There’s a family feel at Holy Name Catholic School in Sheridan, WY, where the framework for a lifelong faith is built.
By Carrie Haderlie
As students stream through the glass front doors at Holy Name Catholic School in Sheridan, Wyoming, there’s excitement in the air. Holy Name Catholic School offers prekindergarten through eighth-grade students a Christ-centered learning environment, in which teachers focus on the way students learn, act, and live. By doing this, the school instills in its students the framework for a lifelong faith.
“We’re a family,” Holy Name Principal Mary Margaret Drake says. “God provides us with that foundation.”
Holy Name students consistently score at or above the level of Wyoming public school students on standardized tests. The school administers standardized testing voluntarily to make sure its students are on par with other children in the state.
“Our test scores are phenomenal — something to really be proud of,” Drake says. “We have great teachers and outstanding families, and that’s why we are successful.”
The school is dedicated to providing Catholic education to every student, regardless of economic background. Holy Name Catholic School serves free and reduced lunches to around 30 percent of its student population of 120 children, and it provides scholarship opportunities for qualifying families. The school has undergone a huge overhaul in technology in recent years, and the students have a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio. Yet Drake says that while technology has its place, students should be allowed to be children. The children have recess three times a day to allow time for play-based learning and creativity.
Holy Name students study art, music, and physical education and focus on core subjects such as literacy, mathematics, and science. During the 2016-17 academic year, through a $73,000 grant from the Holy Name Catholic School Foundation, the school set up a fully-equipped science laboratory, where students learn about anything and everything scientific, from heartbeats to honeybees.
Every class at Holy Name is scheduled to spend one hour in the lab once a week, but each class spends two additional hours on these lessons outside of the lab. Prior to visiting the lab, students complete a pre-lab in the classroom. Following lab day, students complete a post-lab activity.
Emily Emond, who teaches fifth- through eighth-graders at Holy Name, applied for and received a grant from the Savannah Bee Cause Project to set up a honeybee hive in the lab. “Their goal is to have a beehive set up in every state, and they didn’t have one in Wyoming,” Emond says, adding that the beehive serves as a lesson in conservation, the ecosystem, and so much more.
In the science lab, students use high-grade science equipment to make discoveries on their own. “They aren’t just reading or being told that there are certain results to an activity — they get to experience it. We are offering a peek into several career opportunities that most elementary schools do not,” Leach says. “Hands-on learning makes the children take ownership of their education, and they are more likely to remember what conclusions they came to.”
The school also focuses on project-based learning, offering hands-on lessons at every opportunity. Last winter, the school’s third- and fourth-grade students virtually traveled the globe to study Earth’s polar ice sheets with NASA scientists. From the classroom, they watched as scientists noted annual changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers,
and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic.
“Studying the Earth is important to us at Holy Name because science is life itself,” Drake says. “We make observations of our world, try to identify patterns, ask questions, find answers, and then ask more questions. Educators should portray science as acquiring skills and problem solving. It’s a way of thinking.”
In a wide space behind the school’s gymnasium, art teacher Diane Ramey has set up an oasis for the arts. Year-round, the students focus on how the arts impact our understanding of the world around us. For almost two decades, the students have hosted an art show at the local public library each fall, and the school has also expanded its shows to include local museums.
“At the library, everyone in the school has a piece of artwork — or two or three — on display,” Ramey says. One year, the second graders studied Edvard Munch’s famous piece, The Scream, and created their own colorful self-portraits. Other students learned to emulate the style of Eric Carle, famous for his paper-like artwork in children’s books such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Older grades study techniques like pointillism, made famous by Georges Seurat, or perspective and cubism demonstrated by Pablo Picasso.
During the Advent season, the students incorporate project-based learning into their curriculum, studying the customs, religion, and traditions of other nations and decorating trees in the school foyer.
The children are taught to look at the saints as role models, and they attend Mass regularly. They gather for daily prayer to start each day, go over the day’s readings, and sing songs of praise. The teachers and staff at Holy Name strive to understand each student’s abilities, honoring the diversity that makes every one of them unique. The school’s goal is to teach students to love Christ, following above all the greatest commandment: to love God and others.
“Children are sponges, and there is such rich soil there,” Rev. Glenn Whewell of Holy Name Catholic Church says. Knowledge, when set within the context of faith, becomes wisdom and a vision for life, he says. Creation is imbued with the mystery of the Trinity, and when children are granted the roots of faith in Christ, they can use their knowledge to serve and grow. With that in mind, the goal is that Holy Name Catholic School students will be rooted in truth and not
transformed by the world around them.
Carrie Haderlie is a mother, writer, reader, runner, and outdoorswoman who lives in Saratoga, Wyoming. She finds the peace of God in the great outdoors, alongside her husband, two children, and golden retriever.