Every child counts

St. Mary’s in Cortland keeps families involved
submitted By st. Mary’s school

cortland — At St. Mary’s School more than 100 pupils are enrolled in classes designed specifically for 3, 4 and 5 year old children. Pre-kindergarten classes are considered part of the overall mission at St. Mary’s and are conducted with specific learning objectives and individual student development goals. The pre-k program was part of the evaluation process as conducted by the Middle States Accrediting Agency.

St. Mary’s conducts four different pre-k classrooms. One class has three year old children, one class has three and four year old children, and two classes have children ages four and five. The division of the students in each class is based not only on age but also on the levels of cognitive development and social aptitude.

“We believe that we have a more advanced role than a lot of pre-school settings,” principal Sister Harriet Hamilton, OSF, said. “All our pre-kindergarten teachers have college degrees and are New York State certified in early childhood education. Each class also has a full-time teacher aide. The program adheres to the policies and procedures required by the New York State Department of Education and to the educational standards of the diocese.”

Sister Harriet said St. Mary’s faculty notice that children with pre-kindergarten experience perform at a higher level in kindergarten and first grade than those who do not attend the pre-k program. Pre-kindergarten registration is already underway for September classes.

In other areas, a boost for religious education at St. Mary’s was provided in April by the Koch Foundation of Gainesville, Fla., when it awarded the school an $8,000 grant to support the acquisition of Bibles, lectionaries and liturgical songbooks for students.

In carrying out the stipulations of the grant, St. Mary’s will present age-appropriate Bibles to each student as well as give each graduating student a copy of the New American Bible. “The liturgical songbooks will enable our students to experience the music of their faith on a regular basis,” Sister Harriet noted. “These steps are important to undertake since St. Mary’s is the only Catholic school serving five counties in Central New York. The church continually challenges Catholic schools to foster their evangelizing ministry and teach the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

St. Mary’s stands as “a diocesan model” of educational excellence, teacher commitment, and high parent involvement, according to Sister Harriet. “Our educational programs include a morning prayer lesson involving the entire student body before classes begin, daily religion class, and Mass attendance at least once a month.”

Fun and Fit Family Kits” is the title of the family-oriented project which is connected with the Cortland County Heart Coalition, an affiliate of the County Health Department. The $1,000 grant will enable the school to acquire physical activity kits which will be lent to SMS students and families so they may participate in a regular program of home exercise. The kits are available for loan this spring. The grant application was prepared by Meg Narby who teaches physical education at St. Mary’s and two parent members of the SMS Wellness Team, Dr. Donna Videto and Christella Yonta, both of whom have children enrolled at St. Mary’s

The second grant from the County Health Department will provide “Move for Life Incentives” for faculty and staff. Kits provide information and instructions dealing with regular exercise programs and daily nutritional advice.

Another welcomed development came in March when St. Mary’s School won this year’s Family Counseling Services — Eckerd Drug Quiz competition which attracted the involvement of more than 500 students in Cortland County schools.

New this year is the initiation of a School Buddies Program. Older students are paired with younger students as they serve as role models and offer assistance with school projects. The buddies attend school Masses together and collaborate in such areas as mathematics, reading, science and art.

Each class at St. Mary’s from first to sixth grade has the responsibility at least once during the year to organize and conduct the program of worship for an All-School Mass. Msgr. Michael Minehan, pastor of St. Mary’s, meets with students of each class as they begin their duties and assignments for the day of the Mass they are sponsoring. “There are different roles for students to carry out,” Msgr. Minehan explained. “Some will do liturgical readings appropriate for the day and others will have responsibilities for the singing of hymns. Students also serve as gift bearers as well as greeters at the front of the church. Every student in the sponsoring class is involved.”

In the fund raising area, St. Mary’s School has received more than $50,000 in support over the past two years as a result of more than one million dollars in “grocery card” purchases at three local supermarkets by families and friends of the school and parishioners at local Catholic churches. The grocery card program was started in September 2004 by the SMS Parents Guild which entered into partnership with three Cortland stores. The stores donate to St. Mary’s five percent of the money generated by the purchase of groceries by SMS card holders. Grocery cards may be purchased with values of $25, $50 or $100. There is no added cost to card buyers and they may use the cards to buy groceries at any of the participating stores.

The Parents Guild has a team of 25 volunteers who are available to sell cards at different times at school and at church. Michelle McSherry of Cortland and Jennifer Turck of Homer are co-chairs of the Grocery Card Committee. Both have children at St. Mary’s.

The St. Mary’s agenda is filled with a variety of supportive activities such as the 13th annual alumni basketball game on April 29 with more than 50 SMS alumni involved. A public lecture on “Raising Children of Character” was presented by SUNY Cortland’s Dr.Thomas Lickona, nationally recognized specialist in the area of moral development of young people. The April 16 lecture was open to the public and was sponsored by the Parents’ Guild.

Still to come are the 22nd annual student art show in June, founded by art teacher Judy Johnson, and the annual spring concert directed by Patricia Heath and Pamela Palmer.

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