By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Our Lady of Angels School, like Our Lady of Guadalupe School, has endured changing demographics, a consolidation with Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) School and economic challenges. At the time of consolidation, its name was changed from Guardian Angels to Our Lady of Angels, but its mission, “All children learn in a Christ-like environment. In partnership with families we prepare multicultural and diverse students to serve God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength,” has remained strong since 1911 when Benedictine Sisters opened a school for the German speaking parish school in Westport.
After Guardian Angels School closed in 1992, its students attended the consolidated Our Lady of Angels School in the old Redemptorist school building until 2006, when the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth purchased the building to establish Cristo Rey High School. Our Lady of Angels returned to its former, renovated school building.
Jeremy Lillig, Managing Director of the Bright Futures Fund, and its program the Strong City School Fund, quoted Pope Francis recently, “We must go out of ourselves amidst the young, and accompany them in the stage of their growth.” That describes the principals of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Holy Cross and Mary Delac, principal of Our Lady of Angels School. Delac has served as principal of Our Lady of Angels for five years. She said that the students make her smile, make her day brighter, every day.
And they smile when they see her, in the halls, or when she walks into their classrooms.
The diocesan theme for 2013-14 is the Beatitudes, and every school in the diocese has a different way of expressing them. Along with the Beatitudes, at OLA there are the Five Be’s: “Be Respectful;” “Be Responsible,” “Be Cooperative,” “Be Peaceful” and “Be Safe.” There are “Monthly Motivators.” Each student has a card with their name on it. Each time they are “caught” doing one of the five Be’s, their card is punched. They might be serving at Mass, being a reader at Mass, helping a teacher or another student, or showing respect to God, to others or to themselves. The punches are entered into a raffle for coveted “Motivators,” including being a teacher’s helper, or extra recess. “That’s a big one. Extra recess in the gym with a friend wins hands down,” she said with a laugh.
Delac pointed out photographs of students, teachers and families posted on a bulletin board in the school’s main hallway.
“Blessed are they who mourn. See those seventh grade girls. Here at Our Lady of Angels, we don’t go all out for Halloween, because our kids don’t really celebrate it, but All Souls, Dios de Muertos, The Day of the Dead, that we celebrate. The girls came to school dressed as souls. The little kids didn’t really get it, but the older ones loved it!”
She indicated a photograph of a boy with several other students. “He was diagnosed with leukemia in the first grade. His classmates didn’t really understand what was happening to him at first. Now we host educational and fundraising events for leukemia and all forms of cancer, especially cancer in children.”
“There are a couple of things we are really proud of!” Her face lit up and her eyes sparkled as she said, “Here at Our Lady of Angels we use the computer program, “Success-Maker” to help kids bridge the achievement gap. We have seen test scores improve. Teachers who have worked so hard are starting to see results.
“We also have high achievers here. For the first time, we are offering Algebra to three eighth grade girls, thanks to the ingenuity of two juniors at St. Teresa’s Academy. They come over every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon after school and work with the eighth graders. It’s a neat partnership, and neat that we can finally offer a challenging Math class. Math is really critical for high school, college and their future. Seeing these 8th graders is motivating younger girls to want to be in the Algebra class when they are in 8th grade.”
For a girl to participate in the Algebra class she must be a high achiever. Delac said ITBS test scores, class performance and results of Success-Maker all come into play.
The entire fourth grade class participates in the Owens/Cox Dance Company program, “Take the Stage,” she said. And at least four sixth grade boys, including Jude, Reth, A.J. and Salvador, eagerly ride the Metro to the Catholic Center twice a week for tutoring through the Hurtado Scholars program.
She walked into an empty classroom, pointing to three cages on the window ledge. A rabbit twitched its nose, a guinea pig slept in a straw-filled box, and a frog just stared through the glass, perhaps hoping a fly would venture near. “The kids are learning about animals in science class,” she said.
Our Lady of Angels partners with a St. Therese Little Flower parish group. The women shop for and donate small wrapped gifts to the school during Advent. “Our kids can go ‘shopping’ and pick out Christmas gifts to give to family members. The gifts are kid-sized and beautifully wrapped. It’s an awesome Advent project.”
A man approached Delac, tipped his hat and handed her an envelope. “Oh it’s tamale money.” She explained that the school was raising money to remove the old asbestos tiles on the third floor and replace them with new flooring. A group of parents spent two days preparing and cooking more than 200 dozen tamales to sell to students, faculty, parishioners of Guardian Angels and neighborhood friends.
“Everybody does what they can to help,” Delac said. In February 2014, she added, they will host a big Taco Dinner for the tile removal and replacement.
The St. Joseph’s Emergency Fund, a program of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, was established as an emergency fund common to all three Strong City schools, and been an appreciated safety net, Delac said. “It’s been an Angel Fund here. We have been able to help a school family who had no heat in the house get their furnace fixed.”
And, with a smile, she turned to walk into her office to bid the students “goodbye, have a safe and wonderful weekend. We’ll see you on Monday.”