St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School

WiredCats getting geared up for another robotics competition


By Jonathan Martin

The Villanova WiredCats are gearing up for another robotics competition.

The high school robotics team held its annual open house last Saturday, where the public was granted a glimpse into how this year’s robot is coming along.

Each year, the WiredCats participate in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, an international robotics sporting event. Teams of youths have six weeks to raise funds, build a brand, then program and construct a robot to play a predetermined field game against their international peers.

The two-year-old WiredCats placed tenth in the FRC World Robotics Competition in St. Louis last year and earned the Rookie All-Star Award the year before, which landed them a spot in 2016’s worlds, too.

“It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow when we don’t make it (to the world championships),” said WiredCats founder Stacey Greenwood. “But this year, I feel like we’ve found our groove.”

The WiredCats are made up of 37 students broken down into five sub-teams: mechanical, design, electrical, business and programming. Greenwood said over the past three years, the WiredCats have figured out how to synergize the sub-groups and streamline their productivity.

Grade 11 student Erica Rossi has jumped between sub-teams during her three-year tenure. In grade nine and 10, she worked with the robot’s programming. This year, she has jumped over to the electrical sub-team. She said she views the structure of the robotics team as an opportunity to expand her knowledge-base.

“I’m getting closer to Grade 12,” she said. “So I wanted to use this as a chance to learn a bit more about the different fields of engineering.”

Greenwood estimates around 70 per cent of WiredCats continue on to post-secondary STEM fields. With a student membership that’s 35 per cent female, 12 percentage points higher than the national rate of women who graduate from engineering programs, she counts that as an achievement.

“One of my biggest concerns has always been getting women into STEM,” she said. “We tend to lose them around sixth grade, so we do a lot of outreach at the local grade schools.”

Rossi said the WiredCats have given her the confidence to continue on into the male-dominated world of engineering.

The Villanova Wiredcats work on their robot at an open house last Saturday.

“Being a girl in STEM, I am the minority,” she said. “On this team, however, I don’t feel like it. Everybody works together and you don’t see the division.”

Rossi added that the team’s 15 mentors, who, according to Greenwood, are around 65% female, work hard to make sure every student feels involved and invested in the project.

Bob Hedrick is one of the team’s mentors. He helps the students develop the software that allows the robot to complete its tasks.

“In music class, the kids get to hold concerts,” he said. “In gym, they have sports tournaments. In drama, they have plays. In science and math, there’s really not all that many chances to apply what they’ve learned. This program gives them the chance to see the real-world application of the theory they’ve learned in school.”

At the WiredCats’ open house, prospective Villanova students got to check out those applications. Greenwood said she hopes the open house will allow her to continue growing the team, making an impact and allowing girls to explore their STEM side.

The WiredCats will be competing in Windsor March 30-31, in London April 7-8, in Mississauga April 11-14 (assuming they qualify for the provincial championships) and, if they qualify for the world championship, will be in Detroit from April 25-28.

Local student becomes 2017 IHRA Jr. Dragster World Champion


Special to the RTT

Amherstburg’s very own Luke Schwemler recently won the IHRA Jr Dragster World Championship in Memphis, Tennessee.

Schwemler is the five-time Track Champion at Grand Bend Motorplex, a three-time IHRA Division 5 Champion and now he has won the most prestigious title of all at the World Finals in Memphis.

Amherstburg’s Luke Schwemler won the 2017 IHRA Jr. Dragster World Championship in Memphis recently. Schwemler is a Grade 12 student at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. (Submitted photo)

Schwemler was unstoppable with three of his reaction times that were almost perfect (.001, .004 and .007) making him Canada’s first Jr. Dragster World Champion. Schwemler’s awards included a new custom painted Jr. Dragster, a diamond ring, $3,000, an IHRA Gold Card and a Fire Jacket.

Schwemler is currently a Grade 12 student at St Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. Off the track, Schwemler is an avid computer programmer, having taken numerous courses already at Princeton University and University of Michigan and is co-lead in his schools Robotics Team. He is now applying to numerous universities to further his education in Software Engineering.

Local goalie wins silver at Canadian U18 girls hockey championship



By Ron Giofu


Erica Fryer was part of one of the two Ontario teams at the recent Canadian U18 girls hockey championship and brought home some hardware.

Fryer played for Team Ontario (Blue) at the tournament in Quebec City Nov. 1-5 and the young goalie helped backstop her team to a silver medal. Fryer, a Grade 12 student at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School, played three games for her team and finished 2-1 with a 1.35 goals against average, a .952 save percentage and one shutout.

“It was definitely a great experience,” said Fryer. “It was definitely once in a lifetime. It was great to compete for Ontario and compete against all of the other provinces in Canada.”

