The Beacon — The Beacon September 15 2016
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Two School Communities Become One
Michael Wojcik

Divine Mercy Academy opens Sept. 7, preserving Catholic education in the Rockaways

BY MICHAEL WOJCIK

NEWS EDITOR

ROCKAWAY Amid great fanfare and excitement, Divine Mercy Academy has opened as a new Catholic school — the only one in the Rockaways — that offers its 237 students a wealth of offerings in curriculum, technology and extracurricular and faith-filled activities, thanks to expanded facilities and generous parish support.

Divine Mercy Academy opened Sept. 7 during a blessing and dedication service and ribbon cutting ceremony. The opening was attended by the school community that included administration, faculty, students and parents. The new school merges the two Catholic schools in Rocka way that closed at the end of the 2015- 2016 year: St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart. This summer, the building of the former St. Cecilia School on Halsey Avenue was refurbished to house Divine Mercy Academy, which both St. Cecilia and Sacred Heart pari - shes support financially.

“We have closed both St. Cecilia and Sacred Heart Schools, which no longer exist, and blended them into a new ethos and new entity — a new creation: Divine Mercy Academy,” said Father Sigmund Peplowski pastor of both St. Cecilia and Sacred Heart parishes, who led the prayer and dedication service, which included a ribbon cutting and blessing of the new school and a new image of Divine Mercy that is displayed in the lobby. “The opening generated excitement.

When you walk into the building, you see all the smiling faces. It’s a positive and good feeling,” the pastor said.

Bishop Serratelli plans to visit the classrooms at Divine Mercy Academy, after serving as main celebrant and homilist of the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Cecilia Church on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Father Peplowski said.

Capital improvements started on the former St. Cecilia School in June to make way for Divine Mercy Academy. The interior was repainted; a second pre-k 4 class was added; and a few classes were moved to other classrooms to make more space. Also, there are two gardens planted at the rear of the school: one to honor the Blessed Mother and another to harvest produce, such as tomatoes, some which will be donated to needy people, said Ann Mitchell, the principal.

Divine Mercy Academy also expanded the curriculum and technology beyond what both St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart schools had offered previously. The technology lab was moved from the main school to a nearby building, the Faustina Center, renamed for St. Faustina Kowalska, who promoted devotion to Divine Mercy. The center also houses the school’s gym and library. The academy offers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) instruction and hands-on technology with the student use of iPads, tablets, and Chromebooks. Every class has a SmartBoard. Overseeing all this technological innovation is Father Mateusz Jasniewicz, St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart’s parochial vicar, who also serves as the school’s webmaster and tech administrator, Mitchell said.

The revamped Divine Mercy Academy also enables more extracurricular activities. The school added the Rosary Society from Sacred Heart, while developing other newer activities, such as a robotics club. It also plans to offer a broad range of service projects — in keeping with its name and its mission to spread God’s mercy to the world, she said.

“We here at Divine Mercy Academy are building our students into future leaders by giving them not only a moral and religious foundation, but also the best education that we can,” Mitchell said.

Divine Mercy Academy helps form its students religiously and morally by giving them the opportunity to lead the school in prayer three times per day, attend weekly Mass and receive the Sacrament of Penance. The school hired Jim Clancy, faith-formation director of St. Cecilia Parish, as the new junior high religion teacher. Maintaining a presence in the school will be the parishes’ three priests: Father Peplowski, Father Jasniewicz and Father Marcin Michalowski, parochial vicar of both St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart and the academy’s chaplain, said Mitchell.

So far, Leo Servidio, a fourth-grader, seems happy with his new school. He had attended St. Cecilia’s since pre-K. “I didn’t know what would change [with the new Divine Mercy Academy]. I already knew some of the kids at Sacred Heart. I’m having fun here,” said Servidio, who named computers as his favorite subject.

Likewise, eighth-grader Jasmine Patel has been enjoying her new school. She spent fourth- through sixth-grade at St. Cecilia’s and seventh-grade at Sacred Heart.

“I know everyone from both schools, so it’s easier [to make the transition to the new school]. The teachers are great,” said Patel, whose mother teaches the fourth grade class at Divine Mercy Academy. “I like learning in a Catholic school, because we are all close and we can talk about God all together,” she said.

Kindergarten teacher Nina Roberti also Welcomes the newness of Divine Mercy Academy. She had taught at St. Cecilia’s for 22 years.

“This merger into Divine Mercy Academy had to happen for a Catholic school in the Rockaways to do well,” Roberti said. “I always wanted to teach in a Catholic school, so I can bring up God in class. I tell my kindergarteners, ‘God made the apples,’ show them one and then ask them, ‘Why did God make the apples different colors?’ ” she said.

When enrollment dipped at both St. Cecilia’s and Sacred Heart, Father Peplowski considered many options, finally deciding to blend the two schools into a single school. The pastor named the combined school Divine Mercy Academy to recognize the two Morris County parishes’ devotion to the Divine Mercy and because it opened during the Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy, which the universal Church celebrates through November, he said.

Divine Mercy Academy merges the two previous school communities by bringing many of their administration, students and teachers with the addition of two new faculty members. The new school also contains reminders of the former Sacred Heart School: its Sacred Heart of Jesus statue now stands outside the new school; its repainted cross sits on the side of the building; and students wear its red-and-white uniform colors — also the colors of Divine Mercy, Father Peplowski said.

“It’s very exciting to bring these two school communities together to form one new faith-filled community. We have more community spirit and parental involvement, because we have more parents,” said Mitchell, who noted that Divine Mercy Academy is almost at capacity but is still accepting students. “It’s the hope and promise of things to come — a new beginning.”

[Information: www.dmarockaway.org or call (973) 627-6003.]
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