Community of continuity

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lukes_luddenpix_2_BWBishop Ludden program connects alumni with current students

by Luke Eggleston
Sun staff writer

Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School strives to create in the classroom a sense of community that goes beyond the classroom.

Recently, the school adopted a program designed to connect the Syracuse Catholic school’s past with its present.

The Bishop Ludden House System, modeled loosely on Harvard University’s residential house program, places a small group of students – between nine and 13 – in a unit together. Each unit is headed by a staff member who functions as a housemaster and an alum who is the house steward whose picture is posted outside the classroom. Each house is named after the alum. Each unit is part of a “college” named after a saint, including St. Paul, St. Dominic, St. Martin, St. Catherine, St. Clare and St. Theresa.

“It connects alumni who have been crying out to be reconnected. I have people who were here to be house stewards who were from the class of 1968 right up to the 2000s,” said Principal Curt Czarniak, who devised the program. “We have people who are right now reconnecting with their alma mater and looking to now nourish the kids who are here after they have been nourished by Bishop Ludden.”

The staff and administration hope that the program will enhance the sense of community at Bishop Ludden.

“We really believe that as this continues, when the kids graduate they will see themselves as not just graduates of the class of, for example 2014 or 2015, but as class of 2015, house of Murphy, college of St. Dominick,” Czarniak said.

Sister Chris Pologa, CSJ, has taught religion at Bishop Ludden for five years. She is a headmaster for a class of sophomore students including Christopher Davis, whose mother, Mary Beth (Spencer) Davis was selected as a house steward. Davis, a 1978 alum of Bishop Ludden, was eager to accept the role when her alma mater offered it. Her oldest daughter, Nora, graduated from Bishop Ludden and now attends Nazareth College. Another daughter, Julianne, is currently a senior at Bishop Ludden.

“I think it’s a great program and it’s getting some of the alumni to invest back in and bring back some of that feeling that we had when we were here years ago,” Davis said.

Davis and her fellow house stewards were commissioned in a special ceremony following a Mass held Wednesday, Feb. 4, in the school’s gymnasium. Father Dan Muscalino celebrated the Mass with Father Joseph O’Connor as concelebrant. In addition to offering an opportunity to commission the stewards, the Mass served as an opening event for Catholic Schools Week.

“We invite you to be part of the on-going experience at Bishop Ludden, which goes beyond facts and knowledge to include matters of faith,” Father Muscalino said to the alumni during his homily. “That is the most important thing we do – bear witness to this faith.”

Father Muscalino challenged the students, asking if they might one day become strewards themselves. Finally, Father Muscalino welcomed the stewards. “Today we’re asking that you take an active part in the Bishop Ludden community,” he said.

Sister Chris expanded on Czarniak’s claim that the program will enhance the school’s sense of community. She added that the stewards provide students with examples of success they can aspire to.

“It reinforces the sense of community that we build at Catholic schools. It also brings the alumni back as wonderful role models of community involvement, of service, which is part of what our identity is as a Catholic school,” she said.

She also noted that the program builds on the school’s sense of family.

“It also enriches the family. As Mary Beth said, she’s got three kids and we’ll have her grandchildren someday. It’s that whole sense of ‘We’re in this together.’ Now she becomes a mom to 10 kids,” Sister Chris said. “It’s a growing program and it’s a great way for people to come back as role models and say ‘Carry on the Catholic faith, carry on the traditions, bring them into the community, and let’s transform the community.’”

Czarniak also emphasized the house system as an enhancement of the school’s commitment to family values.

“The house system creates small learning communities, which are like families, nine to 13 students with a house master and now a house steward,” he said. “Unlike a traditional homeroom in which you’ve got 25 students and all the homeroom teacher does is take attendance, the housemaster will get to know those nine to 13 students and their families. They’ll get to know them, they’ll communicate with them, they’ll keep track of how they’re doing academically, socially, behavior-wise. So it’s really to grow the culture of Bishop Ludden, the very family centered Bishop Ludden experience.”

According to a proposal Czarniak presented to the Syracuse Diocese, early research indicated that the house system had improved students’ grades and also decreased tardiness. Czarniak also pointed out, however, that the program was still very new.

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