St. Bernard School

Town, WECDSB “iron out” traffic study issues, Stella Maris construction soon to begin

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Construction on a four-classroom addition at Stella Maris School could start as soon as early next week after issues relating to the traffic study were “ironed out.”

Stephen Fields, communication co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the board is pleased to have satisfied the needs of what the town was looking for and said construction could start as soon as Monday.

“The goal is to have the bus bay and parking lot done by the start of school,” said Fields, noting that is weather permitting.

The four-classroom addition should be done by October or November, he added. While there will be students housed temporarily in the gymnasium during construction, Fields said Stella Maris has a good principal in Sophie DiPaolo and that the board is confident she will do everything possible to ensure the comfort of the students and staff.

“I’m sure she’ll work with staff and students to make sure they are accommodated properly,” said Fields. “There’s going to be creative solutions so the students get their daily physical activity and to ensure they get all their academic requirements met.”

Once the addition is complete, “we will have a really great school for the community,” said Fields. He hopes parents and students will be patient as the consolidation of Stella Maris and St. Bernard School comes together.

Stella Maris School

Stella Maris School

Town council delayed approval of the site plan last Monday and designated authority to execute the site plan to CAO John Miceli and director of planning, development and legislative Mark Galvin. The town’s concerns centered around busing and the “assumption that 100 per cent of the St. Bernard students will ride the bus, representing full compliance.” That concern was relayed as part of an administrative report to town council which added that current Stella Maris compliance was 60 per cent. Administration also wanted further validation of the number of buses that would be needed to accommodate all students.

Miceli confirmed that the town was in receipt of additional information from the board and the board’s consultants with Galvin indicating mid-week that the situation was “close to being ironed out.” Galvin said the town had to look over the information but believed the situation was soon to be remedied.

“I don’t expect it’s going to take more than a few days,” he said. “We’ve been working very closely together (with the board). We’re working very hard to get it finished.”

Saying goodbye to St. Bernard School

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The fate of St. Bernard School was decided in April when the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board voted to close it and now it’s time to say goodbye.

Former St. Bernard School teachers Anne Deslippe (left) and Christina D’Aloisio sign the guest book at last Friday night’s open house.

Former St. Bernard School teachers Anne Deslippe (left) and Christina D’Aloisio sign the guest book at last Friday night’s open house.

A Mass was held Friday night followed by an open house at the Richmond St. school where current staff and students got a chance to mingle with former staff and students. The last day of classes is today with the school expected to shut down for good in early July.

Principal Marisa Wismer said Friday night’s event was a chance to “take a stroll down memory lane” as people from the past and present got together. The process leading to the closure has been “very positive,” said Wismer, citing the Fun & Friends Day that was recently held at Stella Maris School that went well.

With the bulk of the students and much of the St. Bernard staff moving over to Stella Maris in September, the emphasis has been on bringing the schools together and keeping things positive for the students with Wismer noting the staff wanted to make it “the best year possible for them.” She added last Wednesday night’s graduation went “very well” and that the mood was upbeat.

“It was definitely very meaningful as it was the final graduating class but it went very well,” she said.

St. Bernard School graduate Kate Chant reads one of the old graduation programs that were on display at the June 24 open house.

St. Bernard School graduate Kate Chant reads one of the old graduation programs that were on display at the June 24 open house.

Wismer, who will become principal at St. John de Brebeuf Catholic Elementary School in Kingsville next school year, believed there may be some sadness this week as the 2015-16 school year officially comes to a close.

Wismer also taught at St. Bernard, as did retired teachers Anne Deslippe and Christina D’Aloisio, who came out to the open house Friday evening.

“It’s sad. There are a lot of good memories in this school,” said Deslippe. “It’s sad they are closing it.”

Deslippe, who spent 13 years of her teaching career at St. Bernard School, recalled her father Ed McBride was on the Catholic school board when it was built in the late 1950’s.

A group of staff members gather for a group photo at the St. Bernard School open house June 24.

