LEFT, ART TEACHER Sister Vivian Giulianelli, SA, and school development coordinator Cary Lombardo organize supplies at St. Ambrose School in Latham during the summer. Right, seminarian Kyle Gorenski helps to move furniture at St. Ambrose.
LEFT, ART TEACHER Sister Vivian Giulianelli, SA, and school development coordinator Cary Lombardo organize supplies at St. Ambrose School in Latham during the summer. Right, seminarian Kyle Gorenski helps to move furniture at St. Ambrose.
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New year, new school program, same passion and spirit.

That could be the motto for three diocesan elementary schools, all of which are adapting this year in response to changing needs in their communities.

“We honor our past students, faculty, parents, and we’re looking at starting our new future,” said Amanda Goyer, principal at St. Mary’s Academy in Hoosick Falls. “I’ve been here for 12 years — 10 in the classroom and two as principal — and I’ve seen changes, but it’s for the positive.”
In February, St. Ambrose School in Latham and St. Mary’s Academy (SMA) discontinued its seventh- and eighth-grade programs due to declining enrollment.

St. Francis de Sales School in Herkimer discontinued grades one through six, also due to declining enrollment, and turned its focus to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The school now operates under the umbrella of New York State, but is still a part of the Diocese of Albany’s Catholic schools.
Through all the changes, each school sees its adjustment as an opportunity for growth.

Super excited

“I’m super excited going into this year,” said Cary Ann Lombardo, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at St. Ambrose. “We have people in place [who] want to make things happen. I really think we’re taking the next step into what we could be.”

Becky Marzeski, a kindergarten teacher at St. Francis, said the entire faculty spent their summer working on their school, without additional pay, to ensure that all the necessary paperwork and remodeling was completed in time for the new academic year.

“We really love working together,” said Mrs. Marzeski, and the work is “from our hearts. We believe this is a school children can come to [and] grow up with good solid morals, good character and empathy for others.”

In recent years, all three schools have seen steady enrollment for pre-elementary classes, while enrollment in higher elementary grades declined.

“It was bittersweet to lose the seventh- and eighth-grade class, but we’ve seen a much larger need for lower programs,” said Kristen Campito, an academic intervention services teacher at St. Ambrose. “It was hard to have so few people in upper grades, but have to turn people away in lower grades.”

Educational opportunities

St. Ambrose added an additional class for three- and four-year-olds and an additional kindergarten class.

Lily Spera, assistant principal, said students in these early-education programs will also participate in the school’s art, music, Spanish and physical education classes: “We’re not just a daycare. We provide education.”

St. Ambrose’s entire faculty was able to stay with the school, though some classrooms were moved to accommodate the additional classes.

Mrs. Lombardo saw the changes to the school coming. The PTO president said she moved her son out of public school in kindergarten when she saw that he was testing at a second-grade level but the public school was doing nothing to challenge him. At St. Ambrose, her son was able to sharpen his skills and work at a higher grade level in math.

“You can’t get this at a public school,” she told The Evangelist.

We’re still here

SMA’s enrollment for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten courses is on par with previous years, but the school is working on a marketing campaign. Established in 1891, the school celebrates its 127th birthday this year. Mrs. Goyer said SMA wants to “get out in the community and show the area we’re still here.

“My faith has always been there throughout this whole process. My faith is my rock,” she added. “It’s been stormy, but we’re on the other side and we can see the blue sky.”

SMA is adding additional classes, including keyboarding and cursive writing, and will offer Chromebook laptop computers for upper elementary grades. None of the middle school faculty are returning, having chosen other career paths, but the remaining faculty have agreed to take on the extra classes.

“Every principal says this, but I have the best faculty and staff. They’re not afraid of a challenge,” said Mrs. Goyer.

St. Francis says enrollment for its three-year-old class is up from last year; only two openings still remain. The four-year-old class is full, with a total of 16 children, and the kindergarten class has just a few remaining openings. The school will also be continuing its early morning and after-school programs.

“I’ve been here 20 years. I was sad” about the changes, said pre-kindergarten teacher Erin View. But “I think we’re just as excited to have a positive environment to grow the program.”

“We’re not just about the academics, but the moral piece,” added fellow pre-K teacher Laura Campione, noting the school’s atmosphere of community and teaching “empathy for people around them. I think it’s a wonderful program.”

Parents have already approached teachers at St. Francis about enrolling their children in first grade if the school can offer it.

“We’re all hoping that we can rebuild the school,” said Mrs. Marzeski.

Like SMA and St. Francis, Mrs. Spera hopes St. Ambrose School will have “a cohesive transition into the new year. There’s always bumps, but everybody can figure out the bumps together.”

At all three schools, teachers and principals said their school community is like a second home.

“I’ve been here over 20 years, and we’ve been blessed,” said Mrs. View. “This is where I forget my troubles.”