose School

NEWTOWN—With Catholic Schools week running from January 31-February 6, St. Rose of Lima School in Newtown started out the month in celebration. However, the snow interrupted the initial timing of events, so the celebrations were extended over the following weeks!

First, there was an 8th-grade vs. faculty Family Feud game on Friday, February 5. In the past, there has been an 8th-grade vs. faculty volleyball game but given restrictions that has been postponed and will hopefully take place outdoors later in the spring. In the meantime, students and faculty played a safe and fun game of Family Feud in the Gathering Hall. The students were the victors!

Also on Friday, February 5, the Home & School Association (HSA) showed their appreciation to teachers and faculty with hand-delivered lunches from Marketplace as well as Relax, Rest & Restore Mason jars filled with a candle, lip balm, a teabag, a face mask and a beautiful plant. This was in place of the traditional teacher/staff appreciation luncheon and was received with much gratitude.

On February 10, 6th and 7th-graders assembled Valentine craft kit bags for the CH Booth Library in Newtown to distribute to three and four-year-olds in the community. This is in keeping with a past tradition of the middle school students leading a craft and reading hour for Little Ones at the Library over the past few years during Catholic Schools Week. Three 6th-grade students filmed a “how-to” video which the Library will post.  The bags were delivered and are displayed on top of one of the bookcases in the Children’s department where little ones can pick up and take home to do the craft.

Also on February 10, first-graders collected packaged cookies and candies for guests at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury to be included in their Valentine’s Day lunch.

On February 11, there was a Spirit Stroll for 8th-graders at SRS. This took the place of the annual pep rally but enabled faculty and staff to acknowledge the leaders of the student body in this special last year at SRS. The entire school dressed in red and white. After morning prayer and announcements each 8th-grader was called by name over the speaker and “strolled” down the hallway while representatives from each class stood at the doorway of their classroom waving red and white pom-poms.

That afternoon, traditional mechanical pig races ensured, but to ensure safety and distancing only two classes went to the gym at a time.  It was a school-wide, creative effort. Third-grade, New Pork Piggers, won the preschool-3rd grade slot. Just Jeff, the fifth-grade pig, won the 4th-8th grade slot. New Pork Piggers was the overall winner, crossing the finish line ahead of Just Jeff in the final heat of the day. All classes put in a spirited effort:  Preschool—Her Royal Porkness; first grade—Moe; 2nd-grade—Baconator; 4th-grade —Bob the Bacon Builder; 6th-grade—Elvis Pigsley; 7th-grade—Hampa Bay Baconeer; 8th– grade—COVID-19.

The “fee” for dressing down for every student and faculty member was to bring at least two items for contribution to the Faith Food Pantry.  Service is an integral part of all St. Rose does throughout the year and particularly during Catholic Schools Week. During these weeks of celebration, students wrote cards for essential workers at Danbury Hospital, Nursing Home residents and Veterans to name a few.

Immaculate’s Mock Trial Team Has Strong Start

DANBURY—Immaculate High School’s Mock Trial Team had its first competition on Friday, January 29. The competition was hosted virtually but it was still a great opportunity for the students of Immaculate to face off against the students from other schools in the state. The Immaculate defense team competed in the morning and lost a very close round against the prosecution team from Fairfield Ludlowe, one of the top ranked teams in the state. In the afternoon, the Immaculate prosecution won their round against the defense team from Mercy, bringing Immaculate to 1-1 on the day.

Individual honors were presented to Grace Garvey ‘21, who was awarded second Best Attorney for the morning round; Allie Belone ‘22, who was awarded Best Attorney in the afternoon round; and Ernst Koch ‘22, who was awarded Best Witness in the afternoon round. The high scores in both competitions leave Immaculate in a very good position as they enter the next level of competition on February 26. This competition season may not be like other years, but the Immaculate Mock Trial Team has remained invested and has been working hard under the guidance of their Mock Trial coach Chris Houser as they prepare for the next level of competition.

Mock Trial is a program sponsored by Civics First. Civics First is a private, non-profit association that conducts and promotes law-related education programs in Connecticut’s public, private, and parochial schools. Students who participate in the program develop self-confidence, critical thinking, and public speaking skills while learning about the Constitution and the rule of law.

Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.

Catholic School Educators and Staff Recognized for Innovation and Leadership

BRIDGEPORT—Foundations in Education, Inc (FIE) is pleased to announce the 2021 Innovation and Leadership Grants awards totaling nearly $140,000 to benefit Catholic schools in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

FIE awarded $56,683.56 to educators for their transformative grant projects. In light of the heroic innovative contributions of faculty and staff, FIE for the first time awarded $82,600 to all faculty and staff within Diocesan Catholic schools and the Office of the Superintendent. The Foundation’s Board took the extraordinary step of recognizing the frontline workers for their demonstration of innovation and leadership amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since its inception, Foundations in Education has awarded more than $500,000 in grant funding.

FIE’s Executive Director Holly Doherty-Lemoine shared, “In addition to the annual grant program, this year our committee recognized in a special way the heroic innovation and leadership exhibited by all faculty, staff, and administrators of the Diocesan Catholic schools during this tumultuous year of the coronavirus. In appreciation for their personal sacrifices and perseverance in providing students the excellent education which they deserve, whether in person or virtually, we awarded an Amazon gift card to each permanent employee of our Diocesan Catholic schools.”

The annual competitive Innovative and Leadership grant cycle takes place from September 15-October 31.

Each year, a Grants committee of the Board of Trustees reviews and evaluates each grant proposal and submits recommendations to the FIE Board for approval. Projects must align with the Foundation’s mission to strengthen and transform Catholic education and include unique and innovative approaches to teaching that will maximize impact on student learning.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Cheeseman, commented, “We are extremely grateful to Foundations in Education for continuing to make valuable investments in our schools, teachers and students. Across the diocese, educators are working hard to provide robust learning with limited resources. This latest round of grant funding will help support students with both online learning and in-person instruction.”

FIE’s Executive Director, Holly Doherty-Lemoine, remarked, “We are happy we can bring so many of these innovative projects to life and provide an initiative that gives teachers something to look forward to in the midst of all the uncertainty of COVID-19. This initiative is an opportunity for us to celebrate teachers, who are among the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”

This year the awards reception took place virtually. In addition to awardees and their principals, attendees included Most Revered Frank J. Caggiano, Foundations’ Board of Trustees, Grants Committee, and donors.

Each awardee had the opportunity to acknowledge their award and explain their project and vision.

After listening to each presentation, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano shared his reflections with awardees.

“The creativity is extraordinary! The fact that this is happening when we are constricted in so many other ways portrays heroic leadership. I am deeply impressed that these challenges have not prevented, but inspired such imagination and creative proposals. This is Catholic education as it has always been imagined!”

For more information or to learn how you can donate to support innovation and leadership in the Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic Schools, please visit www.foundationsineducation.org.

2021 INNOVATION AND LEADERSHIP GRANT AWARDS

  • St. Catherine Academy for Special Needs, Fairfield: Classroom Robot for Students with Autism by Helen Burland $4,550
  • Kolbe Cathedral High School, Bridgeport: Kolbe Urban Vegetable Garden by Andrew DeCoster $4,000
  • Holy Trinity Catholic Academy, Shelton: Distance Learning – Owl Labs by Kristina DeSimone $11,000; and World Language Lab by Lisa Lanni $9,765
  • St. Gregory the Great School, Danbury: Together at the Heart: Creating Art Six Feet Apart by Jennifer Sullivan $3,500
  • St. Mark School, Stratford: Document Cameras to Reach, Teach and Engage Students by Amanda Di Costanzo and Stacey Zenowich $1,278.56 • Catholic Academy of Bridgeport-St. Ann Academy: Lights, Camera, Action! by Kathy McNeiece $3,500
  • Notre Dame High School, Fairfield: Social and Emotional Learning at Notre Dame High School by Chris Cipriano $12,090; Virtual Dance in the Community by Kristen McAfee $6,000; and Real Estate 101 Enrichment Course by Joshua St. Onge $1,000
  • All Diocesan and Diocesan-Sponsored Catholic Schools in Fairfield County: Demonstration of Innovation and Leadership Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic by all faculty and staff (full-time and part-time) and the Office of the Superintendent $82,600

