Cathedral Academy at Pompei will open the school year with new programs
By Connie Berry
The sky’s the limit for the academic and social opportunities awaiting the 115 students who will walk through the doors of Cathedral Academy at Pompei (CAP) on Syracuse’s north side in a couple of weeks.
There is a new leadership team model in place for the administration of the school, consisting of new arrival Our Lady of Pompei pastor Father Daniel Caruso, newly-appointed principal Sister Helen Ann Charlebois, IHM, and last year’s principal turned this year’s director of development, Patricia Schmidt. The threesome have high hopes and pretty impressive plans for the school year.
CAP’s newest partnership with Le Moyne College, the Le Moyne Teachers Corps, means the cream of the crop of Le Moyne education graduate students will work on their master’s degrees while they are teaching at CAP. Four new teachers will be part of that program. They will pick up needed experience and gain insight from veteran Catholic educators while at the same time injecting enthusiasm and passion into the classrooms, invigorating the CAP teachers already in place. The new opportunities at CAP are part of the school’s plan to keep enrollment up and sustain the Catholic school presence in the community. This year also begins the process of the school reverting to a parish school, a fact not lost on the new pastor, Father Caruso, who formerly led St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Binghamton. He said he’s familiar with the Italian traditions of both parishes.
“The areas are similar and both have traditional ethnic backgrounds, and we have to see how the parish can best meet the needs of the community. A parish getting a school back from the diocese can look like a burden, but ultimately it is a blessing,” he said.
Sister Helen Ann was thrilled to hear that Father Caruso has already addressed the need for supporting the ministry of Catholic education from the pulpit.
“I didn’t hear his recent homily,” Sister Helen Ann said. “But I heard about it, and he delivered a message that we’ve been dying to hear – the necessity of the parish to embrace the ministry of Catholic education.”
The connection between community, parish and school is one that can be advantageous for all concerned, Father Caruso explained. “This parish is a sign of hope for the people who live here,” he said. “The school is another way to reach out to the people in the neighborhood, reaching out especially to those who haven’t been here long. We need to reach out to them and find their gifts. Hope is a term I used a lot in Binghamton and I’m sure people got tired of hearing it, but people need hope.”
Along with the new Le Moyne Teacher Corps, the college also provides teachers for Mandarin and Spanish classes at CAP. There are graduate and undergraduate students serving as mentors to the students at CAP. Students from the nursing program at Le Moyne have gained experience at CAP. Interns with a special summer literacy program came from Le Moyne, and Father Donald Maldari, SJ, associate professor in the religious studies department at Le Moyne, brings students who will eventually travel to Dominica for a service learning trip to CAP for practical experience with people of other cultures.
The connection between CAP and Le Moyne College began approximately five years ago when Cathedral School downtown closed and merged with Our Lady of Pompei School, resulting in CAP. Dr. Linda LeMura is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Le Moyne, and she is also a parishioner of Our Lady of Pompei Church. She recruited the help of Schmidt who came in and helped with the transition. Schmidt was full professor of literacy in the education department at Le Moyne. Last year she was named principal and head of development for CAP. Schmidt has been championing the pre-k through sixth grade school ever since.
Schmidt said enrollment is up this year from the 80 students last year. She attributes the numbers to word-of-mouth interest in the school. There is also a commitment from the diocesan Catholic Schools Office with both financial and personal support, Schmidt said. “This school is moving forward,” Schmidt said. “It’s an international school in the Catholic tradition.” The school is made up of students from many cultures around the world — China, Kenya, Somalia, Cuba, Taiwan, Eritrea, India, Burma and others. The students are prepared for a global society with the foundation of Catholic values, Sister Helen Ann added. The New York State curriculum is followed and high academic standards are upheld, with mentors coming from a variety of professions. CAP offers Le Moyne students experience in urban education, and the CAP students benefit from the immersion of the Le Moyne students. Besides the Le Moyne education department connection, there are also Jesuit volunteers serving at the school.
Not all of the programs at CAP are completely derived from the Jesuit college’s connection. Fidelis has also provided a grant to CAP for some health education programs, and the Guardian Angel Society, founded by the late Father Joseph Champlin more than a decade ago, still provides tuition assistance to CAP students. All these aspects result in strong community support for Catholic education, Schmidt explained.
This academic year adds another dimension to CAP — the Young Musician’s Project. Students will take part in a daily after-school program for approximately two hours bringing together dance, voice and instrumental music experience. This is one of only two projects like this outside New York City. The program is being offered through Imagine Syracuse, a non-profit organization offering after-school programs in Syracuse. The Young Musicians Project is modeled after El Sistema, a music education program begun in Venezuela. A team of professional musicians from the Syracuse area will staff the program. An added bonus, Schmidt explained, is that National Public Radio plans to follow CAP’s progress with the Young Musicians Project over the next three years. The school’s administrators and the leadership of Imagine Syracuse hope this puts Syracuse — and CAP — on the map.
The cultural diversity of CAP has also led to Catholic Charities of Onondaga County (CCOC) relocating its preschool program to the north side school. Mike Malara, executive director of CCOC, said the benefits are three-fold.
“CAP offers a wonderfully diverse environment for our kids,” Malara said. “Our preschool program is incredibly culturally diverse and this is the perfect place for the work we do. Having the preschool in a school building will prepare our preschoolers for moving on to the school classroom. And finally, the space is wonderful for us. We have the gym, classrooms and the playground — it works for us.”
The commitment of the staff at CAP and of the community is evident. Schmidt explained that CAP also hopes to offer English as a Second Language classes to the parents of CAP students this fall.
Sister Helen Ann is a Syracuse native and the product of a Catholic education, having graduated from Most Holy Rosary School on the west side of the city.
“My Aunt Mary was one of the first students to go through all the classes at Rosary. I have her class ring,” Sister Helen Ann said. “Our school is really about evangelizing and strengthening our Catholic heritage — and once the students get here, they’re loved to death.”
For more information about CAP and its programs, call Patricia Schmidt or Sister Helen Ann Charlebois at (315) 422-8548.