Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic School celebrates 100 years of providing a quality Catholic education to the youth of Hampton Roads. Originally housed in an old Civil War hospital called “Brightview” on the current property, the school has been staffed since its inception by the Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation of Nashville, TN.
The school currently serves 156 students from Pre-K 3 through 8th grade, with a diversity of students coming from the local community, the Vietnamese, Korean, and Hispanic parishes, Langley Air Force Base as well as Norfolk Naval Base. Saint Mary is a regional school serving the parishes of Saint Mary Star of the Sea, Saint Joseph, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Rose of Lima and the Korean Martyrs, and Immaculate Conception.
The school’s campus expanded over the years to include a convent for the sisters (1923), an assembly hall (1936), the waterside primary wing (1952), the Willard Avenue primary wing (1955), the upper grade building (1960), and a dining hall and gym (2003). Updating and expansion have continued to be a part of Saint Mary. A living shoreline on the bank of the school lawn was established in 2011. An outdoor waterfront classroom was built in December 2013 to support the new marine science curriculum, developed in partnership with Old Dominion University Department of STEM Education. This waterfront classroom and lab is a prominent sign of Saint Mary’s unique marine-focused STEM program. Lab equipment was purchased along with a touch tank for the waterfront classroom. Electricity was added to the waterfront classroom and a water line is in the process of being completed. The marine science curriculum has been integrated into the science program on a school-wide basis.
Smart Boards have been installed and utilized in grades 1-8 classrooms as well as the middle school math classroom. The following technological improvements continue to be made:
- new uniform classroom printers,
- new uniform teacher laptops to enhance alignment with the Smart Boards,
- 14 Kindle Fire tablets for primary grades,
- Fifth and Middle School students 1:1 Chromebooks
- Kindergarten - Fourth grade classroom Chromebooks
- Enrichment technology class grades 4-7.
Saint Mary’s students have a strong history of community service. They sing in local nursing homes; they participate in local parishes as altar servers, choir members, and lectors; they collect food for the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Elderly in Richmond and for local parish food pantries; and they tutor younger students. Middle school students have required service hours in their parish, school, family, and local communities. The lower grade students make cards for military men and women, and they collect toys and clothing for the mentally disabled, the veterans and for the needy and sick members of the local parishes. All students are encouraged to pray for others and serve their family and local communities in age-appropriate ways. Our students and faculty also participate in initiatives such as Jump Rope for Heart for the American Heart Association, the St. Jude Math-a-thon for children with cancer and the Operation Rice Bowl Program for Catholic Relief Services.
Saint Mary’s continues to be a strong, visible, and active part of the local community of Phoebus with a close relationship with the neighboring community at Fort Monroe. The school partners with local organizations for various events: the American Theatre, Junior Cotillion, the Virginia Air and Space Museum, Hampton University and Old Dominion University. Other activities in the local community include several events throughout the holidays: the Phoebus Holiday Illumination, and the Fort Monroe Tree Lighting Ceremony in December.
The faculty and staff of Saint Mary’s know that an excellent academic program is essential. The faculty implements the diocesan Consensus Curriculum and reviews textbooks within a five-year cycle. Each year the Scantron Performance Computerized, the STAR reading assessments are reviewed to create learning plans for each class. Saint Mary’s receives Title I services through the City of Hampton Public School System. Students with deficiencies in reading and math skills are eligible for one-on-one or small group tutoring with a Title I teacher. The faculty knows the benefits of collaboration; they build on one another’s strengths to accommodate multiple learning styles and incorporate a variety of teaching strategies. The teachers meet both formally and informally to discuss departmental and grade level needs and concerns. Specialty teachers incorporate subjects studied in the core academic classes, especially history and art, music and religion, science and PE, technology and literature, and religion and art.
Financially, the school has been stable amidst low enrollment and economic constraints in the local area. The school has continued to run an Annual Appeal, host an annual benefit dinner, and solicit donations from local businesses and military installations, as well as obtain grants through the VuBay Foundation, Dominion Power, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. An active Home and School Organization also conducts an annual golf tournament and auction night. The Knights of Columbus Council 511 provides an annual scholarship to a student, and part of their weekly Bingo proceeds assists the school’s operating budget. Finally, the school has received Federal funding for professional development in technology and science as well as reading, writing, and standardized testing techniques and interpretation. The marketing coordinator and development director actively and enthusiastically promote the school by raising both awareness and dollars needed to sustain our ongoing needs and new initiatives.
Saint Mary Star of the Sea School is accredited by the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA). Middle States Association is a worldwide leader in accreditation and school improvement. For over 130 years, Middle States has been helping school leaders establish and reach their goals, develop strategic plans, promote staff development, and advance student achievement. Hundreds of faith-based schools seek out MSA accreditation because MSA supports and recognizes the importance of having schools fulfill their missions under their specialized faith-based traditions and values.
