Columbia school building tradition and faith


COLUMBIA — At St. John Neumann the excitement begins as you walk in and see the halls lined with brightly painted pictures of school activities. Dr. Margaret Adams, principal, and Kay Steck, assistant principal and librarian, further portray the atmosphere with their exhilaration and knowledge.

The school opened in 1987 with 68 students and some contradictory feelings. Because it was opening in a strong public school district, some felt that it wouldn’t thrive. During the second year the number of students was still low, and projections for the third year saw only 38 attending. However, when Dr. Adams was named as in-coming principal, that number turned out to be 110 and has grown ever since.

St. John Neumann strives to prepare the children for their future in the Church and society. It offers educational activities which allow every student to reach their potential and instruction in which students develop beliefs, values and traditions of Catholic Christianity.

The school has adopted a nearby retirement center, Wildewood Manor. The kids correspond with the residents through cards during the holidays and visits for special occasions. The students and residents even exercised together during the Jump Rope for Heart, a fund raiser for the American Heart Association. “We get the biggest response when we bring the two groups together,” said Adams.

St. John Neumann participates in several worthwhile community programs. Students sponsor baby showers for Birthright, giving gifts to unwed mothers. They collect supplies for their sister school St. Martin de Porres. Canned goods are collected several times a year for God’s Store House. In the Adopt-a-Pound program students collect food and supplies for stray animals.

Blood gets pumping in the morning at 7:30 a.m. when students take part in Early Bird Exercise with the physical education teacher. At 8:30 a.m. the whole school does math, giving students the opportunity to learn at their level. In the fourth and fifth grades, girls and boys are separated for math and science classes, because, according to research, girls begin to drop off in these academic fields at those ages.

Spanish instruction begins in the first grade and runs through the sixth. With a computer lab and two computers in each classroom, students hit the keyboards in pre-kindergarten. This summer the school will be linked with Internet access, a project funded by the annual collection.

Letters are written each fall to parents for the Annual Fund Collection simply requesting money donations for the betterment of the school. The money in the past has gone to building extensions on the school. In this earlier project parent volunteers completed the construction of the cafeteria, music room and science lab.

The Annual Auction is the second fund raiser for the school. Parents appeal to local sponsors who have given away vacations, boats and a two-year lease on a car at the annual event.

While they can be found at school each day, to make sure everyone gets involved, parents are required to sign up to volunteer. “This really creates a partnership between the school and parents,” said Steck.

For Pioneer Day parents built a tepee and log cabin and taught second-graders to till the soil, square dance and use a washboard like the pioneers did. As the students dressed the part, they spent all day learning new trades and about classroom life during that period of time.

Students participate in competitions throughout the year. The NewsBowl Competition tests their knowledge about current events. Other contests include the National Geography and Spelling Bees and Odyssey of the Mind, a challenging contest that puts students creative abilities to work. This year in the Odyssey contest one team placed first in the middle school division, which sent them to Orlando as representatives of the state for the national competition.

Sister Anthony Wargel, a retired Ursuline nun, comes on Tuesday afternoons to work with the kids. She teaches them how to make rosaries with beads and wire which they send to missions.

Activities carry on in the summer months with the school’s camp. Parents are able to enroll their children in the extended care program, which starts after school, lasts until 6 p.m. and continues throughout the summer on weekdays.

Twice a month and on holy days Father Frederick Masad, pastor at St. John Neumann, celebrates Mass with the students. The children plan the liturgy, choosing the readings with the help of their teachers.

Each morning starts with daily prayer, a reading and reflection announced over the intercom system. Students are also given daily questions about topics such as saints, presidents and women’s history.

The entire school is paired with a prayer partner, whom they are encouraged to pray for and do activities with. The faculty also has partners. As a group they begin each day with prayer. “This practice creates bonds throughout the school year and builds community,” said Adams.

PHOTOS: Pioneer Day offered students at St. John Neumann a variety of fun and educational activities.