One of our new objectives at Bytes this year is to begin highlighting our partners. Our focus has always been on the relationships we build. Highlighting their events, successes and bringing more insight into what Bytes does as a company and team. We hope you enjoy these spotlights and discover more about Bytes, our business partners, and organizations in the community. Also, to bring awareness for more opportunities to get others involved in our community. With that said, let’s get this started.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Julie Brown from St. Agnes last week for our first Partner Spotlight. We talked about the school itself over the previous year, National Catholic Schools Week, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is what she had to say.
Can you tell me a little about St. Agnes Catholic School and its history?
St. Agnes Catholic school has been open for 65 years, starting in 1955. In the early years, the school grades went up to 8th grade. When the Public Schools began to use the Middle School concept, the grade level was dropped down to 5th grade. There were plans to build a St. Agnes High School that never came to fruition, perhaps due to the constraints required to run Middle and High Schools. They demand a much higher financial burden to run because of the opportunities necessary for the older children, such as sports, music, and subject-based teaching. The back half of the school received an addition with the gym in 1969.
Can you tell me what National Catholic Schools Week is about?
Catholic Schools Week is a national program that runs from Jan 31st-Feb 5th this year. The National Catholic Educational Association sets the theme, and so all Catholic Schools celebrate the same theme. The idea behind it is to celebrate the entities that help Catholic Schools thrive.
For instance, we are starting this year’s CSW by celebrating community. We have chosen healthcare workers. In previous years, we have celebrated community workers such as firefighters, police, and sanitation. Community is a huge part of any business or school’s success.
Faculty, staff, and volunteers is another day. They are extremely important to our school’s functioning, so we show appreciation and thank them for helping make our school run smoothly every day.
We celebrate the parish. Typically, on Sunday, the entire school would attend the 10:30 Mass and lead the Mass. The parish is a strong support to the school, providing a significant monthly stipend to our budget. They see the school as a mission of the church.
Our Nation is another day. We have many freedoms in our country, and one of those is the ability to practice our faith. We celebrate our freedom in this Nation by coming together during the Mass. We are grateful to have Bishop Hanefeldt preside at our CSW Mass. We are blessed to be able to celebrate those things.
We also celebrate vocations. For us, that means inspiring our students that may want to become a priest, a nun, or get more involved in our faith. This year we will be talking to Father Dan Gilbert, who is from Scottsbluff. He joined the priesthood late in life and is now in his first year at his own parish. He was our adopted seminarian last year. We will be doing a Zoom call with him and our current adopted seminarian. Encouraging vocations is important in sustaining Catholic Schools.
Lastly, celebrating the students by trying to do something fun. Typically, we would celebrate with our parents and have an indoor picnic for lunch. The parents and the kids love this, but unfortunately, we can’t do it this year. We will still be doing other things for the children to celebrate on that day.
What does the theme “Faith. Excellence. Service.” mean for this year’s Catholic Schools Week?
All those things are a part of what Catholic education is all about. Parents who send their kids to school here are looking for the faith component. They want faith instilled not just at home but through all aspects of their life. That is a unique part of St. Agnes that we can teach faith and values during the day.
Excellence is a part of any school. We are looking to create the next leaders of America. We want excellence not just academically but as people and in their character.
As for service, that is just something we are called to do as Christian people. To serve others is always important to us. We do a lot of service work with our kids for the school, church, and community. When you teach kids that the world is not just about them and there is a world out there full of people that are suffering and have less, God calls us to take care of those around us. If we can spread that message one kid at a time, then maybe we can help fix some of the brokenness that we see in our world right now.
How do the children feel about participating in Catholic Schools Week?
These kids love their school and all the aspects of it. They have been very patient and tolerant throughout the pandemic. They are very used to their parents being in our school often and coming together with each other. We usually do a lot of older and younger kids together for reading buddies or Mass buddies. Right now, we are not doing that, and that’s been unusual for them. They love the close-knit community that we have here, getting to be with the same friends from kindergarten to 5th grade, and having their parents being so involved.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the celebration this year?
Well, we have had to change some of our activities. Some of them that we have had in the past, we will not have this year. Also, we have had to change some of the activities to accommodate pandemic guidelines. For instance, we are going Zoom Bingo on their Promethean boards, and all of the children will remain in their own classrooms. We are still trying to do as much as we can and keep things as normal as possible for the kids.
I hear that St. Agnes is missing out on the Penny Carnival this year, and I know that is usually a big event for you. If people in the community would like to make donations, how and where can they do that?
