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(Photo Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco)

Fifth graders hold up a diagram of how to write a fact-based essay during a class presentation to parents and relatives.

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Profile: Our Lady of Mount Carmel School
January 26th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz

Walking through the gracious early 20th century front doors of Our Lady of Mount Carmel School into the polished wood foyer is a bit like taking a step into a different era.

Principal Teresa Anthony says the Redwood City Catholic school is “a special little jewel” that combines the best of the traditions of the Sisters of Notre Dame who founded Our Lady of Mount Carmel as a mission school in 1885 with preparing students for the 21st century. The current school was built in 1932 after the original converted mansion donated by a millionaire lumberman suffered serious damage in the 1906 earthquake.

“There’s something about this school that makes it very exciting to be part of,” says Anthony, who has been principal for 26 years, and is the first lay principal since the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur handed over administration of the school in 1990. “The families are very supportive of what the teachers and administration are trying to accomplish.”

The 340-student elementary school has a 1:18 teacher to student ratio for kindergarten to grade 8 and 1:12 in preschool, pre-kindergarten and a newly established transitional kindergarten. The southern San Mateo school is at full enrollment. Today’s student body includes families whose ties go back five generations as well as first generation students whose parents immigrated from El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua. The extended care program is run by a former student whose own children attend the school, for instance. There is a $1 million endowment fund and a generous financial aid program that supports those with limited means.

“It is important this school really represents the parish we serve,” said Anthony, referring to the large number of Spanish speaking parishioners who fill Spanish language Masses, first Communion and catechism classes at the church. The school also keeps connected to the Sisters of Notre Dame, with a biannual Mass and celebration. “They gave so much to the school,” Anthony said.

Anthony notes more than 60 percent of teachers have a master’s in education. The children graduating from Our Lady of Mount Carmel go to San Mateo and San Francisco Catholic high schools, San Jose Catholic high schools and public and private schools, she said. Nine Our Lady of Mount Carmel graduates are currently enrolled in the Sophie Scholars Program, a tuition free scholarship program for disadvantaged students at Sacred Heart Atherton, she said.

Cecilia Lumus’ fifth grade daughter recently transferred from public school. “She’s learning more,” said Lumus, and “every single day she is praying” at school.

Ed and Julie Gory’s son Jeremy is in fifth grade and their daughter Megan is a ninth grader at Notre Dame High School, Belmont. “When Megan entered she was well prepared for high school, for all the demands of high school,” said Julie Gory. “They teach the students to take ownership, to be vocal.”

Every child is in some kind of dramatic production every year, Anthony said, from the kindergarten’s “3 Piggy Opera” to the fourth grade Mission California pageant and so on. “We believe it is very important for children to feel comfortable performing in front of audiences,” Anthony said.

The gym is in the old church. The first floor hallway is lit by ceiling tall arched windows. The classrooms have cloakrooms. Hardy 1932 “battleship linoleum” still covers some hall and classroom floors.

There are smart boards in all the classrooms, as well as individual iPads, Chrome Books, and laptops–enough devices for 75 percent of the students at a time. “As a learner, you have to be able to discern what devices will best get the information you need,” Anthony said.

The recently concluded renovation included moving the library and 100 teachers and parents packed every book and moved them during break, Anthony said. “There is a real sense of community here,” Anthony said.

From January 28, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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