By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
LEE’S SUMMIT — Catholic Schools Week is the one week of the academic year when across the country, Catholic school faculty, staff and students, along with their parents, come together to celebrate what Catholic education is all about. It’s a fun, activity packed week, with teachers and students perhaps wearing pajamas or crazy, mixed up outfits to school instead of uniforms, gathering for special Masses, service projects and assemblies. The theme this year was Catholic Schools — Raising the Standards — of academics, service, faith and spirituality, and a whole lot more.
After a week of celebrating the accomplishments of students and faculty at Our Lady of the Presentation School in Lee’s Summit, the concluding assembly Feb. 1 raised the standards for “oohs” and “ahhs,” learning and laughter and interaction between students, their teachers and the broader community.
As students filed in to the gym, Paws, the school’s Panther mascot greeted them with high fives and pats on the shoulder. Father Tom Holder, pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation parish, convened the assembly with prayer.
Jodi Briggs, the school’s principal, announced that in honor of Catholic School’s Week the S.A.V.E. (Safety, Abuse and Violence Education) Foundation awarded over $1,800 in grants to Our Lady of the Presentation’s teachers. Instruction support items that will be purchased with the grants include two iPads, one for the first grade teachers and one for the third grade teachers, an Apple TV for a second grade classroom, two Otter Boxes for the iPads, writing enhancement materials for the Learning Lab, a set of greenhouses with growing crystals for a kindergarten classroom, the fee for a Paleontologist’s visit to the second grade, and pillows for seating in that classroom.
Presentation’s students, who had all contributed to “raising the standards” at the school, were celebrated. Several contest winners were announced, accompanied by cash awards — the Responsibility of Catholic Citizens in a Free Society, an essay contest sponsored by the Knights of Columbus; a Drug and Alcohol Awareness poster contest, and a pro-life poster contest.
Service is a major component of Catholic education, and Presentation students helped raise the bar. When fire fighters answer a call for a house fire or an accident, they bring along teddy bears or stuffed animals in case children are affected. Student council members spearheaded a stuffed animal collection for the Kansas City Fire Dept., and local firefighters with spokesman Dave Galletly were there to collect them. The collection netted 754 teddy bears and other cuddly toys, which were piled in big bags and boxes. Galletly thanked the kids, telling them that often they give out 100-150 stuffed animals a month, and thanks to the Presentation students, their station had enough cuddly toys to last half a year.
A penny war, collecting spare change for charity, was fought and won by the third grade, which collected $304.82.
Other service projects included a glove collection. The gloves symbolized the teachers, staff and students “being the hands of Christ.” Students collected 360 pairs of gloves, which were to be given to Lee’s Summit Social Services.
Another coin war was started Jan. 28, the first school day of Catholic School’s Week. Presentation teachers wore their favorite pajamas to school that day. Their pictures were taken and attached to a jar where students deposited coins to vote for the most creatively dressed teacher. Students donated $1,410.69 to the coin jar. Half the collection was slated for the Bright Futures Fund, a diocesan fund that provides financial assistance to struggling families to enable them to send their children to Catholic schools. The other half was to be donated to a school family, the Lucas Nedelco family, the winner’s choice of charity.
The anticipation level in the gym rose as Duck Tape Dave and Bionic Braxton, Friends of Mad Science, walked onto the stage. The mad scientists, using everyday things like plastic bags, duct tape, empty 2-liter bottles and vacuum cleaners, demonstrated water temperature, wind and tornadoes, gravity, air pressure, even how lightning is a built up of static electricity. Ever rubbed a balloon over your hair? They also demonstrated how a tornado forms, grows and swirls. Duck Tape Dave and Bionic Braxton sat down to waves of applause.
The celebration continued with the Sister of Charity Teacher of the Year Award. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth established the school in 1939, back when the parish was known as St. Mary’s. Bishop John Cody, later Cardinal Cody, changed the parish’s name to Our Lady of the Presentation in 1959.
The Sisters of Charity gave up the school in 1972. Principal Briggs said since then, other religious orders have been represented by teachers and support staff, but no Sisters of Charity. Therefore, during discussions about establishing an Award for Excellence in Catholic Education, honoring a teacher, it was agreed that the Sisters of Charity should be honored. In fact, the order was directly involved in the selection of the first recipient, four years ago. The Sisters of Charity award is given to a teacher who demonstrates exemplary dedication and service to the school. Students, staff and parents can nominate a faculty member. An outside panel of Catholic education professionals reviews the anonymous nominations. The teacher selected receives a $1,000 check provided by Our Lady of the Presentation PTO and a plaque commemorating the honor. The teacher is also given a reserved parking spot near the school’s entrance for use until the following year. This year’s honoree, Maureen Van Becelaere, has taught second grade at Presentation for 14 years. Her husband and family attended the award presentation adding to the surprise.
Kindergarten teacher Kathy Lackamp received honorable mention. And last year’s recipient, kindergarten teacher Ann-Marie Novak, was also honored by current and former students for her 15 years of teaching at Presentation.
It was a fitting conclusion to Catholic School’s Week. And, there was an early dismissal!