A group of staff members gather for a group photo at the St. Bernard School open house June 24.

D’Aloisio said she taught at St. Bernard for 27 years and enjoyed every bit of it. She added she was able to come back and visit as she has a grandchild in the Ontario Early Years Centre within the building.

“It was a great place to teach,” said D’Aloisio. “I loved being here.”

Deslippe said she fit in at St. Bernard right away and it was “a wonderful experience.” D’Aloisio recalled the school being more open that it currently is as there weren’t any walls when she first taught there and students from other classes would cut through her class to return to where they were supposed to be.

D’Aloisio commented about the school’s central location and that they used numerous town amenities.

“We made use of everything,” she recalled. “Everything is so central.”

Current teacher Eva Pacitti spent the first two decades of her career and had many happy memories at St. Bernard but said the thought process is that they are getting “bigger and better” with the consolidation at Stella Maris School.

“Our focus is getting bigger and moving to a new building,” she said.

St. Bernard School graduates Leah Brownlie (left) and Marissa Nakitiuk (right) visit with teacher Eva Pacitti (centre) during the open house at St. Bernard School.

St. Bernard School graduates Leah Brownlie (left) and Marissa Nakitiuk (right) visit with teacher Eva Pacitti (centre) during the open house at St. Bernard School.

University of Windsor students Leah Brownlie and Marissa Nakitiuk returned to their former elementary school Friday night, pointing out they have been friends since elementary school. Nikitiuk said they came back “just to see it.

“Everything looks the same,” she said.

Browlie said it was sad that the school is being closed but she will always have her good memories of her time at St. Bernard School.

“I think the talent shows were my favourite,” added Nikitiuk.

The school was originally constructed in 1958, Wismer stated, with additions being built in 1961 and 1971.

“It’s been a cornerstone of the community for many years.”

 

Villanova, St. Bernard team up on robotics project

 

By Ron Giofu

St. Bernard School got a little help on their Lego robotics project from a team well versed in robotics projects.

The robotics team at St. Bernard received assistance last Thursday from the “WiredCats,” the robotics team from St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. The “WiredCats” went to the world championships in St. Louis to compete recently and brought their expertise to St. Bernard to allow the younger students to be able to program their own robot.

The St. Thomas of Villanova "WiredCats" robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter's robotics team.

The St. Thomas of Villanova “WiredCats” robotics team went to St. Bernard School recently to assist with the latter’s robotics team.

Eleonora Vitella, a Grade 5 teacher at St. Bernard, said there are about 13 students ranging from Grade 4-7 on the team. They built the robot with the Villanova students helping them to get it to do what they want. The robot is operational, she said, now it is more of a programming matter.

“I had gone to a workshop and brought the info back to the school and, with student interest, created a team,” said Vitella.

About nine students from the “WiredCats” came to St. Bernard to assist. Vitella said it was nice to have the involvement of the high school students.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

St. Bernard School students receive instruction from the St. Thomas of Villanova robotics team.

“It’s nice to have extracurricular activities for students to learn at,” said Vitella. “Hopefully it helps them in their future careers.”

The “WiredCats” includes 28 St. Thomas of Villanova students.

St. Bernard School student’s healthy eating essay wins top prize

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A local student’s essay was tops in her age group as judged by the Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP).

Samantha Connell’s nutritional essay won top prize in the Grade 4-8 category in the OSNP’s recent nutrition month contest. The local OSNP initiated an essay contest this year as March was nutrition month. It began as a way to keep the month fun but also to get students thinking about the benefits of healthy eating, said community development co-ordinator Danielle Findlay.

Findlay said there were JK-3 and high school age categories as well.

Samantha Connell (left) is awarded her prize for having the top essay for the OSNP’s healthy eating essay contest. Making the presentation is Danielle Findley, OSNP community development  co-ordinator.

Samantha Connell (left) is awarded her prize for having the top essay for the OSNP’s healthy eating essay contest. Making the presentation is Danielle Findley, OSNP community development co-ordinator.

