By NANCY CZABALA
CHARLESTON — “When I first came to Blessed Sacrament, I received a pleasant surprise. I discovered a strong sense of pride, not just among the children and faculty, but with the families,” said Sister Linda Marie Bolinski, principal of Blessed Sacrament since 1989. The faculty at Blessed Sacrament works hard to get students involved and excited about school.
The students at Blessed Sacrament “take care and interest in each other, not just in school projects, but in things that aren’t ‘school’ as well,” says Sister Linda Marie. Each year classes are paired with one another and they become “Buddies,” who send each other birthday cards, plan to eat together, read to each other and participate in seasonal activities together. Pairs usually include an older class with a younger class. However, the eighth grade students are each paired individually with kindergartners. At the beginning of the year, the two classes have a Teddy Bear picnic, at which everyone, even the eighth graders, brings his or her teddy bear, and a picnic is set up on the school lawn.
Sister Linda Marie believes that keeping students together, rather than dividing them up according to their skill level, allows the children to learn and discover with one another as a group. However, she says, “Teachers are very good at working with individual needs.” The school psychologist assesses classes, and while not singling out any one child, finds adaptations that help suit a child’s specific needs. For example, some children use audio tapes while reading books, to help them better understand and comprehend a story.
In the library two computer stations are set up with a program called Accelerated Reading, where students can read books and take tests on-line. “It doesn’t take the place of the student’s reading program, but encourages them to enjoy reading, while helping them to read more carefully,” says Bonnie Perry, the school librarian. Students like the program because they get to work on the computer, says Perry, and they’re able to work at their own level. Most classes are required to use the program, earning points for doing well on the test.
“We have a very dedicated staff who work the students hard because schooling is about becoming an educated person. But as school is not always entertaining, we try to make it interesting and engaging,” says Sister Linda Marie.
Along with the regular curriculum students are offered art, music, computer and foreign language classes — kindergartners even have sign language lessons incorporated in their daily instruction. The foreign language and signing lessons “help students understand the differences in people and cultures,” says Sister Linda Marie.
The schools annual Family Fun with Physics night allows parents to take part in learning with their children. About 60 families are participating in this weeks’ event, which has become so popular that a waiting list has been formed. Students and parents make rounds to several stations investigating each item, which applies to some facet of physics such as friction, sound or magnetism. While the younger students investigate, the older students are in place to explain the station’s puzzle. “We put a strong emphasis on science and have worked hard to create an excellent science program,” says Sister Linda Marie.
Parent volunteers are popular at the school. You’ll find them helping out at lunch, recess and at school fund-raisers. Some working parents even spend their lunch hour lending a hand.
Students also get involved in their community. The eighth grade class has been working on raising money to send a child to Camp Happy Days, a camp for children with cancer. While each class studies different missions, the students as a whole raise money for missions worldwide. Students who will be making their confirmation lend their time in area soup kitchens; and kindergartners have drawn pictures and written notes for neonatal babies. Sister Linda Marie noted the generosity of the students in their endeavor to help the less fortunate.
Fifth grade students at Blessed Sacarament eagerly take part in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. A police officer educates the class for 17 weeks about the perils of drug use.
With two supporting parishes and two monthly Masses, Father Joseph Hanley from Blessed Sacrament and Gabriel Smith from St. Joseph’s trade off celebrating Mass with the students. While Father Hanley teaches religion class, the pair often visit classes and are invited to talk with student about such topics as vocations.
“What’s best about the school is the people — families, teachers, students —and there dogged determination in sustaining education here at Blessed Sacrament,” Sister Linda Marie said.