Students meet before four schools consolidate

By Michelle Martin - Staff Writer

There was a little bit of service, some art, a few games and an obstacle course. But for the roughly 200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who gathered at St. Pascal School Dec. 3, the day was about overcoming nerves and making friends.

The students came from St. Pascal, 6143 W. Irving Park Road; St. Cornelius, 5252 N. Long Ave.; Our Lady of Victory, 4434 N. Laramie; and St. Tarcissus School, 6040 W. Ardmore. The four schools will combine next year to form Pope Francis Global Academy, offering preschool through eighth-grade classes on two campuses, at St. Pascal and at St. Tarcissus.

Over the course of the morning, the students split into groups with some members from each school and rotated through activities that included team-building and an obstacle course in the gym, making their own coats of arms and playing pope trivia and bingo. Teachers leading each activity made sure that students interacted with their peers from other schools.

At the end of the morning, the whole group gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to Pope Francis — it was recorded and will be sent to the Vatican — and have a pizza lunch.

The students admitted to being a little worried when the day began.

"I was a little nervous," said Emma Conway, a sixth-grader at St. Tarcissus. "I didn't know what they would be like."

"When we got here this morning, it was awkward at first," said Rosa Lurigio, a sixth-grader from St. Cornelius. "We kind of tried to stay away from them."

"And now we're saving them seats and trying to get near them in line," said Madeline Jones, also a sixth grader from St. Cornelius.

The girls were decorating placemats for Meals on Wheels. In the same room, students were assembling catnip toys for cats in the Anticruelty Society shelter.

"It's like, you can ask someone for a marker and start a whole conversation," Madeline said.

Madeline and Rosa said they both intend to enroll at Pope Francis Academy in the fall, most likely attending at the St. Tarcissus campus, and that getting a chance to meet some of their future classmates will make the transition much less frightening.

Emma and her St. Tarcissus classmate, Nikki Nallon, know they will go to school in the same building they do now, but both said they had been worried about the changes coming.

"We didn't know what to expect," Nikki said. "But they're just like us."

The girls from both schools said they were looking forward to having more students in their classes next year.

Darlene Heiberger, on the faculty at St. Pascal, said the whole point of the day was to help students get to know one another. By the time the fourth group came through the classroom where she and Our Lady of Victory math and science teacher Mary Beth Schaefer were helping students design coats of arms, she said, she could see the students had warmed up to one another.

"This group has bonded," she said. "You can tell."

Heiberger said the day went so well she wondered if it wouldn't make sense for schools to visit one another more regularly, even if they are not about to consolidate. Most schools draw students from a wide area now — 15 different ZIP codes at St. Pascal — not just their immediate neighborhoods, and students are going to encounter one another as they grow up,

Some of the students were fast friends.

Danny McHugh from St. Tarcissus, George Cook from Our Lady of Victory and Aiden Powers from St. Cornelius were all sitting together.

What was the best thing that happened that morning?

"Meeting my twin," Danny said, looking at George. "He's just like me."