ROGERS -- Walking through the halls of St. Vincent de Paul School, teachers and students after the Christmas holidays appear ready to tackle the business at hand -- education.
Younger children race to the classroom from recess. Older students in a group ramble down the corridor laughing and conversing as they approach their next classes. Busy staff members direct traffic coming and going out of the principal's office. All in a day's work.
It is this kind of energy and excitement that has galvanized the school into creating more educational opportunities for its student body this year.
This year another milestone was added to this history when the school expanded to include the eighth grade in an effort to create a full middle school.
Interim principal Carolyn Pio said, "The curriculum is going very well. The teachers with the new eighth-grade curriculum have jumped right in. We have five teachers along with four special teachers for library, PE, music and computer technology."
One encouraging aspect of the new program is the return of seventh-grade students to continue at the school for eighth grade. In many instances, parents take the opportunity at this grade level to enroll their children in the public school system.
Pio said, "We had more than 50 percent of our seventh graders return this year for the eighth grade. I fully expect 50 to 75 percent to return next year as well."
To enhance the addition of the eighth grade in the school curriculum, the music program was expanded. The music teacher, Kristi Brackett, created a band program that includes both beginning and advanced bands. This is in addition to several musical productions she directs throughout the school year that provide an opportunity for each student to participate.
Another music teacher, Dr. Michael Montgomery, is now on staff to work with students interested in the strings program, including cello, violin, guitar and bass. Two groups -- one for grades 4-5 and one for grades 6-8 -- comprise the small ensembles of the string orchestra classes.
To compete with public school sports, the school also is now offering cross country running and basketball. Pio said the school recently become the first Catholic elementary school in the Diocese of Little Rock to join the Arkansas Activities Asso cia tion.
Cross country training is a regular practice time at the school. Physical education teacher, Ceil Kathman, along with parent volunteers team up to work on running 3 to 5 miles. This year they have participated in about 15 meets and have brought home a number of trophies.
Parents of student athletes have come together with the school to create a new booster club in order to raise funds for the teams. The ABC Club have raised money along with donations to buy supplies and new blue and white uniforms with the St. Vincent de Paul Knights logo.
Pio said that "membership is for any parent who has a child that plays. It includes 22 on the cross country team and 35 on the boys and girls basketball teams. According to the rules of the Arkansas Activities Association, only seventh- and eighth-grade students can compete."
The student council of the school, comprised of middle school students, have put together several service projects this year. Three collections of food for the local food bank have taken place. The big Christmas project was "a baby shower for Jesus" that the whole student body participated in. Students donated gift-wrapped baby items for infants to children 3 years old served by the Northwest Arkansas Children's Shelter.
One successful school event that has taken place for the last several years is World Experience Day. This parent-initiated day focuses on a particular country that has included Ireland and China. This year the country to be celebrated is Australia.
To keep track of all the homework and extracurricular activities, the school is using Wikispaces, a comprehensive intranet system that allows families and staff members to communicate. The assignments, the menu, and the monthly calendar are available on this secure site.
Cathy Walker, director of technology, said, "We are the first school in the diocese to use this system. It is a very big deal for the teachers and the families. We are able to do a lot of innovative things, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve in this school."
A change in leadership has occurred in recent weeks. The former principal, Zan Raynor, has taken another position as theater program director for the Northwest Academy of Fine Arts, a public charter school in Rogers. Pio is assisted by interim assistant principal is Ann Morrison.
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