July 16, 2013
For the past two years, Father John Valdez has kept his calendar open during the month of June. Not because he has to. It’s because he wants to.
The pastor at St. Anthony’s Church is involved with the Summer Academy at St. Anthony’s School, which wrapped up its second year on June 27.
Twenty-two students in the third through sixth grades took part in 12 sessions of learning on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings from 8:00 to noon at the school.
Father Valdez assisted teachers Susan Hicks and Farron Urbanczyk in the academy that delved into religion, art and science and included off-campus trips.
“The Summer Academy is a great way for our students to transition out of the school year into summer,” said Father Valdez. “It’s also a way of enriching, challenging and helping kids find their niche, because not all kids can do what is done in the classroom, but everybody can do something and be successful at it. That is the whole premise of the summer academy: enrichment. It’s going further, going deeper, especially in their spirituality, exploring things that are fascinating and fun. Thanks to Farron and Susan, that’s exactly what is happening.”
It also gives Father Valdez a chance to visit a previous vocation prior to his ordination, that of teacher.
“I get to use my teaching skills again. It’s been fun doing it, but exhausting since I’m out of practice,” he said, chuckling. “It’s been fun, especially in contributing to the spirituality portion. I am proud to have been able to insert myself into this.”
St. Anthony’s principal Linda Aranda had wanted to do a summer program such as the academy for many years.
“When I first went to St. Anthony’s School, I had taught summer school for many years at other schools,” she said. “Only the best teachers taught summer school and I thought of myself as the thinking-outside-the-box-type teacher and missed teaching summer school.
“I had hoped to start a summer program of math and science at St. Anthony’s School a few years ago. It was Farron and Susan who came up with the ‘stuff’ to make it work. Our Summer Academy is a non-traditional approach to education. It combines faith, art, science and opportunities to learn outside the classroom. The academics are still rigorous and remain Christ-centered.
“I truly believe the Summer Academy is the icing on the cake here at St. Anthony’s School. The bottom line: God matters.”
Fourth grade teacher Farron Urbanczyk, fourth grade teacher at St. Anthony’s, said the Summer Academy had one gear: fast and furious.
“We started off this year’s academy learning about Ignatian Spirituality and St. Ignatius,” she said. “We started off with AMDG bleached t-shirts, which is Latin for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God). We talked about flight, making flight pioneers. We covered the Creation story—the students made their own Creation pictures. We’ve done paper mache hot air balloons, made origami wonder boxes, wax resist creation paintings, folded book art, dissected worms and sharks and kept daily, personal journals.
“It’s been great. The students really have exceeded our expectations. We really didn’t know where we were going with the Summer Academy when we started last year and it’s blown up from there. The participation has been great, the parents and kids have been excited and it boomed.”
The learning was not limited to the classroom during the 12 days of the academy. Students also took part in a number of off-campus field trips.
“We visited San Jose in the Campo here in Hereford on June 19,” said Urbanczyk. “While we were there, we saw the artwork that Randy Friemel has done (WTC 10/7/2012), which are phenomenal. We also traveled to Umbarger later that day to visit St. Mary’s Church and learned a bit about the history of the church there.
“The kids left both churches inspired. They really didn’t know we had a mission church here in Hereford. Some of the kids realized their grandparents went to that church and didn’t even know that before.”
St. Anthony’s librarian Susan Hicks said the Summer Academy is a year-round occupation for herself, Father Valdez and Urbanczyk.
“Farron, Father John and I work on academy year-round,” she said. “We see an idea, we put it in a folder and think maybe, we’ll expand on that next year. Sometimes we think those ideas that come to us are better than what we had last year. We’ve also gotten very good at impromptu teaching, to seize the moment and not waste any part of the academy.
“One of our students brought a horny toad in one day. Most of our kids had never seen one, because they are not as abundant here as they were at one time. So we stopped and checked it out and looked up materials on the horny toad. Farron is so gifted on the computer, to be able to find anything on YouTube™ that we need. That is a good compliment to our academy.”
The typical Summer Academy day began and ended with prayer. The day would begin with an introduction to St. Ignatius spirituality.
“Father John initiated that, because he wanted the children to have this continuing theme of, ‘I come from God, I belong to God and I’m going toward God,’” said Hicks. “Father John, Farron and myself each took a morning each week to lead the Faith portion of Summer Academy. We did some research on St. Ignatius, so we know why he thought these feelings and why they’re still important to us some 500 years later.”
The academy ended each day with the recitation of the Angelus as the St. Anthony’s Church bells rang at noon.
“The day we introduced the Angelus Prayer, a lot of them were not familiar with it,” Hicks said. “Certainly they heard the bells at noon, and Father John took the time to explain the Angelus to them, what the Angelus was and how we need to take time for prayer during the day.
“This was such a great concept for us. We start the morning with prayer, but then at noon, we can reflect on what we’ve done in the morning and if you pray the Angelus in the evening, as it was in tradition past, then you could reflect on what you’ve done in the afternoon and see where you did things right, where you did things wrong, and work on making it better and to make changes in behavior.
“The wonderful thing for me is that the kids came back on the second day of academy and said they told their parents about the Angelus and they didn’t know how to pray the Angelus. These children are teaching their parents and aren’t we all teachers in God’s kingdom? Father John has told the kids that he learns from them and not just them learning from him. We have these wonderfully made cards that they took home with them at the end of Summer Academy and that hopefully will extend into their families to pray the Angelus at home.”
St. Anthony’s Summer Academy is open to all incoming third through sixth grade students enrolled at St. Anthony’s School. For more information about the academy, to reserve a spot in the 2014 academy or to offer ideas for students, contact Farron Urbanczyk or Susan Hicks at 364-1952 after Thursday, Aug. 1 or Father John Valdez at 364-6150. Enrollment in the academy is limited.