CORTLAND — It was a long time coming. On Sept. 4, the first day of the school year, St. Mary’s opened its doors to 13 seventh graders for the first time in almost 30 years. “The first day was great,” said principal Denise Hall. “They came back with such enthusiasm.”
The students were dressed in the school’s colors of blue and gold — blue T-shirts with “St. Mary’s Crusaders” written in gold lettering across the front.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” said seventh grader Sam Moheimani, of his first day. “But it turned out to be really fun. My teachers make learning a lot of fun.”
As a student of St. Mary’s since kindergarten, Sam also commented on the warm atmosphere of the school. “I feel at home,” he said. Sam added that he looked forward to doing well in academics and becoming closer with his fellow seventh graders this year.
Samantha Brasnan, also a seventh grader, had a positive experience on her first day as well. “It felt different coming in for the first day in seventh grade,” Samantha commented. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I liked the teachers and how nice they were to us.”
Samantha said her goal this year is to improve her math skills. “I’ve always had to work hard at it,” Samantha said.
Samantha has been a student of St. Mary’s since first grade. “I think it’s a great school — because of the atmosphere and the way people treat you,” she remarked.
Hall said that reopening the junior high has been the goal of several parent committees since the mid 1980s, when the school decreased to include kindergarten through sixth grade. Junior high students had to either travel to Catholic schools in nearby Syracuse or enroll in public schools in the Cortland and Homer area.
“The addition of seventh grade will add to our enrollment and give parents an alternative to public education,” said Hall. “Many of the students had a hard time of it when they had to leave St. Mary’s to attend public school.”
“The parents have continued to fight it [the closing] all these years,” Hall said. A consultant was hired to evaluate the possibility, but it wasn’t feasible to expand at that time.
The committee worked on the logistics of the expansion, and the timing for the school to add a seventh grade this year seemed right. “We have the parish subsidy, but other than that, we are going to make it,” said Hall.
The school’s enrollment has grown, unlike many other Catholic schools nationwide. “We’ve added programs to keep it thriving,” said Hall. “We’ve added a summer camp and revamped our technology program.”
The seventh graders will have the opportunity to study a foreign language this year, choosing between French or Spanish. Hall said that the foreign language skills the students acquire are reinforced in their technology class.
The students will also be able to choose from chorus, orchestra or band. New clubs established at the school include Robotics and the Outdoor/Recreation Club, in which students can engage in archery, hiking and fishing.
An eighth grade will be added to the school in the fall of 2014.
Hall has a very positive outlook on the future of St. Mary’s School. “It’s a great group of children,” remarked Hall, “and the parents are committed to the school — they are always coming up with new ideas.”