Knights help St. Joseph School ensure student safety

Father Philip Gillespie, pastor of St. Joseph Church and School in Anderson, cuts the ribbon for the new outdoor learning space. (Provided)

ANDERSON—Just before school was set to reopen in August, Principal Haymee Giuliani thought about what she could do to make all 97 students at St. Joseph School feel more comfortable with returning to in-person instruction. 

Although they are a private school, Giuliani said they didn’t have the funds to make COVID-friendly adjustments. 

“70% of our students are on tuition assistance,” she explained. “We have to do fundraisers when we are in need.” 

She noted that St. Joseph is unique because it has the highest percentage of Hispanic children in the state.

When Giuliani was asked by the Anderson Knights of Columbus Council 8295 to speak at one of their summer meetings, she told them about her ideas for reopening. 

“They immediately took us under their wing and sprang into action,” she said.

Many of the Knights were from St. Mary parish and did not realize the needs that St. Joseph School faced. With 40% of the students speaking Spanish, Giuliani said many of them would get lost in a large public school. 

Her first request was for Promethean Panels to replace the whiteboard, with an easy-to-use and highly interactive display. The Knights raised enough for three of these boards and the parish purchased another. 

But, the giving did not stop there. 

There’s a tree on the grounds of the school, which to Giuliani was a perfect setting for an outdoor classroom. 

“We would try to sit under it with picnic tables, but the roots were so big. We needed some sort of platform around it,” she said. 

Luckily, the Knights are handy and set to work designing and building a wooden structure that now adorns the stately magnolia in the corner of the playground. 

Officially called The Learning Tree Outdoor Classroom, the platform is big enough to hold all 97 students. It is handicapped accessible and equipped with electricity and lighting. Guiliani said they can even roll out one of their Promethean Panels for instruction as well. 

“Having this outdoor learning space makes it easier for teachers in the age of COVID. We can spread out and we can even invite speakers to come. Our priest recently had lunch with the kids out there.” 

As much as Guiliani appreciated the work that the Knights put in to build the platform, collectively, they returned her thanks for giving them an opportunity to contribute to their community. 

“We weren’t able to get out much during the shutdown and this gave us a new lease on life,” Grand Knight Tom Holahan said. “We were itching to be productive again. It brought back our camaraderie too.” 

Plans for the platform are ongoing as the Knights will be teaching an after-school woodworking class for the students to create benches. 

Holahan said the platform will also be used on the weekends for outdoor concerts, receptions and other resources and events for the parish.