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Audio Bishop Fisher Education Features

St. Joseph University School kicks off new school year


St. Joseph University School is full. Students fill the classrooms. Inspirational quotes fill the hallways. New ideas flow from the teachers to fill the heads of the students. Listings of the decades of sports championships fill the gym walls.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher talks to a student at St. Joseph’s University School in Buffalo on Sept. 7. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

Bishop Michael W. Fisher visited the school on Sept. 7, just as the new season of classes began. During his tour, he saw the budding artists drawing in kindergarten.

“I can still remember my kindergarten teacher. One of the best teachers I had,” he said.

Prekindergarteners learned the basics of following the rules with the help of an instructional video.

The second grade classroom, which is filled with gnomes, had students preparing for their first reconciliation.

The sixth graders filled out “All About Me” worksheets. “There’s a lot of getting to know each other these first few days,” explained their teacher, Mrs. Gojevic.

One of the students asked Bishop Fisher what exactly he did as a bishop. The bishop explained he is responsible for every parish, mission, school, and person in the Diocese of Buffalo. “I look after all of the churches and all of the people,” he summed up.

The English/Language Arts students impressed the bishop with the monthly newspaper and cookbook they published themselves. E/LA teacher Mr. Stillman hosts a Lego Club and a Newspaper Club after school.

The Buffalo pre-K through eighth grade school saw 103 students return to class from last year, and 49 new students joining.

“We saw a huge growth in grades 5, 6, 7, and 8. Not so much in the little ones we have,” said Anne Wojick, director of Curriculum & Partnership. “Our universal pre-K is a federal program through Buffalo, so we always fill that one up really fast because it’s free and it’s a wonderful program.”

What draws the attention of the parents looking for a good education for their children?

“What I hear from the parents, two big things is that they like the culture that we have here, the openness, the families, the feeling of love,” said Principal Mark Mattle. “The other reason is the excellent academics that we have here. We take kids at any age level and we take them from where they are and we’re very successful in moving them to where we want them to be by the time they graduate. We’re proud to say that all of our eighth grade students get into the high school of their first choice. And I think that’s what the parents are after.”

Everyone who comes to St. Joseph University School is interviewed before starting class. The screening process informs the faculty as to the needs of the student.

“Students are allowed to pursue where their talents are or where their support is needed,” explained Wojick.

Some students might need a little extra help in class, while others need more of a challenge. A fourth grader may go to a sixth grade class for reading, because that’s what she needs.

“We’re flexible in the sense that when you come here, it’s not a cookie cutter kind of place,” said Wojick. “If you need something, we make sure that you get what you need.”

St. Joseph University is a Leader In Me school. Based on “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, Leader in Me is an evidence-based, comprehensive model that teaches leadership skills to every student, creates a culture of student empowerment, and aligns systems to drive results in academics.

“All our students learn (the principles) from kindergarten all the way up to grade eight, and the teachers. It permeates through the whole school,” said Wojick.

Every month one student from every class will be chosen a leader and have their picture hang on that bulletin board in the main hallway so they can see themselves as leaders.

“We believe that every child is gifted and will come to their giftedness in their own time, as well as everyone has leadership skills,” said Wojick.

 Outside the school a couple parents chatted after dropping off their children.

Maurice Gaines chose St. Joseph’s because he didn’t like how teachers taught in inner city public schools.

After four years in a private Catholic school, things are “great.”

“They teach very well here. I like everything. I like the teachers, I like the principals and the assistant principal,” Gaines said.

Jennifer Durmaj chose her parish school for her son.

“So far we’ve had nothing but great experiences,” she said after three years. “He’s able to join the swim team. He is on the soccer team. He has made great friends.”

Both cite the small class size as a benefit.

“He’s shy and reserved,” Durmaj said of her son. “So having 12 kids in his class is ideal, so that he can open up a little bit. It also is great to grow up with the same kids, so like each class moves up together.”

Listen to Michael Mroziak’s report.