“We had a lot of submissions,” she said. “We had a great response.”
A team of judges from OSNP looked over all the essays at the regional office in Windsor with Connell’s coming out on top in her age category. The winning essay will be shared through OSNP’s social media channels with Findlay believing it will have a lot of impact. While Findlay said she can talk a lot about the benefits of healthy eating, having the message come from a peer will provide additional impact.

“Having it come from them is so impactful. To hear it come from another student has more power behind it,” said Findlay.

Connell’s essay touched on good nutrition making bones and muscles stronger. She said she enjoys a lot of sports, particularly hockey and soccer, and eating healthy makes a difference. She found out she won the contest a couple of weeks ago and received her prize, a plaque and tickets to Adventure Bay in Windsor, last week.

“You can have more energy and play sports better than you did before,” she said.

Her essay also touched on environmental and agricultural benefits. She added she tries to eat as healthy as she can, stating she enjoys fruits and vegetables.

WECDSB, town council debate possible school closure

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The issue of the possible consolidation of Stella Maris School and St. Bernard School at the former’s site went to the public again Monday night.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board’s (WECDSB) trustees heard from members of the public at St. Thomas of Villanova in a second public meeting with one of the two delegations coming from Amherstburg CAO John Miceli. However, the content of Miceli’s presentation to the board was a bone of contention at a special council meeting held just prior to the WECDSB meeting.

Miceli told town council he was providing comments to the board’s recommendation, something he said he was previously asked to do by council.

“From the town’s perspective, we don’t want any school to close,” said Miceli.

Miceli outlined his business case, one that leaned towards maintaining St. Bernard over Stella Maris if one school did, in fact, have to close this June. He said maintaining Stella Maris would require that school to build bus bays and expand parking, something he said could be difficult given there is 5.14 acres at that site, one acre less than St. Bernard. St. Bernard has some strategic advantages over Stella Maris, he added, noting the latter is surrounded by homes on three sides and an industry on the other.

St. Bernard is also located directly across from 30-acre Centennial Park, the CAO continued.

Keeping Stella Maris as the lone Catholic elementary school would also mean additional busing and thus more strain on the town’s roads, Miceli added. Eighty-one per cent of students that attend St. Bernard walk, as opposed to seven per cent at Stella Maris. St. Bernard is fed by three main roads while Stella Maris is fed by two, he added.

“We’re trying to provide a walkable, livable community,” said Miceli.

Subdivisions such as the Hunt Club Creek development and the Smith subdivision would bring a combined 1,400 homes to the town once complete, he added.

Both buildings are similar in age with St. Bernard being slightly bigger, Miceli added, with that school also being used more outside of school hours including its gymnasium.

“This, in my opinion, provides more of a community hub,” said Miceli.

Miceli also believed there would be a need for six new classrooms should a consolidation occur at Stella Maris, as opposed to four at St. Bernard. There are also “environmental concerns,” Miceli added, noting the mosquito problem that has been an issue in the Fraserville area of Amherstburg.

“Once again, we’d prefer that no school be closed,” said Miceli.

Not all council members stayed for what proved to be a preview of Miceli’s presentation to the board. Councillors Rick Fryer and Jason Lavigne both declared conflict early in the presentation, citing the fact both have children attending Stella Maris School.

“We don’t want Stella Maris closed either,” said Fryer. “I’d like both schools to stay open. What I’m hearing is it’s more conducive to close Stella Maris than St. Bernard.”

Lavigne believed the CAO’s report was pitting one school against another school and believing otherwise was “a little naive.” He said after the meeting he was “a little taken aback” by the presentation and said he didn’t recall administration being approved to give a report like that. Lavigne believed Stella Maris parents should ask the opinions of the council members who voted to allow Miceli to proceed with the presentation to the WECDSB.

“From what I saw, it seemed administration wanted to close Stella Maris and keep St. Bernard open,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne added it was always students that suffer when enrollment drops, asking that board officials look to other means to address funding issues including cutting back at the board office.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she was against the timing of the report, noting Miceli’s report was brought back to council right before the board meeting.