Click here to view the event recording

 

Dr. Cheeseman praises Catholic School Teachers

Dear Catholic Educators,

I found it fitting that the daily reflection for January 31, the first day of Catholic Schools Week, in the Essential Teachings of Mother Teresa, a Christmas gift I received this year, read: “Love cannot remain by itself—it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” Today, I write to you to thank you for your service, your love in action, for all that you do each day to support your students and their families. This past year presented us with challenges but it also afforded us an opportunity to demonstrate one of the key differentiators of Catholic schools —our teachers, administrators and staff. As Catholic educators, YOU showed up for our kids. YOU showed up, ignoring your own fears and anxieties. And, while many give lip service to “doing it for the kids,” YOU showed up and put the love of Christ in action. By meeting these challenges with compassion and flexibility, you placed the needs of students and families above all else.

Whether they were sitting in front of you or joining your class from home, you made sure that your students were safe. You found creative and innovative ways to meet the diverse academic needs in your classroom, you used every inch of your classroom and every tool at your disposal- many that you learned on the fly these past few months. But most importantly, YOU showed up for them. Please accept my gratitude for your service, for all that you have done and continue to do for the young people of the Diocese of Bridgeport. Know you are in my prayers. May God bless you and your family and may Our Lady continue to shower her blessings on our Catholic school family.

Sincerely,

Dr. Steven F. Cheeseman

Superintendent of Schools

‘We’ll make this school full again’

DANBURY—In September, St. Joseph School was inundated with parents who wanted to enroll their children—so many that the Catholic school had to add classes.

Unlike Danbury Public Schools, St. Joseph’s was open in-person, a major draw for families, who did not want their children on distance learning.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook for those young ones,” said Louis Howe, principal at St. Joseph’s, a K-8 school that has had about 30 new students join since September. “Those young ones need to be in school. It’s tough for them to be on a computer.”

Interest has heightened locally and nationally in Catholic schools, which in recent years have struggled and even combined or closed due to enrollment declines and budgetary challenges.

“Our hope is that as families have experienced Catholic school education that they will see the value of it and that they will continue to send their students,” said Steven Cheeseman, superintendent of schools in the Dioceses of Bridgeport.

Their small size has allowed most Catholic schools in Fairfield County to do what many public schools have not during the coronavirus pandemic—open five days a week for all students who want to be there.

Many public schools have been on the hybrid model for at least part of the academic year and have had to temporarily close due to staff shortages or COVID cases. Danbury was on full distance learning until mid-January.

Only two Catholic high schools in the Bridgeport dioceses are on a hybrid model, while all other schools are open fully in-person, Cheeseman said.

Preschool decline

Similarly, public schools faced a drop in kindergarten enrollment, although Cheeseman said Catholic schools have seen a rise in kindergartners.

Catholic schools have historically seen pre-kindergarten as their “bread and butter,” Howe said.

“We saw the reverse,” he said. “Our K-8 is carrying our pre-K.”

St. Joseph’s is down about 20 pre-kindergartners from 45 students last school year.

Parents with young children have been concerned that preschoolers wouldn’t be good at wearing masks and did not want to worry about remote learning if necessary, Howe said.

“Some of these parents perhaps didn’t realize we’d be going this long without having to shut the school down,” he said.

He expects more pre-kindergartners could enroll. Already, one preschooler is supposed to start next week, he said.

“Parents are starting to realize we’ve got protocols in place,” Howe said. “We’re staying open and our preschool is up and running.”

Cheeseman said he has seen the same across the dioceses.

Filling the building

Without the preschool decline, Howe expects St. Joseph’s would have more students than last academic year, when 221were enrolled.

St. Joseph’s had 187 students enrolled before Labor Day, but reached more than 200 students by the end of the first week of school, Howe said. As of February, there are 215 students. There is a waitlist for this year and next year.

The school added another kindergarten and second grade class. This is the first time in a while that the school has had two classes for one grade, he said.

“It’s been a blessing,” Howe said.

“These families are seeing there is a difference of remote learning and in-school learning,” Howe said.

Over 20 families, largely in K-8, are on the waitlist for next year. Class sizes are 20 to 21 students on average, but cannot be increased at the moment due to social distancing guidelines, Howe said.

