As I sit and reflect about my oldest child graduating from elementary school, I thought I would share may family's story and our experience at St. James Major Catholic School. A school full of children should be surrounded by positivity and love, and that's what St. James Major has done for my children.
Our story at St. James began in 2014 when their father and I decided to keep our children in a smaller school. After visiting the school with our children, it was an easy decision. St. James was a perfect fit for our family.
St. James is a family in a way I have never seen before. The staff are fully invested in the kids at St. James. At recess, the staff can be found playing soccer, basketball or other games with the students outside, eating their lunch with the students, or giving extra academic help if required. There is still bickering and disagreements on the school yard amongst the students, like any school, but they are still a family and all look out for each other. Many of the staff members would take their own time and go watch the kids’ sporting events in the evenings or on weekends to cheer them on. Every staff member attended the 1st Communion of my boys, which was not on school time. The staff was proud of them and just having them there shows what kind of support system this school has. Parents and family members of the teaching staff can be seen at fundraising events, Christmas concert and graduation.
They do this for all their students, not just my children. It is a whole-hearted family in this building. Small school – huge heart.
Unfortunately, during their first year at the school, our family faced a couple of tragedies. First, we lost their poppa and then 3 months later we suddenly lost their father. The day this happened, my children were in school and we sat on the steps outside as I held them and broke their hearts. My oldest decided to stay at school and finish the day, trying to keep his life normal. Along with our amazing community, the whole school (staff, parents, and students) wrapped their arms around my family in the upcoming weeks.
As a mom, I had many fears about sending them back to school after this tragedy. Am I making them go back too soon? Am I putting too much on the teachers? What if someone says something to make them cry? How do I even let them out of my sight? And my everyday question: how am I ever going to get them through this?
The staff were very patient and understanding with all the behaviour changes that come with a traumatic event. Teachers play many different roles and this is one they are not trained for. If one of their students are hurting, they are also hurting. We have worked through several challenging issues like separation anxiety, control issues, suicidal ideation, anger and extreme sadness and grief.
At the end of that school year we learned that Vice Principal Anna Coe and Kaden’s teacher Dave Rooney were leaving. Secretly, I feared how my kids would react with what felt like another loss after Kaden had bonded with his teacher. Enter a new school year and a new teacher. Little did I know at that time that the young teacher with the crazy hair and a love for basketball would be such a difference maker and play such a huge role in Kaden’s life. Mr. Mike Veryzer kindly tucked Kaden under his wing and has gone above and beyond for him, and is always there if he needs him.
Some may think multiple grades in one class is a disadvantage, but not in our case. This has allowed to Kaden to have Mr. V for a couple of years now. Kaden knows the expectations and requirements, Mike knows Kaden’s learning style, how to motivate him when needed, when to push him or when he needs a few minutes to be alone and because of this, he is soaring.
My little Kale also found comfort under the wing of Mr. Angelo DiCintio. Kale would come home from school telling me how he got to help Mr. D and proudly show me his new little work boots and work gloves. These were passed down from Mr. D's boys, along with a few other treasures. Kale found a new love and outlet with hockey. We were surprised one game when Mr. D and his wife walked in, there to cheer him on (and almost as loud as mom). He could be called support staff, custodian, caretaker or janitor. Realistically, he is the foundation of the school. Never changing year after year, students are welcomed each day to school with his smile and a cheerful greeting.
To add to the family-feel of the school, Mike’s wife Colleen Veryzer joined the teaching staff 2 years ago. Now, they are sharing their family with their school family; their new daughter is the roots of empathy baby for the school. Colleen has also been a difference maker for my family. Her bubbly personality added some fun and sparked an interest in learning for Kale. She actually tutored him on her own time. Kale struggles academically with dyslexia. After working with Colleen and Lori Bryden; we developed an education plan for Kale and his confidence has improved. He continues to work hard and has shown great improvement this year with Mrs. Lindsay Curran. Not sure how but she has this kid engaged and motivated this year. My fridge is now covered with assignments and tests that show 100%. This is the first year this boy has ever seen an “A” on his report cards.
Besides the teachers mentioned; Angela Stuper, Betsy Filion, Michelle McNichols, Debra Robinson, Mary Wringe, Kasey Mattice and Diane LaFortune have all played a huge positive role in my children's lives. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for my children and others.
February 20, 2019
Original article in the Frontenac News: https://www.frontenacnews.ca/editorials/item/12948-school-made-a-difference