Students return to the classroom

Father Shayne Duvall, left, pastor of Holy Trinity Church, and Father Casey Sanders, associate pastor, greeted new students at Holy Trinity School last week. Students will be asked to “Open the Door to Jesus,” this school year, the 2022-2023 theme. (Photo Special to The Record)

By Aug. 17, almost all 39 Catholic schools around the Archdiocese of Louisville will be back in session with thousands of students filling their classrooms.

“We’re really excited about having our kids back and ready to learn,” said Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of Catholic schools.

She spent the first day of school Aug. 16 at Notre Dame Academy opening doors — car doors in the drop-off line, something she misses now that she’s in administration.

“There is nothing better than the first day,” she said, recalling her days as a principal. “The relationship-building starts when you open the car door. It starts with, ‘Good morning,’ and when you learn the name of a new student. It’s the most critical thing on day one.”

Relationships are also critical to building a community centered on Jesus, she said, especially one that fosters emotionally and spiritually healthy children who are ready to learn.

A program called “Friendzy” will be rolled out in all the Archdiocese of Louisville’s elementary schools this year to help promote student mental health. The faith-based social and emotional learning program uses Scripture to promote relationship- and community-building, which in turn promotes mental health, said Bowling.

Bowling noted that the pandemic brought a sense of isolation as well as learning delays to students. As a result, social and emotional learning needs have risen to the top, alongside academic needs, as priorities this school year.

“Last year, in early fall, it was quite evident issues of anxiety and issues of mental health in general, such as depression, were more pronounced,” she said. Schools had adopted a suicide prevention program. But the need for additional action was clear, Bowling said.

Meanwhile, St. Nicholas Academy had adopted Friendzy.

St. Nicholas Academy Principal Katie Oehmann and Counselor Daleigh Kranz pointed out a passage in the Friendzy handbook, a faith-based program to address social and emotional learning needs of students. St. Nicholas used the program last year and all Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville will adopt it this year. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Daleigh Kranz, the school’s counselor who was new last year, suggested the program for St. Nicholas after seeing the need. She and Principal Katie Oehmann agreed the program, which has been used in other dioceses, could help their students.

“We were seeing a lot of traumas that kids were going through,” said Oehmann. “We were looking at second- and third-graders dealing with social issues that would have been more appropriate for kindergarteners, but since they hadn’t had that for two years, it made sense. Plus depression and other issues” were heightened, too.

Kranz, a certified social worker who holds a master’s degree in social work, noted that people “lived in fear for two years and our children felt that.”

“They were being wired for that in that developmental stage. We’re now unpacking that with the kids. The rate of depression and anxiety among our youth has grown into a crisis,” Kranz said.

Kranz said Friendzy has offered an antidote for St. Nicholas’ school community.

“Friendship and relationship-building is the antidote to isolation,” she said. “We are meant to be social. Their nervous systems are so lit up and they haven’t had soothing from their companions because they’ve heard it’s not safe. Now we have to say, ‘It’s safe to find security with your companions, with your community at school, at Mass, with your friends.’

“If our kids are not well emotionally, they’re not going to succeed,” she added. “This is a tool to help with that.”

Friendzy is meant to be taught weekly for about an hour. The weekly lessons are meant to be complemented with a daily check-in that asks the students to share how they’re doing. Each school will implement the program in its own way, said Bowling, noting that there is also a component for parents.

The program is part of a larger strategy, she said, to seek new ways to address the learning needs of students in the wake of the pandemic.

“We could try to get there with the path already there that’s under construction,” she said. “Or we can find a new way to help each learner move forward.”

By Labor Day, all Archdiocese of Louisville schools will be back in session. The Office of Catholic Schools expects to know final enrollment numbers once all schools have opened.

 


Scenes from around the archdiocese

 

Trinity High School’s New Student Day was Aug. 10.

 

St. Mary Academy faculty and staff gather for prayer during the Back to School Extravaganza Aug. 11.

 

St. Rita School held a Back-to-School Bash, Aug. 13.

St. Joseph School, Bardstown.

 

Students at St. James School, Elizabethtown, started the new school year on Aug. 10.

 

DeSales High School welcomed the class of 2026 during the annual freshmen cookout held Aug. 4.

 

Office of Catholic Schools’ principals’ retreat, Aug. 2.

St. James School, Louisville

Teachers did small-group work during the new-teacher orientation held Aug. 4.

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