By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 29, 2009
Books and faith come alive at Our Lady of Victory School.
Science has flown off the pages for eighth-grade student Steven Johnston and his Science Olympiad “Scrambler” teammates who use scientific methods to build vehicles carrying uncooked eggs. Their mission: to deliver the eggs safely for a determined distance and then stop (fingers crossed) before hitting a brick wall.
“After Science Olympiad, I now look at science as an experience instead of something you read in a textbook,” he said.
Student Olivia Haas, an eighth-grader, wore her dad’s pajamas and a painted-on mustache as she and fellow Beta Club members constructed and modeled a scene from Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” for the “Living Literature” competition at the club’s fall convention in Macon.
For her, “it showed us how interesting books can be; it showed us how to use our imaginations because there weren’t pictures in the book.”
Second-grade teacher Mary Anne Crocker brings to life Scripture and the religion textbook of her students as they prepare for the sacraments of reconciliation and first Eucharist.
“We see Jesus as our example of how we should live and we get to know Jesus through the Scriptures,” explained the teacher, who came to the school when it opened in 1999. “We recognize the sacraments as signs of God’s love for us.”
These innovative extracurricular and school activities carved into the relatively young school’s culture highlight opportunities that promote learning, provide lessons in teamwork and shine a spotlight on the community of teachers, students and parents committed to growing in knowledge and faith.
OLV will officially celebrate its 10th anniversary later this year, one of the three archdiocesan elementary schools assisted to open by the “Building the Church of Tomorrow” capital campaign. In the short time since its opening in the fall of 1999, the dual-accredited school, first slated to have an enrollment of 250 but now serving over 300, has risen to and exceeded expectations among many in the surrounding area.
“It’s the best kept secret on this side of town,” said Stephanie Johnston, OLV’s admissions and development director. “People are seeking us out. … Non-Catholics and Catholics are seeking strong academic standards at a place that teaches values and morals that may be missing from other schools, even other private schools.”
Principal Linda Grace is in her third year of leading OLV, a regional school fed by 11 area parishes. She described the school as a “caring, wonderful institution.”
“Teachers are experts (in their areas) and provide a nurturing environment for students.”
Grace keeps her finger on the pulse of the school by visiting every class each day. “I like to touch base with teachers and know what’s being taught.”
Success can be measured in many, sometimes small ways as the school has begun offering the National Junior Honor Society because of high test scores. It is accredited by both the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
“Students are happy here and very much engaged,” said Grace, who explained that Catholic identity is her first priority followed by children’s safety and academic excellence. She knows of few other Catholic schools offering Science Olympiad and the Beta Club, as well as NJHS.
“We’re somewhat unique in that regard,” she said.
Tori Kinamon, an eighth-grade student, revels in hands-on science available through Science Olympiad.
“(It’s) always entertaining to run tests on an unknown substance or calculate the pH of a sample,” said the aspiring scientist who would like to study ocean life or become a sports medicine doctor.
From studying topographic maps and the stars to testing soil and constructing a model airplane, team members become experts in their designated fields. Kinamon is scheduled to compete in the Road Scholar, Reach for the Stars, Wright Stuff and Environmental Chemistry events of the Science Olympiad. The winner of The Wright Stuff, Kinamon said, is the airplane with the longest flight time.
“This club has exposed me to many different types of science, and has introduced me to many topics that I may not have otherwise been given the opportunity to study in a regular school day. … Science Olympiad has helped me to grow as a person, friend, student and future scientist.”
According to Grace, Science Olympiad’s main moderator at the school, Orla Thomas, “runs a tight ship.” She would have to, given the task of managing the competition’s parameters, which include scheduling the team of 15 students to cover the 23 events each school must participate in to compete. The club has become so popular that Thomas also manages a sixth-grade team-in-training. Only with the help of other teachers and parents who coach the various groups can she meet the challenge.
“It’s a great way to pull the school community together,” said Thomas, a native of Ireland who has a master’s degree in chemistry.
Her commitment to Science Olympiad has reaped rewards in the classroom as well. She has reconstructed the popular Science Olympiad event called “Science Crime Busters” into a three-day classroom lab during which time students perform various scientific tests to solve a crime.
“I find that after being a coach I’ve made labs based on my experience with labs at the event. It’s improved me as a teacher.”
She called the Science Olympiad “such a life lesson.”
“(The students) all work hard to prepare … and see their efforts through to completion. The day (of the competition) is really fun and invigorating. … The last two years (the team) made it to state; the kids were on a high.”
The Beta Club, an academic service club, has also provided students important lessons in leadership and growth. Jody Laumann, the school receptionist, helps manage the club.
“It makes them better leaders. They’re held accountable for meetings … and are expected to give good examples to others,” Laumann said.
She was able to attend last year’s convention in November. “It was fun. The kids behaved very well—I was so proud of them.”
Eighth-grader Haas also enjoyed the convention, her second, and described recreating their “Living Literature” scene from Christie’s book during which time she and other students had to stand still for three 10-minute intervals as judges and then the public walked through the “wax museum” of breathing students from across Georgia posing as mannequins in various scenes from their chosen books.
While the convention is fun, Haas also recognizes the service aspect of the club, which currently is orchestrating the annual Souper Bowl collection of soup cans for the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry and also the donation of club members handmade fleece baby blankets that will go to an area shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence.
“I think it has helped to teach me a lot about people, how to learn more about them and helps people understand how to work together,” she said.
She commended club moderators like Laumann and Johnston for guiding the club in “fun, original” service projects.
Faith and service permeate the school calendar, evidence being other endeavors such as the Starfish Project during Lent that raises money for Haitians to build fish ponds that will provide them with food and a livelihood.
Great effort is made to bring to life the faith students read about in religion class and to “live their faith daily at school,” said Johnston, who noted opening and closing school prayers, prayers said before lunch and to begin each class as well as weekly school Masses. St. Matthew Church is adjacent to the school.
“Not only do we tie their faith into religion classes but tie it in to the mission of service, which brings in character building.”
Grace is proud of the results. “When you walk in, you know it’s a Catholic school. You can feel it.”