February 17, 2015 // Local

St. Vincent School: Hard work pays dividends in academic excellence

Students of St. Vincent de Paul School in Elkhart are eager to answer a question of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during his homily on Feb. 12.

By Denise Fedorow

For more photos visit the photo gallery.

ELKHART — The teachers and students at St. Vincent De Paul School in Elkhart have been working very hard these last couple of years to improve academic excellence and it’s paid off with improved state scores. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades recognized the efforts by the staff, students and principal at a Mass celebrated during a pastoral visit Feb. 12.

“I’m very aware of how hard you’ve been working to make St. Vincent’s a school of academic excellence,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Congratulations for the extraordinary grades you received.”

Principal Tom Gropp spoke about the improvement.

“It’s a testament to our students, teachers and parents,” he said. “Our educational strength is our teachers learned to differentiate well — placing kids in groups so they can address their needs better. We meet them where they are — whether that entails pulling them out of class for English as a New Language or offering after-school help.”

He shared that an educational consultant — Doepker Consulting — has been working with teachers to track data and implement data driven instruction.

“We still have a long way to go, but it’s neat to see the system unfold and see my staff embrace it,” Gropp noted. “It’s a blessing to see the eyes light up when they see the results of it.”

After celebrating Mass, but before visiting each classroom, Bishop Rhoades blessed the images of the students’ classroom patron saints.

As Bishop Rhoades visited each classroom, he asked a student to introduce him to the teacher. He also asked each class what they were learning in religion class and about their patron saint. If the students had learned a new prayer and knew it well, the bishop prayed the prayer with the students and then gave them a blessing.

The fourth graders had all memorized the Memorare. The sixth graders were learning the Ten Commandments and recited the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. The first graders introduced Bishop Rhoades to a poem about the Trinity Snowman, and the third-grade class shared they’ve been learning to say the sign of the cross in several languages — Chinese, French, Latin and Polish.

The bishop also toured the Vincent House — the old convent that is attached to the school and currently houses the pre-school classes on the first floor while the upper floors contain a computer lab and space for the youth group and religious education classes.

After a tour of the school the bishop ate a catered lunch with the staff.

School programs

Principal Gropp said the students attend Mass at least twice a week plus on feast days and have a monthly prayer service.

A unique program that St. Vincent offers is the St. Vincent De Paul Club for fourth through sixth graders, based on the patron saint and model of the school. The club members focus on service projects for the parish and the community.

Club members have served and cleaned up at spaghetti dinner fundraisers, planted flowers around the parish, conducted food drives and visited nursing homes.

The school also offers a music program. Athletics include basketball, volleyball, football, boys’ and girls’ track, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ softball and cheerleading.

Why St. Vincent?

Gropp said first and foremost is the family-like atmosphere and the small school advantage.

“People have told me when they walk in the door they feel that cozy feeling,” he said. “At the root of it, our education is founded on Jesus. Our faith is the foundation of whatever we do and is interwoven throughout the school day.”

“Our teachers strive for educational excellence and put their heart and soul into every individual and they don’t rest until they figure out what the child needs.”

Sixth-grade teacher Tara Lundy has been teaching at St. Vincent for 13 years and said  about her tenure, “I feel the presence of God is apparent through the respect and admiration the students and staff have for one another. Our students work really hard to achieve their personal best. Our staff is uniquely bound by our love and trust for each other. St. Vincent’s is an amazing place to grow educationally and spiritually.”

Gropp said Father Matt Coonan and Father Zak Barry are “extremely engaged in the school. They try to be present as much as possible with the students, even as far as working with students in reading groups. They know what our goals and visions are and the kids love to have them around.”

Father Coonan, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, said, “It’s a joy to be here.”

He feels blessed to be with the students and see how they develop. As for parish support of the school, Father Coonan said, “We have a great school board and people who are incredibly generous with their time and finances to support our school. “

Parent Biviana Loera’s daughters are in third and fifth grades at St. Vincent de Paul School. Her son graduated last year. She said as a child she came to Elkhart and stayed with family for a month before making the permanent move, and she attended St. Vincent during that time.

“My experience was great and I wanted my children to experience that same genuine, loving and welcoming feeling that I felt,” Loera noted.

She considers the school’s diversity to be a strength, along with the great teaching staff. Loera, like parents Robert Schmidt and Gisella Martinez, all want their children to have a strong education in the Catholic faith as well.

Gropp concluded, “We are always looking for different ideas to improve and give our kids the best experience.”


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