When students of St. Joseph School in Bronxville walk through the doors Sept. 9, their principal predicts they will react with resounding cheers.
There is much for the school to show and tell—namely, a $750,000 Best In Class Renewal 2020 project that includes the grand opening of a preschool program for 3-and-4-year-olds; a new Technology, Reading and Art Center (TRAC) where students will create digital art and work with new computers, 3D printers and plotters; and a modernized science lab whose layout, furniture and equipment will give faculty and students a space focused on teaching the science curriculum in a more collaborative capacity while being adaptable to future trends in methods of teaching and learning.
“Even though they’ll have masks on, I’m sure I’ll be able to hear their shrieks of delight,” said Mary Ellen DeMarzo-Sánchez, who spoke with CNY by phone Aug. 6. She anticipates seeing the students’ “eyes wide open as they cannot get over that this space is no longer what they left in March” when the campus at 30 Meadow Ave. closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are a very expressive group,” the principal said. “I think I’m going to see a very elated and focused group of children. The school is just beautiful.”
The four components of the Best In Class Renewal project comprise 5,757 square feet from pre-existing, refurbished space.
The inaugural pre-k program, which became a reality after an ardent plea from parents, is learn-and- play-friendly, spaciously situated and transformed from what was previously the kindergarten classroom. And the kindergarten classroom, also part of the Best In Class Renewal project, has been relocated to a new, modern space.
“It’s such an exciting new chapter,” Mrs. Sánchez said of the inaugural pre-k. “Parents, for years, were clamoring for a preschool” at St. Joseph, she learned when she became principal two years ago.
A peek into the adventures that await the students in the upgraded science lab begins outside the classroom, where a bank of windows lines the hallway. The glass is frosted on the bottom panes to avoid distracting the budding scientists from their experiments amid any hustle and bustle outside the classroom.
The TRAC will have an artsy feel with a loft-like ambiance, from black ceiling to tiled floor. The seating, a combination of desks and chairs, will be mobile. The space was reconfigured from a former math room and a computer room after the removal of a wall that had separated the two. Students will learn and work interactively but still be able to grab a book from a shelf and turn a page. The room will also benefit the entire parish community because it can be used as a modern gathering space for presentations and other events.
In January, Father Peter McGeory, pastor of St. Joseph parish and a 1963 alumnus of the school, and Mrs. Sánchez announced to the parish school community the work of the Best In Class Committee, which they formed last year to explore what has now come to fruition. “The school is one of the cornerstones of our parish,” they said at that time.
“Future leaders, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and teachers—whatever your child’s passion will become—are walking the halls of SJS today,” they added. “The individualized, differentiated education that each student receives, along with the faith and values that are instilled in them, will allow them to go out and make the world a better place.”
William Scariano, a rising eighth-grader who has attended St. Joseph School since kindergarten just as his three older brothers did, can’t wait to see the state-of-the-art refurbishments. “I think I’m going to be pretty impressed with what it looks like,” he told CNY in a phone interview last week. “I’m excited to see all the new technology and all the new things that we can use to enhance our learning ability.”
Intrigued by “mechanical engineering, moving things and learning something new,” William is confident the upgrades will enable him and his peers “to go that one step farther in our curriculum, to allow us to learn more coding” and about “computers, and how to care for technology, too.”
William is the fourth of Paul and Eileen Scariano’s four sons; the family belongs to St. Joseph parish. “My relationship with God has definitely strengthened” through Catholic school, William said.
The entire school building is being prepped for a new academic year with social distancing in mind, among numerous other coronavirus protocols. Enrollment as of Aug. 6 was 205 for pre-k through eighth grade.
“When the Covid pandemic hit in March, we were devastated to have to close our doors at all, and then as we found out that this was going to be long-term, our efforts were concentrated on developing the best distance-learning program that we could,” Mrs. Sánchez said.
“We developed a rather robust distance-learning program” for students “to be able to continue to thrive academically. Since June, we have also focused our efforts on making an even more robust distance-learning program because we now have more time to organize it.”
Mindful that some students will opt to remain home for distance learning, Mrs. Sánchez said the school is committed “to making that a positive experience for them.”
At the same time, “we are fully committed to safety and operating five days a week, all students in, if that is feasible and in compliance with New York State and archdiocese’s regulations.”