Volunteers transform school’s library/learning center

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"You've got religion?"

"This is all history."

"Where do we want poetry?"

"I've got religion."

All the subjects are covered in the new learning center at St. Louis Catholic Academy, which became clear through the conversations volunteers had while moving bookcases and books into the space which will serve as the school library and more.

The labor-intensive effort to renovate the former library — which was in disrepair and no longer in use — included volunteers from the school community and from other areas in the archdiocese, including several from the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation. Furnishings and stored items were removed from the room, which was repainted a bright green. On July 28, the volunteer crew restocked the shelves with some new books and books from the library at the closed St. Louis the King School at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

St. Louis Catholic Academy is part of the Archdiocesan Elementary School Model and is given significant funding and support from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, ACCESS Academies is partnering with St. Louis Catholic Academy. ACCESS makes a seven-year commitment to each student beginning in middle school through high school. Graduate support directors provide academic, social, emotional and financial support to students and their families. Ninety-eight percent of ACCESS students are accepted to college-preparatory high schools, and 99 percent of the students in the graduate support programs graduate from high school on time.

Chris Clermont learned about the school in north St. Louis from Father Steve Giljum, a former associate pastor at her parish, St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres. Father Giljum is now pastor of St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish next door to the school. Clermont and her husband donated a book and gift to each child in the school at Christmas. She attended Mass at St. Elizabeth and met Marsha "Grandma" Norfleet, a St. Elizabeth parishioner who discussed her desire for a functional and updated library.

Clermont responded by donating funds for the update so the room is warm and inviting. "I want the students to have a love of reading," Clermont said.

Her faith plays a big role in her outreach and choice to help the school. "I feel we're doing God's work," she said. "We need to break the cycle of poverty, and the only way these children are going to get out of that is education. If the children can't read, they can't do other subjects."

Clermont has an affinity for the children and their parents. Many are from single-parent families who struggle but are dedicated to their children.

Other St. Clement parishioners are actively involved with the school. Kelly Adamitis volunteers as a tutor and Joan Hannegan donates much of her time to the school. Adamitis and her children joined the volunteers for the learning center renovation since she knew how important it is to the school community.

Being a tutor is a joy, said Adamitis, who works with first-graders who are just starting reading. "When you see them master it, you get a good feeling," Adamitis said.

Narrez Hopson, who will be starting his freshman year at St. Mary's High School this month after graduating from St. Louis Catholic Academy, calls his former school "like my family since the fourth grade." He came to help with the learning center "to build a better community for the kids," he said.

Busy unpacking books, he talked about the foundation he received at the school. His favorite subject is math, and he's interested in the engineering field.

Another volunteer, Joey Wagner, a junior at Notre Dame High School, said "encouraging young kids to read and giving them access to these books is wonderful. I love books and I love reading."

Jan Orlando of St. Simon Parish in south St. Louis County said the faculty, staff and volunteers at St. Louis Catholic Academy "are doing a fabulous job. This is a top-notch school, a turning point in a lot of kids' lives."

St. Louis Catholic Academy principal Sandra Morton is beginning her second school year. "One of my jobs is to help provide our children with the tools they need to be successful," she wrote about her role. "Our goal is to educate and serve the needs of the whole child — socially, emotionally, academically and spiritually." 

>> To Help

The Brown Sisters Foundation has offered a $30,000 challenge grant to St. Louis Catholic Academy for its extended day program for kindergarten through eighth grade starting in 2017-18. The challenge is a 2:1 match. Participate by donating online at www.slca-stl.org or for more information on this or other opportunities to help the school, contact Toni Ponder at toniponder@archstl.org or (314) 792-7045. 

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