Monitor freelance photographer Rich Hundley captured smiles and waves from this group of students on the first day of school in Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Moorestown, Sept. 3. Rich Hundley photo
Monitor freelance photographer Rich Hundley captured smiles and waves from this group of students on the first day of school in Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Moorestown, Sept. 3. Rich Hundley photo

As Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton opened their doors to a new school year, the resounding feeling among both teachers and students was excitement.

“I’m excited to see my friends,” said Alana Chen, an eighth-grader in Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Moorestown. “I just feel like it’s a new beginning; it’s a new year for challenges, and I can challenge myself more, trying to get straight A’s.”

First-day anticipation was also strong for fifth-grade teacher Harper Casey, a graduate of Our Lady of Good Counsel.

“There are a lot of teachers that I had [still teaching here] and a lot of new teachers I’m excited to meet,” she said. “I’m really comfortable here – I feel like I’m back home … it’s a good place to be.”

Casey is looking forward to getting to know the kids. “That’s the hope I have this year, not only to educate them, but to grow a bond with them, [so] they feel comfortable with me to come into my classroom every day.”

Her mother, Suzanne Casey has taught computers and technology in the school for 19 years, and is the school’s technology coordinator. She anticipates a year of changes – but that’s nothing new to her.

“Technology changes every minute of the day, so for me it’s always something new,” Suzanne  said. “We’re in a whole new industrial revolution with the information age, and data is the big commodity.”

Harper and colleague Marcella Chen, kindergarten teacher and K-4 curriculum coordinator, both talked about the new departmentalization that will transform the school’s teaching structure from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“Each grade level has the opportunity to switch classes,” Chen explained. “One teacher will be responsible for teaching all the literacy components as well as integrated social studies and religion. The grade partner will teach science, math and STEM. We’re really excited – lots of movement, and I think it will be a lot of fun.”

In Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton, seventh-grader Alyssa Fleurant was happy to return to school.

“I feel great – I look forward to studying new things and making new friends,” said Fleurant. “And I’m looking forward to my ring ceremony and going on to eighth grade.”

Ann-Margaret Emde, a sixth-and eighth- grade math and science teacher in OLS School, was looking forward to start using the school’s new Makerspace – a room containing tools and components that allow students who enter with an idea to leave with a completed project.

“You start with energy and enthusiasm, and no matter how many years of teaching, you always look forward to a fresh start, to try new ideas, and work with a new set of kids,” Emde said.

Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, saw freshman and faculty with mixed emotions on the new school year.

“I’m feeling nervous because I’m going into a bigger school for the first time,” said freshman Steven Dicosta, parishioner of St. Aloysius, Jackson.

“I’m pretty anxious … but very excited to go into freshman year,” said Julianna Chesla, of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat. “I’m also excited for the performing arts and the theater; the auditions are coming up soon.”

Dr. Edward Gere, principal of Donovan Catholic, had two questions for the 169 entering freshman: “What can we do for you?” and “What can you do for us?”

“It’s a big change, going from grade school to high school. We want to make sure they feel like a part of our school community,” Gere said. “It’s a privilege … that we can walk with these students for four years and see these gifts and talents emerge … the difference is that our kids give back to our community more than what we give to them.”

Returning students in St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, felt a difference in their first day as upperclassmen versus when they first entered the school.

“I look forward to the school year, being one of the leaders of the school … because I just feel that it’s something I’ve really grown into over the years,” said Riley Dinnell, SJVHS senior. “The energy in the hallway was just palpable this morning. My experience has been really great; I love the block scheduling. I can really go to [the teachers] if I need help both in class or if I just need to talk.”

Sophomore Mason Shenk felt that his freshman year was more nerve-wracking. “But this year, I feel like because I know my friends, I’ll be comfortable,” he said. “I’m really excited for the school year from a sports perspective, because I know everyone on my teams, and social[ly] in school I feel like I’ll enjoy it and I’ll have a fun year.”

Assistant principal Margaret Kane said she had been looking forward to seeing the students return to school.

“The students are the heartbeat of the school; when they’re not here, its’ completely silent.”

 “The first day is always the most exciting,” Kane noted. “It’s always a positive day, a picture of the year to come.”

Video interviews by photographers John Batkowski, Mike Ehrmann and Rich Hundley contributed to this report.