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Cathedral welcomes change for students, staff

Date: 8/23/2011

Aug. 22, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM — Be not afraid.

That’s what the lettering on the front of fund-raising T-shirts being sold to aid in Cathedral High School’s tornado relief spells out and it’s a message members of the school’s staff want to make loud and clear.

The administrative team, led by President Ann Southworth, told Reminder Publications that while concerns about the temporary location at the Memorial School building were understandable, there should be no trepidation regarding whether or not the Pioneer Valley’s preeminent Catholic high school would be able to continue providing quality educational services.

“When we were looking at available spaces the decision-making team had a lot of the same questions that people have,” Southworth said. “But when we looked at Memorial School, we saw that it had the potential to fulfill all of our educational needs.”

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District voted to award the use of Memorial School to the Diocese of Springfield on Aug. 5. Principal John Miller said that he was appreciative of the district’s efforts, especially those of Peter Salerno who helped the diocese work out a lease.

Director of Admission Anne Pellan-Shea said that the location of Memorial School has not been a concern and some have even lauded the choice.

“It was a pressing concern for us and for parents,” she said “I think people appreciate it because while it was in Springfield, our [Surrey Road] location had a very suburban feel to it.”

Finding the best access to the school for students has been the focus of Holly O’Connell, dean of students, who said the Springfield Public School District has been very helpful.

“People who would walk to school are now going to be able to take the bus,” O’Connell said.

She also said she looked into a shuttle service for students in surrounding towns, but said the interest in such a service did not warrant the cost involved. Instead, she said the school would be more tenacious in its advocacy of car-pooling.

Southworth said that the perception that a school designed to be a middle or elementary school would be too small to house a high school were misguided.

She pointed out that the Surrey Road building was far larger than what the school’s current population of approximately 380 students required. She also pointed out that any new facility built for Cathedral in the future would be constructed with similar numbers in mind.

“Memorial School was originally built to house 500 to 600 students, so it can easily hold our student population,” Southworth said. “The rooms are so large that by today’s codes we could split them and double the number of classrooms. Another one of the things we looked at was the size of the corridors to ensure students, including those juniors and seniors who get quite big, would be able to maneuver the hallways.”

While a standard classroom will serve the purposes for most subjects, the lab sciences will have to make some concessions. There is space that can be used for a science lab that will be outfitted with equipment from the old Cathedral building, but it will be a shared space instead of each subject having a lab at its disposal in a dedicated wing like the school had on Surrey Road, Miller said.

“We are also looking into getting a portable classroom to use as a lab,” Miller said. “And one other thing that would require some scheduling but we are interested in is going to the local colleges that have already volunteered the facilities from their science programs to give our students more hands on experiences.”

All of the technological services at the old Cathedral will be incorporated with the new building and the move is actually helping a technology initiative the school had planned.

“One of our goals for this year was to get each classroom wired and now we will have that,” Miller said. “Each classroom will have one computer for student use and a second computer for faculty use.”

At least 11 smartboards and all of the technology from the old Cathedral’s media center will be available to students at the Memorial School location as well.

The Wilbraham Parks and Recreation Department is one of the many groups that has been generous to the school as well, allowing several athletic teams access to its facilities.

“They have been so helpful,” Joe Hegarty, athletic director, said. “If not for the help of so many people and organizations, we would all be squished together at Forest Park.”

Miller added, “One official from the MIAA [Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association] asked if we wanted to be part of the athletic schedule this year and I told him, ‘Oh, yes. Cathedral will go on.’”

Miller was sure to point out that without the support of Bishop Timothy McDonnell, Cathedral would not have been able to continue educating area residents.

“The bishop has been marvelous,” Miller said. “He is committed to this school and its traditions and he has been supportive every step of the way.”

Even with all of the help Cathedral has had in ensuring there will be a 2011-12 school year, there is one thing that has helped most of all, Pellan-Shea said.

“It’s the spirit of Cathedral. This all began after the tornado. We knew we had to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off,” she said. “This is Cathedral. We are this community. It doesn’t matter where the building is. Going forward, we want to stress that the spirit is still alive.”

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