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Sophomore year marks new growth at St. Mary's Catholic School

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Sept. 13, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.

St. Mary's Catholic School will face an issue this year that it has never dealt with before: students who drive themselves to school.

The school, which served Pre-K through eighth grade students for most of its existence, is adding a high school one grade at a time. It had freshmen for the first time during the 2011-12 school year and now has its first group of sophomores.

"Since a lot of kids turn 16 and get their driver's licenses during their sophomore year of high school, we'll soon be dealing with kids driving themselves here for the first time in our history," said Principal Amy Allen.

Another new element for the school this year is high school level athletics. The 25 high school students - 13 freshmen and 12 sophomores - are now competing in volleyball, basketball and track against other East Texas private schools.

"We feel team sports are important to the kids," said Lucy Knotts, who is in charge of the school's athletics and physical education programs, as well as serving as a science teacher. "It's not about the competition as much as it is about them working together and improving their skills."

While it's unlikely the school will ever grow large enough to field a football team, Knotts expects it will add soccer as they progress toward a full, four-year high school. She also wants to offer students a chance to compete in more individual type sports, such as tennis and golf.

Allen said the addition of a high school is leading to increased enrollment in the middle school grades. She also said that a common criticism of small, religiously-affiliated schools - that they don't prepare students for "real life" - is simply not true.

"In a lot of large public schools you have plenty of foul language and sometimes even physical violence, but that's not what life in college or beyond is generally like," Allen said. "In most professional environments you're going to be working with relatively small groups of people and be expected to treat them with courtesy; which is the kind of behavior our students are learning now."

Because the classes are small, and most of the students have known each other since their pre-adolescent days, a lot of the common teenage social concerns, such as cliques and romances, are less of a problem among St. Mary's high school students, Allen said.

"We're not naive," Allen said. "These are still teenagers with hormones and we'll undoubtedly be facing some of those issues as the high school grows, but we emphasize treating themselves and others with respect and dignity because we are all children of God."

Tenth graders Peyton Fontenot and Alexis Keeler both said they enjoy the small classes and personal teacher attention they receive at St. Mary's. Both have older siblings who went to public high schools, so they have some basis of comparison.

"They push you to do more here, to make the best grades they possibly can," Keeler said. "The teachers aren't satisfied with passing their classes; they're not afraid to confront you if they feel you're not working as hard as you could be."

The quieter atmosphere of the school makes it easier to concentrate, especially on involved subjects like upper level mathematics, Fontenot said.



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