FORT SMITH — In a school year with a lot of change, Trinity Junior High School topped off its school year with another big change.
The school celebrated two graduations this month for its eighth graders and ninth graders. The Fort Smith School District reconfigured to a middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) model, so Trinity is becoming a sixth-eighth grade school beginning in the fall.
Seventy-five ninth graders graduated May 17, followed by 81 eighth graders May 18. On June 1, the school will change its name to Trinity Catholic School and will welcome two new classes of sixth and seventh graders in August.
In his homily at both graduation Masses, administrator Father John Antony spoke of the sweet sorrow in every parting, especially poignant for the eighth graders who had only been together as a class for two years.
“God offers us a grace in every moment of our lives,” Father Antony said, “and in those moments of fond farewell, he offers us a very special grace of ‘sweet sorrow.’”
He encouraged the students to take advantage of those graces by praying for one another, keeping in touch with one another and dreaming big.
“Buzz Lightyear from ‘Toy Story’ often says, ‘To infinity and beyond!’” he added. “Did you know that one of our Trinity graduates currently attends the Air Force Academy and her goal is to be the first woman to land on Mars?”
During Mass, Father Antony introduced parents and guests to the school’s practice of adding a little Latin and Greek to the service. Students recited “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord, Have Mercy) and “Pater Noster” (Our Father).
“We wished we had room in our curriculum for another language besides Spanish,” principal Dr. Karen Hollenbeck said, “but we just don’t and now the state of Arkansas doesn’t have any foreign language requirement for high school graduation. We thought this was something little we could do. We started with ‘Pater Noster,’ ‘Ave Maria’ and the sign of the cross and Father John added the ‘Kyrie Eleison’. He always makes a big deal of that with the kids that they know a little bit of Latin and Greek.”
Because of the pandemic, the school held few in-person events that graduates usually enjoy, such as dances, field days and awards nights.
“We really tried to stay the course during the school year, and even though things are loosening up, we still wear masks and socially distance,” Hollenbeck said. “We had a May crowning, the only time our entire student body assembled as one group. We had an end-of-year Mass for our 156 eighth and ninth graders with a special homily. Our seventh graders will have their closing Mass next week, and Father John will tell them that they will have their first opportunities as leaders in the new middle school.”
Trinity’s leadership chose the name Trinity Catholic School for its middle school because they liked the way Catholic High School in Little Rock highlighted the school’s Catholic identity.
“I can see the name morphing into ‘Trinity Catholic’ or just ‘Trinity,’ and that’s OK,” Hollenbeck said. “Our logo displays grades six through eight under the shield to identify us as a middle school.”
Student recruitment has been challenging because of the pandemic. The school’s aim to have 75 students or more for each grade has been hampered by the closure of St. Boniface School in 2019.
“Our two local Catholic schools have a combined fifth-grade enrollment of 66,” Hollenbeck said of the first class of sixth graders at the school this fall. “In normal times, we would go to parent meetings at PRE classes, pass out brochures and actively seek new students. We are doing what we can. We currently have 198 enrolled for the 2021-22 school year and hope to add a few more students during the summer.”
The school will hold professional development classes for its faculty in June and August. They instituted a mentoring program last year so students would each have a mentor-teacher and a student group with whom they met regularly. The development classes will focus on helping a younger student body learn to handle the expectations and requirements of middle school.
As the graduating classes got ready to go to several different high schools -- Northside, Southside and Future School Fort Smith -- Father Antony gave them some parting advice: “Instead of rushing through saying goodbye, try to find the beauty and blessing in that moment. There is a sweetness hidden in the sorrow, a grace in every goodbye.”
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