Yes, both of our major fundraisers have been greatly affected by COVID. We did an online version of our Gala event. It was an auction with people being able to donate to the designated item, our Language Arts curriculum, or the general foundation fund. It did well considering the circumstances, but nowhere close to what it typically raises.
We just voted at our last council meeting not to hold the Penny Carnival in person this year. We will do the raffle only, and we are going to increase the number of prizes. So, purchasing raffle tickets will be one way the community can help. The kids will be selling them, and we will be posting them on our Facebook page and selling them out of the school office. We typically hold the Penny Carnival on the first Sunday in March, but I think we will be doing the raffle a little later in March.
People are always able to donate to our foundation. We are still trying to raise the amount of money needed to purchase the Language Arts curriculum. It is hard times for everybody right now, and we understand that. That means if we must wait another year to buy the curriculum, then we must wait another year.
Is there anything the community can do to get involved in CSW by volunteering or donating to charity?
Yes, we would love to inspire people to hop on board and know about Options Pregnancy Center, our selected charity for Catholic Schools Week. We invite people to notice this charity we are backing and let them know that this is new and a great cause. Also, to take time to thank our healthcare workers who are breaking their backs during this pandemic. Give them a call or leave them a note to let them know that what they are doing is appreciated.
What are some of the benefits of going to St. Agnes over a public school?
I think the size and the community that happens in schools like this are prime for the kids and parents. Having that close-knit community is important. The faith and values we teach help develop kids, not just in academic excellence but also in their character and values. We try to give them a foundation that they can lean upon as they go forward in life. Life is a winding road, and it has much turbulence, and people need faith to make it through those kinds of things. I always think that is a significant advantage.
We always pride ourselves on providing quality education, and our kids that leave here always excel. We have produced many valedictorians and salutatorians out of the Scottsbluff and Gering High Schools. We are very proud of that.
Can you tell me about some of the scholarships that St. Agnes has?
We have a group scholarship fund. Every three years at our premier, that’s a designated auction item to have a sustainable amount of money for helping families. If families feel they need assistance, they can apply. Our church’s goal is that if we have Catholic students who want to attend here, we will make every attempt to make that happen. We try to spread the amount available amongst the people that need it. Recently, our foundation has been able to build up that fund, for which we are grateful. It may be necessary to help more families than usual in the next few years due to the pandemic’s effects.
What would you like to tell parents who might be considering St. Agnes for their children’s education?
I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve put my kids through school here, which I think makes me a bit biased, but I believe that St. Agnes is an incredibly warm and welcoming environment. It is a great alternative for people to consider if they don’t want to attend public school. The community here at St. Agnes is amazing! We have a committed staff, supportive parents and pride ourselves on providing quality education in a faith-filled environment.
Bytes has had a relationship with St. Agnes for some time now. How does St. Agnes use technology for education, and how has technology helped the school progress through the years?
The technology has advanced wildly in my 27 years of being here. When I started here, we didn’t have anything. We tried to put together a computer lab made up of mixed pieces donated to us from various places. You can imagine what kind of a nightmare that was, not having any continuity and trying to get things going for kids.
Over the last ten years, the technology at St. Agnes has exploded. We’ve implemented Promethean boards into the classrooms. We have acquired about 60 Chromebooks, which has allowed us to move our testing online and do some 1-1 use in our upper grades. Technology is where everything is going, and it will be these kids’ lives. We had a huge need to move our technology forward to prepare our students for their future education.
How do you feel technology has been a benefit to you during the pandemic?
Remote learning was extremely difficult, especially for this age group. The kids need interaction with their teacher and peers. Having experience using the Chromebooks and support from our great parents, we could use Zoom to reach our students. We are now also implementing the program SeeSaw, which we planned to use should we be forced back into remote learning this year. We feel blessed to have maintained during those three months and are grateful to be back to learning in person.
Any final words you’d like to say?
We appreciate you featuring St. Agnes in your first spotlight. We are grateful for the support we have received from Bytes over the years and thank you for your continued excellent service to our school.
It has been a pleasure speaking with Julie and working with all the St. Agnes staff over the years. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading our conversation, learned some new things and ways that you can help a great school in our community. If you would like to donate to St. Agnes or the Options Pregnancy Center, I have listed the links below.
St. Agnes’s open registration is Feb 22-26 by appointment. Just call the office and set up a time!
Keeping up with St. Agnes
If you would like to keep up with St. Agnes, you can follow them on Facebook or Linkedin. You can also visit their website for more information.
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