The faculty and staff are members of the National Catholic Education Association and are committed to continuous improvement. Saint Mary’s stands proudly in our 100-year history in Hampton. With God’s help, we strive to build on the successes of the past and present while working diligently to offer a solid foundation for the future so that we can continue providing our students with a quality Catholic education in which they may grow in truth and love and be prepared for their future.
The school faces the common challenge of an increasingly tenuous financial market in the United States, and while Virginia is one of the top ten states in terms of employment, families must make a decision to pay for tuition or receive free public education. The school has an endowment of over a million dollars, which supplies some of the financial aid families need. However, over one-third of school families receive aid and would need it in order to continue at Saint Mary’s. The Virginia Tax Credit Program has been a means to support new families coming to Saint Mary’s. Recent statistics show a low population growth in this area of Virginia, which presents a significant challenge for increasing enrollment.
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS AND AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Saint Mary Star of the Sea School has several notable achievements and areas of improvement over the past three years.
Through the efforts of the Development Director, the support of the School Advisory Board, and the efforts of a Development Steering Committee, the following facility projects were completed:
The wood floor of the gymnasium was refurbished for $9,000 and a new heavy-duty tarp and holder were purchased for $5,000 with the use of the capital improvement funds.
The convent windows were replaced and fully funded by a grant.
The elementary school windows were replaced and fully funded by grants and donations.
Saint Mary’s has improved in the area of technology in the past three years, through the purchase of more Smart Boards, upgrading the school-wide wireless system, replacing printers, replacing and upgrading teacher laptops and student computers, and the integration of Chromebooks for middle school and Kindle Fire tablets for the primary grades.
Primary teachers were provided a three-week training over two summers in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd early childhood faith formation program. Atria are set up in the classrooms and teachers are integrating the training in their religion programs.
The following curriculum programs were included after training and coaching opportunities were given:
Nancy Larson Science Program for grades K-5 to support the STEM curriculum
SuperKids Reading and Writing Program for grades Pk-2
Word Study Program for grades 1-5
Graphing Calculators for middle school math classes
High School Credit courses increased to include: Geometry, Algebra, Earth Science, World History and Spanish.
The athletic program has expanded to include the following middle school sports: boys and girls cross country, girls volleyball, co-ed soccer, boys and girls basketball, boys baseball and girls softball.
Extra-curricular activities have also been enhanced with the following opportunities for middle school and elementary school students: Marine Science Club, Little Flowers, Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, National Jr. Honor Society, Virtue Club, and Yearbook Club.
The middle school program has been enriched with a “meeting in the middle” quarterly team-building experience provided by the middle school faculty. These experiences give the students the opportunity to interact across the grade levels and learn valuable skills by working as a team, building each other up, and finding new ways to solve problems with creativity and cooperation.
Saint Mary’s has strengthened ties with the surrounding parishes, including a school chaplain’s presence on the school board and regular announcements and articles in the local parish bulletins. Faculty and staff, as well as students and parents, are regularly encouraged to increase their participation in the life of local parishes, and students regularly contribute to the parish food and clothing drives for the needy.
Saint Mary’s completed the four-year strategic planning process with Catholic School Management. Faculty, staff, parents, and community members were a part of this extensive process, which has provided the basis for continued planning and implementation for enrollment, marketing, and development.
In the past 5 years, improvements and upgrades on the inside of the school include Smart Boards in grades 1-8 classrooms as well as the middle school math classroom. From 2013-2015, the following technology improvements were made: new uniform classroom printers, new uniform teacher laptops to enhance alignment with the Smart Boards and 14 Kindle Fire tablets for primary grades. In 2016, 35 Chromebooks for a mobile classroom lab and an enrichment technology class added for grades 5-7 were further technology improvements.
In 2017, we are planning to upgrade the security and access system and replace the existing phone system with a new phone system. The proceeds of this year’s 50/50 Raffle and Pause for a Cause at our Annual Auction & Casino Night will be combined with a grant from the Diocese of Richmond to cover the cost of this project.
Formation in the Faith is an essential component of Saint Mary’s overall program. The school is staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia as well as lay faculty, who incorporate prayer and an understanding of the Faith into everything they do. Daily Chapel visits, weekly Mass, and monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as regular opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, an annual NET retreat for middle school students, annual Living Stations of the Cross and an annual Faith Rally retreat for all students make worship and liturgy an important part of the school year.
During the school year, the Virtues in Practice program is integrated into the curriculum in a yearly cycle for focusing on a theological virtue each year (faith, hope or love) and individual virtues each month. Teachers select a student each month to honor them for their exemplary practice of virtue. The names are given to the principal and certificates are made each month and given to the students after one of the weekly Masses. Parents are invited, a group picture is taken and put in the weekly newsletter.
New teachers are mentored using the Emmaus Mentoring Program, to provide a spiritual component to the introduction of teachers new to Catholic education and to Saint Mary Star of the Sea. This program was developed by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia Congregation and was approved for use by the Diocese of Richmond Office of Catholic Schools.
Catholic schools do indeed raise the standards for the nation. Strong morals, an emphasis on service, and a sound academic program create an atmosphere in which students may grow in truth and love.