The first day for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Venice was Aug. 9, 2021 and encompassed the usual mix of excitement, tears (children and parents) and reunions among friends.
“Love you!” “Miss you already!” “One more hug!” “Have a great day!” “Have fun!”
These were some of the words from parents and students as the first day carline was full of stops and starts at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte. While the parents tried to figure out the proper carline procedures the students emerged from their respective family vehicles with ubiquitous backpacks and all having a bounce in their step and enthusiasm to get to class. Of course, there were a few stragglers who weren’t quite certain where their first class was, but teachers and middle school-aged escorts led the way.
For the youngest students, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, some parents escorted their child into the classroom. Following a few last “First Day of School” photos, the parents left and everyone quickly settled into their seats. The teachers introduced themselves and expressed their excitement for the start of the new school year. Finally, the children, some new to the school, some longtime students, were introduced to the classmates – aka, their new friends.
A morning assembly in the courtyard, beneath the clock tower of St. Charles Borromeo, put the students in the right frame of mind for the day and the Academic Year as everyone joined in morning prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a few birthday announcements. Then it was off to the classroom to learn and grow spiritually and academically.
The 15 Diocesan Catholic schools work conscientiously to provide Christ-centered learning experiences that are transportable to the real world and provide the opportunity for children to develop life-long learning skills and to be successful beyond the classroom.
Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education said the 2021-2022 Academic Year began with enrollment in excess of 5,100, a more than 15% increase over the previous year. In fact, Father Belmonte said 10 Diocesan schools have wait lists and the others are seeing enrollment reaching levels not seen in more than a decade.
“There was a focused effort to let the community in on the secret that Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools provide a top-notch education at all grade levels,” Father Belmonte said. “There are exciting things happening in our schools and families are starting to take notice.”
That excitement includes the expansion of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) model in all classrooms. This is part of a larger partnership with FIRST® (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the leading robotics competition in the world. This project, fully supported through the generosity of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, will be placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues by helping students to develop cognitive thought processes and gain skills such as leadership, communication, complex problem solving, teamwork and creativity.
Another professional development effort for faculty and teachers is focused on addressing students with special needs. This is an important multi-phased effort to identify students who have difficulty learning in a traditional setting. The goal is to identify these students and provide them with the proper support necessary to ensure their success both academically and personally.
In addition, Diocese Catholic schools will continue to build their devotion to St. Joseph, as part of the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph.” This will be accomplished through an initiative planned to begin in October and will include bringing prayer and devotion to the home.
The first day of the new year was also a reminder that the global Pandemic was still present in society. Therefore, the optional mask policy was adjusted due to the severity of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. The temporary policy change, which includes a weekly review, also allows parents the option to choose online learning for their child.
Some parents expressed their concern with the temporary policy change by reaching out by phone, email and social media to both Bishop Dewane and Father Belmonte. Some even gathered at two schools while a few visited the Catholic Center. Father Belmonte personally spoke with many parents and reached out to others to explain how the decision came about.
As Father Belmonte and Bishop Dewane both noted in correspondence to families, it is the responsibility of each Diocesan Catholic school to ensure the safety of all students. As noted, the temporary change will be revisited on a weekly basis. When the health situation improves, masks will again become optional but highly encouraged.