Story by Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Students from around the state gathered Feb. 1 at the State House in Trenton to celebrate the many contributions made by Catholic schools and to recognize the standouts of the annual Catholic Schools Week poster and video project.
Sponsored by the New Jersey Network of Catholic Families and the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the day included a tour of the State House and a presentation of the selected poster and video entries that depicted, “Why I Love My Catholic School.”
Photo Gallery: Students visit State House during Catholic Schools Week
The Dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Metuchen and Paterson as well as the Archdiocese of Newark were all invited to participate.
In the State House Annex, Dr. George V. Corwell, NJCC director of the Office of Education, read a proclamation made by Gov. Phil Murphy designating the week of Jan. 28 as Catholic Schools Week and recognizing the contributions of Catholic education.
He presented the proclamation to Mary Baier, the Diocese of Camden superintendent of schools and chair of the Council of Catholic Superintendents. Superintendent of Schools for the Trenton Diocese, JoAnn Tier, was also in attendance.
Students from St. Bartholomew School, East Brunswick, donned yellow scarves, symbols of National School Choice Week, and performed a School Choice Dance. They were accompanied by their parish pastor, Father Thomas Walsh, and their principal, Ann Wierzbicki. National School Choice Week is celebrated the week prior to Catholic Schools Week.
Legislative, School Achievements
Those in attendance viewed the selected videos submitted by high school students throughout New Jersey. The highlighted entries from the Diocese of Trenton were produced by Maya Colon, St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, and Tom Gana from Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft.
Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer, D-Passaic, and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Holmdel, who serve on the Education Committee, offered their words of praise for Catholic education.
“People should have the right, I believe, to send their children where they want to go to school, and I believe the state should be supportive as humanly possible to facilitate,” Schaer said.
He spoke of recent legislative achievements, including state budget funding increases in areas such as technology, nursing and school security and discussed finding new ways to find funding for nonpublic schools.
“We need to find ways constitutionally for the state to pay for those school subjects that we all agree upon that are taught,” Schaer said. “I do believe in terms of literature, in terms of mathematics [that] these are subjects that are taught agnostically. These are things we can agree upon.”
He encouraged those in attendance to pay attention to the issues that are important to Catholic schools. “Money makes education viable. Make your voices clear, resonant and continue following the course you are following.”
DiMaso, a product of Catholic education who has experience as an education liaison in Monmouth County, chimed in on Gana’s video.
“I recognized the halls of CBA in the video,” she said, “because my sons went to Christian Brothers Academy, and it took my breath away to see that.”
DiMaso and Schaer said they continue to look forward to working with the NJNCF and the NJCC.
“You are part of the decision-making process,” DiMaso said. “In the end, the children are what it’s all about. You are the future, you are who will create a better world for all of us moving forward.”
Giving Students a Voice
Maureen Tuohy, principal of Our Lady of Sorrows School, Hamilton, said she enjoyed hearing the legislators speak. “I believe it made it ‘more real’ since we had just visited the Senate and Assembly Rooms.”
Tuohy joined one of her students, Joseph Cordero, who was recognized for his poster entry. Cordero said he appreciated the history of each room during the tour and was impressed by the size and beauty of the historical building.
While the day provided students, teachers, parents and administrators a unique look into the state’s government, it also provided an opportunity to highlight the importance of Catholic education in the state.
“In the current school year, there are 173 Catholic schools in five dioceses,” Tier said. “These schools educate 75,088 students from pre-K to grade 12. Our Catholic schools save taxpayers over $881 million annually when averaging the cost to educate a student at $12,000 per pupil.
“Catholic school students are leaders in the community. They are formed in the faith, steeped in challenging yet attainable academics and freely provide community service. The investment of the Bishops of New Jersey, the priests, parishioners, administrators, faculty and parents provide a blessing for our students, the future leaders and contributors to our nation.”
Frances Koukotas, director of the New Jersey Network of Catholic School Families in the Diocese of Trenton, reflected on the day and its significance.
“It is an opportunity to educate students by seeing and hearing how their elected officials work and that they, even as students, can have a voice,” she said. “All of the Network of Catholic School Family directors want this to be that kind of opportunity, another opportunity to learn.
“Making a poster or a video gets them to really think about their school, why being in a Catholic school is special and to put on paper or in a video all the things they appreciate about their school experience. Having them come to the State House is another layer of the experience. They were able to meet legislators, ask them questions, see the rooms where the legislators vote, and they learned how they can initiate legislation.”
In addition to the high school videos recognized and Cordero’s poster, Lacoya Newland, of Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, and Melanie Esser of St. Mary School, Middletown, were acknowledged for their poster entries.