Sacred Heart to host open houses

LEWISTOWN – If small class size and individualized instruction are what you’re looking for, a Catholic education may be the right fit.

In celebration of Catholic Schools Week, Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Lewistown is preparing to host a pancake breakfast and open house events to raise awareness and support for Catholic education in Mifflin County.

SHS Principal Mike Fitzgerald said Catholic schools encourage the social and personal development of students in an individualized environment.

“Our class sizes are a little smaller than most of the public schools,” he said.

Smaller classes give students a great sense of familiarity with their environment. Most classmates have known each other since Kindergarten, and teachers and students at the school have become a closely knit family, he said.

Those relationships offer more than just a sense of security. SHS teachers are better able to identify problems in the classroom and address them with individual students.

“We can recognize more quickly if a student needs extra help just because we’re so familiar with them,” Fitzgerald said.

The overall environment at SHS places emphasis on meeting the individual needs of each child, he said.

Academically, SHS is similar to local public schools. The core curriculum includes math, reading, science and social studies. Gym, music, library, Spanish, technology and musical instruction are also incorporated into the curriculum.

Fitzgerald said the academic schedule currently adheres to Pennsylvania state standards for education, but change is on the way. Within the next few years, the Catholic school system will be revamped to meet national standards for education. He said the shift will be a significant, but positive change.

To evaluate academic progress, students participate in standardized testing. Third, fourth and fifth grade students participate in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, as well as the Cognitive Abilities Test.

Likewise, Fitzgerald said teachers are fully certified and required to participate in ongoing professional education through the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Act 48 policy. Teachers participate in an annual conference through the Diocese of Harrisburg, which provides a full day’s worth of educational development, Fitzgerald said.

Ongoing testing and personal development for both students and staff contributes to the same high quality education students would receive in public schools. However, Fitzgerald said Catholic schools provide more freedom to teach faith-based morals.

“We start and end our day with prayer,” he said.

Incorporating prayer into the school day is a privilege reserved by schools like SHS. Fitzgerald said religious instruction is incorporated into the curriculum, and students are encouraged to become involved in their community through service projects and participation in the Missionary Childhood Association, an international missions program that helps the impoverished around the world.

“We try to encourage (students) to participate just because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

SHS staff and administration value the opportunity to develop a sense of charity and compassion in the children they work with. Fitzgerald said that Christian value to help others is evident when an ambulance or firetruck is heard driving by the school. At that time, the entire student body stops what they’re doing and prays for those who are affected by the emergency.

“We try to instill that sense of awareness of those in need,” he said.

SHS builds a foundation of faith-based morals in its students, but Fitzgerald said the student body is not a strictly Catholic community.

“We teach the Christian faith based on the Catholic doctrine,” he said, but students are not forced to participate in anything they don’t subscribe to.

Out of 83 students currently at the school, 58 are Catholic and 25 are non-Catholic. For those of other faiths, Fitzgerald said the goal is to build upon their faith, not change it.

“We open our doors to all faiths,” he said.

Scholarships and financial aid are available to those in need. Fitzgerald said no one would be denied an education at SHS for financial reasons.

Sacred Heart School of Jesus will host two open house events during National Catholic Schools Week. Prospective students and their families are encouraged to attend a pancake breakfast and school tour from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 27 in the school cafeteria. An open house also will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 at the school.