If one were to ask Bishop Luers High School principal James Huth what makes his school so special, he would say that it is the students themselves. He often speaks of specific classes as “a good group of students.” With that at the forefront, recent improvements to the Fort Wayne high school have been made for the greater benefit of the students.
Over the last couple of years, the school has undergone several bouts of renovations worth more than a million dollars, courtesy of generous donor support. “And more to come,” Huth added. “I would suggest just kind of keep an eye on us, because we’re moving, we’re improving, getting better every day.”
All of the improvements have been made with the safety and well-being of the Bishop Luers community in mind. On the exterior, sidewalk improvements and increased lighting have provided a safer environment. The gymnasium has undergone changes to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Inside the classrooms, another improvement went into play this year, due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 can be spread through the air, so one of the things that organizations like schools are doing to prevent its spread is purifying the air that the students breathe. When the company Energy Harness demonstrated UVC air purifiers at a principals’ meeting, Huth knew he had to jump on board – and quickly. “We were lucky to get in line because these people are busy all over the country right now, so we got in line early for installation,” Huth explained. The ceiling vents went in at the beginning of the school year, using EANS-1 (Emergency Assistance to Nonpublic Schools) funding.
How the UVC purifiers work is fascinating, Huth commented. The air handlers circulate 900 square feet of air every hour, passing the air through ultraviolet radiation, where it is held for a couple of seconds. There, the UV rays kill any bacteria and germs present. The UV rays also render viruses incapable of replicating, as viruses are not living things and can only replicate through a living host, such as bacteria, animals or plants. Huth is hopeful that the new technology will decrease the instances of influenza and colds as well as COVID.
“We’ve been blessed with that money and thought this was a very fruitful way to spend that money in terms of creating some safety; psychological and physical safety for our people and for our kids,” he said, adding that students and teachers “feel much more safe in the building.”
Each classroom has one or two units, depending on the size of the room, and the cafeteria has seven. “Every space in the building is being circulated through these units.”
This technology has been important to the school because, as Huth has seen, in-person teaching is much more effective than virtual learning, and the Catholic schools have been striving to maintain in-person learning. He commented, “We know that our learning, our teaching is all done by relationship, and it’s really hard to have relationships across a video monitor.”
Improving for the future
When Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades made his annual pastoral visit in January, he blessed the renovated gymnasium. During renovations, the floor was sanded down to its original 1958 white maple and refinished with a new, faded-red-and-black paint job, new aluminum and composite bleachers instead of the old wooden ones, retractable basketball stands and a fresh coat of ceiling paint.
“The gym touches – it’s our family room,” said Louise Jackson, director of mission advancement at the high school, “it’s athletics, it’s performing arts, and it’s where we have our all-school Mass, so it’s not just a gym.”
All of these improvements were made possible by two anonymous donors who “wanted us to make a statement,” as Huth put it, for marketing purposes and to attract new students. Jackson is excited about the updates, which may appeal to potential Luers families to “see what is inside the building.”
Another way that Bishop Luers is attracting new students is through a scholarship in place for incoming freshmen, giving them $1,000 for the first year, $750 the next two years and $500 for their senior year. Jackson said that the scholarship started in the fall and will be available again next fall. Even transfer students can get a portion of the scholarship. “Anyone who’s thinking about coming to Luers, we can make it very affordable,” Jackson stated.
“We feel that our students deserve a safe environment … we feel our students are worthy of a fresh coat of paint, good lighting,” she continued. “We should have the best that we possibly can for our students, for their learning environment in this Catholic high school.”
Catholic at its heart
Overall, though, Huth is proud of the Catholic tradition maintained within the walls of Bishop Luers. Their service learning program is a large part of this. “A lot of our kids receive services,” he stated. “But we want them to walk out of the doors of Bishop Luers High School knowing how to give service also.”
Through the program, students participate in active service projects such as making sandwiches for soup pantries, writing letters to servicemembers and those in prison and caring for creation by sorting seeds for Eagle Marsh Wetlands.
“The question of ‘Is Christ alive here at Bishop Luers High School’ I think speaks for itself,” Huth said. Around five to 10 students receive sacraments each year when the bishop visits, and Huth credits the school’s theology department for instilling a love and interest for the faith within even non-Catholic students. “This is where the rubber meets the road, and it’s happening here.”
Like Huth, Jackson is looking to the future and the great things Bishop Luers can accomplish moving forward. Improvements will continue on the 64-year-old building, making it a safe, welcoming and creative learning space for all its students.
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