Amherstburg resident Erica Fryer shows some of the awards she won as part of the Team Ontario (Blue) team at the Canadian U18 girls hockey championship in Quebec City Nov. 1-5.

Fryer played in three games, the first being a 4-0 shutout victory against Alberta.

“I ended up getting player of the game,” she said, an honour for which she received a trophy and a watch.

Her second game, and her team’s third game, saw Fryer and Team Ontario (Blue) defeat Team Ontario (Red) 3-1. Those two teams would meet again in the finals, Fryer’s next game, but the results would be the exact opposite of their first meeting as Red beat Blue 3-1.

“I think I played very well. I held my ground and did the best I could,” she said.

Fryer praised her teammates for their efforts at the tournament.

“My team clicked together. We got to know each other and gelled really well,” said Fryer. “Our team competed very well. It was the first time at nationals for all of us. None of us were there before but we competed well as a team.”

Erica Fryer stand with some of her fans. (Submitted photo)

Team Ontario (Blue) went undefeated until the finals, she pointed out.

“Quebec City is beautiful,” she added. “I’ll have memories for the rest of my life.”

One of her memories will be being cheered by elementary school students who attended the tournament. She said the students made posters with her jersey and name drawn on it and cheered her on.

“It was so cool to see that,” she said.

Fryer did not make the U18 national team but she plans on working hard to eventually make the Canadian women’s U22 team in a few years.

“That’s my next goal,” she said.

In the meantime, Fryer will continue playing for the London Jr. Devilettes and try to bring them to the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) finals. She is also headed to the University of Toronto next year on a scholarship.

New school year officially underway



By Jolene Perron


Buses, enrollment and education, oh my!

The 2017-18 school year has officially kicked off, and both of the school boards as well as Sharp Bus Lines are gearing up for what they plan to be another fantastic year.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in French Immersion, especially at St. Joseph in River Canard, as well as in our International Baccalaureate programs (at Assumption and Cardinal Carter) and academy programs,” explained Stephen Fields, communications coordinator for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. “In fact, we now have 457 students in our sports academies. The really nice thing about the growth in French Immersion at St. Joseph is that, as we add new grades for those students as they advance, they will be able to go directly into the Villanova French Immersion program after completing elementary school, which will help solidify the high school’s French program.”



Fields went on to say they have done some hiring in the elementary and secondary panels, as well as make additions to their occasional teachers list. Last spring they also announced the creation of a new construction academy at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Windsor, which will see 20 new students starting there in September. The goal is to help address a skills gap in local trades. Additionally, they are launching a new STREAM – Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics- Academy at Holy Names. They currently have about 65 students registered.

“At Villanova, we continue to build on the strengths of our very successful robotics team, which performed admirably in both national and international competitions last year,” said Fields. “We received some new funding to create an Apple Mac lab there, which really enhances our existing computer tech courses, where students are doing coding and building apps within the context of those courses. This will really provide a great foundation for these students as they move into post secondary education and eventually, related careers. This is also connected to the coding programs that are being integrated into our elementary curriculum at St. Joseph and Stella Maris.”

In the public school board, public relations officer Scott Scantlebury said after years of declining enrolment, they have finally stabilized, particularly at the secondary level. There has been some hiring of teachers over the past couple years, however, Scantlebury said they will have a better idea what their needs are for this year once they see enrolment numbers. As for major development, Scantlebury noted their new cloud-based learning program – Edsby.

“After piloting the system at a number of schools, this year parents at all schools in the Board will be able to sign up and have real-time communication with teachers and track their student’s academic achievement, attendance, etc.,” said Scantlebury. “It’s a great tool for parent engagement and involvement. As well we have expanded the access to the elementary literacy programs Lexia and Empower…we’ve seen, where it’s been used, positive impacts on kids’ reading levels, especially with students who were struggling with literacy. We also have changed the way we deliver English as a Second Language in elementary schools. Students will now receive the program at their home schools rather than at a central site, before graduating to their home school.”


Grade 9 orientation at General Amherst High School featured fun activities.

As for the location of the new school, Scantlebury said they have not finalized their plans. Their original projections, which he said they have discussed at the funding announcement for the opening, are still the same. Once the board has a site, a design and approval from the Ministry of Education, the construction will be tendered, which Scantlebury said takes about 14-16 months to build a school once work begins.

Not only are the school boards gearing up for the school year, but Sharp Bus Lines has been preparing as well and is asking a few things from students, parents and motorists.

“Students should arrive at their bus stops 10 minutes prior to pick up time,” said Crystal Williamson, regional manager for Sharp Bus Lines. “Wait at your designated stop in a safe spot, standing back from the curb or roadside yet visible to your bus driver, always remember to stay away from the danger zones outside of the bus, if required to cross watch for your driver to signal it’s safe to do so not before this and the crossing gate extended as well as the overheads and stop arm activated.”