“I’m not willing to crunch desks together just to get more [students] in,” he said. “I’m not going to sacrifice safety for money.”

But he hopes restrictions could be eased next year, allowing more students to enroll. The building could hold between 400 to 600 students, he said.

“We’ll make this school full again,” Howe said. “That’s my mission, and I think we’re well on the way to achieving that.”

But the pandemic did hurt schools like St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Brookfield. After years of enrollment decline and financial challenges, that school closed permanently
at the end of last academic year.

The pandemic hurt schools’ ability to raise money, which was a contributing factor in closing the academy, Cheeseman said.

The National Catholic Education Association estimates COVID played a factor in closing 107 Catholic schools across the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Staying open

Catholic schools have a big advantage—their small size.

There are more than 7,000 students spread out between the Bridgeport diocese’s 25 elementary and high schools.Comparatively, Bridgeport has about 20,000 students, Danbury has around 12,000, Norwalk has about 11,500, Stamford has around 16,000 and Greenwich has roughly 9,000.

“We’re much smaller and more nimble,” Cheeseman said.

Schools range in size, with about 150 students at the smallest elementary school and around 375 elementary children at the largest, he said. The high schools range from 400 to 800 students.

“It’s easier to isolate the students in the classroom and limit movement and easier to social distance because we have a smaller school, unlike our public school friends that have thousands of students to deal with,” Howe said.

All but about eight St. Joseph’s students opted to be in-person, he said.

Parent Megan Cerullo said her children were “elated” to return to St. Joseph’s.

Students mainly stay in the classroom, where they eat lunch, and are not permitted to leave their hallways, Howe said. Each hallway has its own bathroom and teachers’ lounge.

“Everything is pretty much contained in the classroom,” Howe said.

This means quarantines are generally limited to one class, but even those have been rare, he said. Before Christmas, St. Joseph’s only quarantined one class. There have been a few COVID cases since then, he said.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Howe said.

The average distance between desks is just over five feet at St. Josephs, Howe said. Across the diocese, desks are between four and a half to six feet apart, Cheeseman said.

Just like the public schools, it has been rare for the virus to spread within the Catholic school buildings. The schools have found only one possible instance, Cheeseman said.

Howe said families have been helping in following precautions, including students wearing their masks like it’s “second nature.”

“I believe really wholeheartedly that the reason we’re still open is: not only do we have a solid plan, but we also have the cooperation of our community,” Howe said.

For parents that do not want to send their children to school, the dioceses has created an online academy.

‘High hopes’ for future

“We’re seeing an increased enrollment for a reason,” she said. “I do believe a faith-based education is something that parents want for their children.”

She expects this will be a boost for Catholic schools beyond the pandemic.

“The challenge is getting them [families] in the doors,” Cerullo said. “Once they’re in the doors, we can show them everything we have to offer and how we stand apart from other schools.”

Ensuring the families feel like part of the community will be key to getting them to stay, Howe said.

“Once that happens, they’re not going to want to leave,” he said.

Cheeseman said he held a Zoom call with 22 families who moved this year from the public to Catholic school.

“Every one of them said, ‘I wish we would have done this sooner,’” Cheeseman said. “If that’s an indication, then I have high hopes for what the future can bring.”

By Julia Perkins   I   Danbury News Times

St. Ann Academy Students thank Bishop Caggiano

BRIDGEPORT—If you’re looking for an uplifting moment during a difficult time, watch this video that St. Ann Academy in Bridgeport sent Bishop Frank J. Caggiano after his recent visit to the school located in the Black Rock neighborhood of Bridgeport.

Bishop Caggiano was very touched by the video and the thoughtfulness of the students, faculty and staff who wanted to show their appreciation.

“St. Ann’s is like family.” This is a phrase we hear over and over from alumni and newcomers alike, and it’s the characteristic that makes us most proud,” said Principal Patricia A. Griffin, who said the children were very excited by the Bishop’s visit.

St. Ann Academy is located at 521 Brewster Street, Bridgeport CT, 06605
Phone: 203-334-5856. Online: https://www.catholicacademybridgeport.org/our-schools/st-ann/