“It didn’t give us a chance to discuss it.”

Councillor Joan Courtney, a former Catholic trustee, said Miceli was directed to gather information to keep St. Bernard open and said the CAO was offering suggestions to the current board of trustees.

“With all due respect to my colleagues, you’ve had two months to step up, go to meetings and nothing has been done,” said Courtney.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo didn’t think it was town administration that was pitting the schools against each other, it was the school board that was doing it.

“They did pit the schools against each other,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo believed that it was likely that one school is going to close “and there is not much we can do about that.” He said Miceli’s report was a business case.

“It will be perceived as it is perceived,” the mayor said.

Councillor Leo Meloche wanted Miceli at the meeting, believing if the CAO didn’t go that it would send the wrong message.

“If he doesn’t show up, it shows we are not interested,” said Meloche. “We need to make the presentation.”

Meloche added that the school board is in a tough spot due to enrollment.

“It’s a sign of the times. Our enrollment continues to decline,” said Meloche.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale believed Miceli’s report offered “good information” for those who read it.

“I think it’s going to be good for those who use the information. It gives our position as a town,” said DiPasquale.

Chief Administrative Officer John Miceli addresses the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School Monday night. Miceli’s presentation on the possible consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School was debated at a special council meeting earlier in the night.

Chief Administrative Officer John Miceli addresses the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School Monday night. Miceli’s presentation on the possible consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School was debated at a special council meeting earlier in the night.

The board meeting itself saw roughly 35-40 attend, up from the 10-12 people that attended a meeting in January at Villanova. There were two delegations, one from Miceli and the other from parent Frank Cleminson.

Cleminson said he was trying to put a “positive spin” on the matter but did have questions over start times for students if the schools were combined. He acknowledged board officials likely didn’t have an answer yet to that question.

As for portables, “my idea of a portable is something of a short-term duration,” he added. Director of education Paul Picard indicated the plan would be to use portables for up to one year with the WECSDB to pursue provincial funding for an expanded building at Stella Maris should the board recommendation be approved.

Cleminson also would like to see the savings reinvested into the school. He added that he has high praise for staffs at both Stella Maris, where his twin sons attend, and St. Bernard School.

Picard noted his belief that the Stella Maris option was his preference, noting the current scenario that the board is faced with calls for only one Catholic elementary school in the core of Amherstburg.

“Overall, the student demographic decline is significant and will continue to drop,” he said.

Even with new homes projected for the town, it would take an “extremely large number” of families enrolling with the Catholic board to make two schools feasible.

French Immersion at St. Joseph School in River Canard also draws students away from the two other schools. Picard envisioned a “triangle” of schools in the area, with the three schools comprising that “triangle” being St. Joseph, Stella Maris and St. Anthony in Harrow.

Picard added the WECSDB is aiming to fulfill a goal of having faith-based education in each community.

Vice chair Mary DiMenna said they visited Stella Maris earlier in the day and also noted parking is limited. She wanted to know if board administration had studied the busing scenario and planned to devote money to that.

Picard said they are aware of the issues and are looking at addressing them in a future report. He said the size of the lot at Stella Maris would be the “envy of many schools in the city.”

DiMenna also wanted busing costs factored into future reports.

Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Frank DiTomasso said he was concerned about the impact on youth, including those in sports and other after-school activities.

“What I worry about is youth,” he said, “our children being moved from one school to another.”
DiTomasso questioned what would happen if a school has an after-school activity and their parents didn’t have a vehicle to take them home in should the consolidation at Stella Maris take place. Picard said the board would have to allocate budget dollars to allow for some form of transportation during after-school times, though admitted the town’s loss of a taxi service could present additional challenges.

Father Larry Brunet worried about student retention, with Picard stating there may be some who value location versus Catholic education.

“I have to respect that,” he said.

Picard said he hopes parents, guardians and students see the value of Catholic education and realize “we are offering something very valuable.”
The WECDSB will make its final decision on the matter April 5.