Williamson said they are also asking motorists to keep in mind that school is back in session and asks them to slow down and be very cautious when approaching stopped school buses because “a child who may be running late for their stop could appear out of nowhere and cross the street.”

Over the summer, Williamson they have been preparing by taking all of the buses into the shop for the mechanics to go through, making sure the fleet of buses are safe for the students. The routes are checked for directional errors and timing, to ensure everyone arrives safely and in a timely fashion. Additionally, drivers come in to cover off refreshers and go over new routes.

“We love kids,” said Williamson. “Patience and kindness are the major things that we look for in our drivers.  Children have bad days just like adults so sometimes we need to cut them some slack.  We have hired/trained 8 new drivers over the summer and we are always looking for those special individuals to fill the seat.  As we always tell our drivers – they may be the first smile a child sees in the morning.  Make their day.”

So whether you’re a new or returning student, a parent, or even a fellow motorist, school is back in session and both the school boards, as well as Sharp Bus Lines hope everyone has a safe and happy 2017-18 school year.

St. Thomas of Villanova bids farewell to its 2017 graduates



By Ron Giofu


St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School has said farewell to its graduating class of 2017.

Over 320 graduates were honoured at last Wednesday night’s graduation ceremony, held at the WFCU Centre in Windsor. This year’s valedictorian was Brandon Meloche, who said he was “a terrified Grade 9” four years ago and “now I’m speaking to hundreds of people.

“The moment we’ve been waiting for is here, and this event has only transpired due to the guidance of our teachers, our friends and our families,” said Meloche.

he graduates of St. Thomas of Villanova listen to valedictorian Brandon Meloche’s address at the WFCU Centre in Windsor.

he graduates of St. Thomas of Villanova listen to valedictorian Brandon Meloche’s address at the WFCU Centre in Windsor.

Meloche added that the “four year journey” to graduation has been completed and now they are young Canadians “hoping to take on the world.” He stated that going to school at Villanova “has been a crucible of events” that has shaped their futures.

“We all lived through lockdown drills, homecomings, sports games, spirit weeks and exams,” said Meloche. “We lived through the union strike that scarred our school community for over a month. It divided us, it separated us, but through weeks of hard work and waiting, the few who refused to talk learned that if you aggress upon the right to collective bargaining, the union’s people will not relent!”

Meloche reflected on past memories of their days at Villanova, including getting lost in the halls in Grade 9 and hearing about “the pool on the third floor,” the “lip dub” video in Grade 10 and school trips to Europe and Costa Rica.

Villanova principal Amy Facchineri addresses the graduates at the June 28 graduation ceremony.

Villanova principal Amy Facchineri addresses the graduates at the June 28 graduation ceremony.

Their Villanova experiences went from being “thrown into a new, overwhelming arena to begin building a legacy and a future to believe in” during Grade 9 to Grade 12 where he joked they were “rulers and governors, and some dictators, of the building. We owned the halls, the sports fields and the caf(eteria). We readied ourselves to leave these comfortable halls and begin our transcendence toward the future.”

The graduating students have celebrated amazing times and went through horrific times, he added, recalling triumphs in academic competition and sports games. He also recalled the bad times, including the loss of six former and current Wildcats over the last four years.

The students have become “charitable, caring citizens who have raised thousands of dollars and cans for charity.” Meloche continued that “we’ve learned to grow in mind with the guidance of our teachers, who have in some ways become models for us in terms of personality and work ethic.”

Meloche said he has developed greatly as a person in the halls of Villanova, not just in physical dimensions but also in character, and gained confidence each year. He believed many others did as well.

“Today marks a great end, but an even greater beginning,” said Meloche, as he thanked the many departments within Villanova. “To the people, my fellow graduates, thank you for all you’ve done. Thank you for choosing me to be your voice. Thank you for this journey.”

Greetings were also brought by salutatorian Joey Corio as well as Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board superintendent Joseph Ibrahim and Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Frank DiTomasso.

St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School valedictorian Brandon Meloche addresses his fellow graduates.

St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School valedictorian Brandon Meloche addresses his fellow graduates.

Principal Amy Facchineri wished this year’s graduates all the best.

“I hope and pray your future will be a successful one, filled with everything you want it to be,” she told the graduates.

Facchineri said that success is defined by some as money and possessions, but Villanova tries to teach that success is also defined by personal character rather than material success.

Graduates need to be out of their comfort zones, but not their talent zones, she continued, and further stated that failure is not the enemy, complacency is.

The graduates have contributed from an academic, athletic, extra-curricular and community perspective, Facchineri added, and that the school “feels blessed” to be part of that.

Facchineri encouraged the graduates to meet all the challenges that life gives them to meet and to keep doing the right things in life.