A SCHOOL GROWS ALONG WITH ITS STUDENTS
When Pope Benedict XVI visited New York City last spring, students from St. Joseph's, Yorkville served as official greeters. The group then headed to the eponymous church next door, where the Pope led an ecumenical prayer service. The students' role in the historic event illustrates the special character of the 128-year-old school, at 420 E. 87th St. St. Joseph's has a strong academic program, a faith-filled community and a family environment, said Theresa Bernero, head of school. The students also donated 2,200 hours of community service as a living birthday present for the Pope. There are 305 students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade at St. Joseph's this year, where the student body is evenly divided between boys and girls. The average class size from pre-K to 4th grade is 26. Students are required to wear uniforms: a white shirt, gray skirt or pants and a blue sweater. The school's curriculum follows the standards set by the Archdiocese of New York and the New York State Framework for Learning and includes mandatory religion classes. The school's faculty is lay. Students do not have to be Catholic to attend, although Catholics and Christians constitute 82 percent and 96 percent of its student body, respectively. The majority of the school's graduates continue their education at Catholic high schools. Bernero describes St. Joseph's as an "inner-city school" because the Archdiocese provides scholarships for 20 to 30 percent of students each year whose families' incomes are at or below poverty level. Students come from all five boroughs, with about 5 percent commuting from Westchester and Rockland counties and New Jersey. "It's a smaller school where it's not easy to get distracted," said Simmone Alexander, a Queens resident who graduated from St. Joseph's last spring and now attends St. Francis Preparatory. She plans to become both a singer and a psychologist. "The academics are challenging, but the school is a family," Simmone said. One lesson that stands out from her time at St. Joseph's is that you must work hard to achieve big goals. Last year, the students won an important victory-access to 87th Street for recess-following an 18-month campaign they waged in cooperation with teachers and parents. For more than a decade, the city had not allowed the street to be closed off, but after the children spoke before Community Board 8, they received a standing ovation and won the right to cordon off the street for safe use during recess. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="328" caption="Theresa Bernero, Head of School."][/caption] When Theresa Vasquez enrolled her daughter, Victoria, in St. Joseph's pre-kindergarten in 1999, she didn't intend to be there for her daughter's graduation. But her family's experiences with the school changed her mind. This year, Victoria is in 7th grade at St. Joseph's, and her younger sister, Katherine, is in kindergarten. "The teachers are so dedicated," Vasquez said, "and they really prepare children for high school." In the past five years, the school has enhanced its science and technology programs. St. Joseph's added a science lab for lower grades, a full-time technology coordinator and gave all students access to classroom computers. Kindergarten to 8th graders also have access to the school's computer lab. Bernero said that the school must continue to recognize the ever-changing world and prepare its students accordingly. Over the next three years, there are plans to continue improving technology, add foreign languages and arts to the curriculum, and expand the after-school program. When the McCusker-McBride family moved to Yorkville in 2003, they entered their son Thomas in pre-kindergarten at St. Joseph's. "We've really hit a home run here," said Joe McCusker, father of Thomas, now a 2nd grader. "There's a rigorous academic environment, but it's well-balanced by the real community the school offers," said Kate McBride, praising the school's educational approach and Bernero's openness to parental involvement. Every June, the parent association and the school advisory board host an annual street fair to raise funds for the school's needs and special programs. Three years ago, the after school program offered only three activities; now there are about 20, funded by parents. Bernero said that the school's ideal graduates have learned the skills to reach their academic potential, to engage in Christian service and to actively participate in their faith. While at St. Joseph's, students take part in community service projects, including food drives for the Yorkville Community Pantry. They also attend Mass once a week with their grade and once a month as a school. John Murray, who plans to become an engineer, graduated last spring and now attends Regis High School. He remembers when his mother took him to St. Joseph's. "I had a good feeling when I walked by the church," he said, "I thought it was really beautiful." Reflecting back over his years there, Murray added, "They were great. I couldn't imagine having been at any other school." -- St. Joseph's School, Yorkville 420 E. 87th St. 212-289-3057 www.sjsyorkville.org Theresa Bernero, Head of School --
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