St. Mary’s School

by Norbert Haley Sun contributing writer

CORTLAND — When families enroll their children at St. Mary’s School in Cortland, they are looking at the St. Mary’s experience as the elementary education program to provide their children with a  foundation for future academic success in high school and beyond. At the same time, parents made their choice knowing that a St. Mary’s experience will help individual students develop a personal, moral and ethical outlook that is based on faith in God and the concepts of individual responsibility and leadership.

These are the observations of Susan McInvale, principal of St. Mary’s, which enrolls close to 280 students in grades pre-kindergarten through sixth.

St. Mary’s, regarded by the Diocese of Syracuse as a regional Catholic elementary school, attracts a student body that comes from 10 different public school districts in Central New York, including seven different Catholic parishes.

The school is nationally accredited by the Middle States Association Commission on Elementary Schools.

“Children who study at St. Mary’s have a wide range of educational advantages that can only come from a relatively small school with a foundation of Catholic oriented principles centered on Christian beliefs,” said McInvale.

The St. Mary’s experience is viewed by staff and faculty as the sum of all the classroom work, field trips, student activities and the special events that command the interest and attention of student body members. “It is a coming together of academic and intellectual pursuits combined with a diversified offering of social, athletic and cultural programming that expands the growth and development of each student,” McInvale explained.

The school advocates a spirit of community with students, families, teachers and staff, and emphasizes service to others.  The St. Mary’s experience embodies the key elements of involvement and participation on the part of all students at every level.


While noting the success of the SMS educational program for children enrolled in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade,   McInvale points out some of the characteristics that reflect the Catholic aspect of the institution. She cites the following:

(1) School starts every day with a prayer session in Deke McEvoy Gymnasium. All students and faculty participate.
(2) Just prior to dismissal in the afternoon, an end-of-the-day prayer session           takes place over the intercom network for students still in their classrooms. The session is conducted by different teams of students working with teachers.
(3) Each class from second grade through sixth has the responsibility to sponsor an All-School Mass every month during the school year at St. Mary’s Church. Students serve as greeters, lecturers, musicians and cantors. The Mass is open to the public.
(4) All students receive religious instruction and are shown how to put elements of faith into action. Christ-centered instruction is part of everyday classes.
(5)   Students often participate as a group in church services on special occasions.

The late Msgr. Michael P. Minehan, pastor of St. Mary’s Church from July 2005 until his death in November 2008, had this to say about SMS: “We thank God for the many blessings we have received as a parish from St. Mary’s School. In a society that has fewer and fewer shared values, a place to nurture the faith of our children is crucial. How blessed we are to have St. Mary’s School. As the banner hanging in the School proclaims: ‘Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school. In its classrooms, He is the unseen but ever present teacher. He is the model of its faculty and the Inspiration of its students.’”


A “buddies” program at St. Mary’s pairs up older students with students in younger grades and they help each other with class projects. At the same time, students develop a sense of responsibility in working together while adding to the family atmosphere fostered by the school.

Teachers cooperate in selecting matching pairs of students according to areas of interest, personalities, and levels of maturity. First-graders are paired with fourth- graders, second and fifth-graders work together and sixth grade students are buddies with students in the third grade.

“The younger students look up to the older students who serve as role models,” explained McInvale. “The older student has to learn to be patient in working with a partner.  Both younger and older buddies find out that they need to get along with each other and what it means to work together. They collaborate on projects several times each week.”


The Student Council at St. Mary’s consists of 16 students elected by their classmates to serve during the current school year. Delegates are elected from grades three to six with each participating class having four representatives.

The Council meets weekly with the principal and considers topics that relate to the specific interests of individual students as well as concerns for the overall welfare of the school.


In February, two classes of kindergarten students at St. Mary’s joined in the celebration of 100 days of school completed up to that time with the theme, We Are 100 Days Smarter. Teachers Lori Prine and Lynn Ann Stoll utilized the 100th day observance as an educational focal point by having students concentrate on such activities as the study of numbers, reading skills, and writing, all with an emphasis on the figure 100.
“The children were truly excited about the event and the preparations done in class to commemorate the 100 days,” said  Prine, who started the event eight years ago. The 32 students counted down the 100 days by using charts and graphs. And they used their art talents in making 100-day posters.

On the day of the celebration, the kindergarten students participated in fun activities after lunch in the cafeteria. All the events involved the number 100 at each activity station. Kindergarten parents also joined in the program.


The 40-member St. Mary’s School Chorus has embarked on a community service series of concerts this year. The chorus is making monthly appearances at the Rehabilitation Center of the Cortland Regional Medical Center, senior citizens centers, and at civic organizations. These concerts are in addition to the regular holiday and spring concerts at the school. The chorus often does sing-a-long numbers with residents of the Rehabilitation Center. Pamela Palmer is choral music director at St. Mary’s School.


As a parent of two children who have graduated from St. Mary’s School as well as of two younger children who are presently enrolled, Samantha Augur has demonstrated her support for the school by undertaking major volunteer roles for the past 10 years.
Principal McInvale, said that Augur may be the biggest booster currently in the ranks of St. Mary’s School families.

“She is serving her second consecutive term as co-president of the Parents Guild, volunteers as a substitute teacher, helps the cafeteria crew, bakes cookies for classroom activities, manages the weekly bingo event, and is a leader in the classroom parent program,” McInvale said. Sam, as her family and friends know her, and her husband, Dave, live in Solon where they own and operate a dairy farm. Their two children who have already graduated from St. Mary’s School are Alicia, age 15, now in ninth grade in McGraw Central School, and Allyson, age 13, who is in eighth grade at McGraw.

The two Augur children now enrolled in  St. Mary’s are David Jr., age 11, in sixth  grade, and Abbey, age 5, in kindergarten.

Augur, who first started with the Parents Guild in 1989, said volunteering comes natural for her.

“You want the best for your children and I am willing to do what I can to help strengthen St. Mary’s as an outstanding elementary school.” she said.

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