St. Agnes celebrates second year of merger with faith-based Montessori

| Debbie Musser | August 16, 2019 | 0 Comments
Kevin Ferdinandt, headmaster of St. Agnes School in St. Paul, cuts the ribbon

Kevin Ferdinandt, headmaster of St. Agnes School in St. Paul, cuts the ribbon last August to celebrate the opening of new preschool space to accommodate Montessori learning. COURTESY ST. AGNES SCHOOL

When St. Agnes School opens its doors in St. Paul on Aug. 26, it will welcome its second year of 3- to 5-year-olds attending St. Agnes Preschool.

It also will be serving more students, growing from 17 last year in preschool to 24 students this school year.

A result of merging Seton Montessori in West St. Paul into St. Agnes School last school year, the preschool combines the Montessori method of experiential learning with the hands-on teaching methods emphasized by the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd faith formation program.

“To get Seton Montessori set up for the next phase of growth, the decision was made to move the school to St. Agnes,” said Bill Faulkner, former director of the Montessori school’s board and a major contributor to the school. “Seton had outgrown its space, and we had learned that St. Agnes was looking to open a preschool.”

The changes at St. Agnes track well with the strategic priorities outlined in January by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office for the Mission of Catholic Education, said Jason Slattery, the office’s director.

Access and sustainability are among the strategic priorities in the Roadmap for Excellence in Catholic Education, Slattery said.

“We want to make sure that mothers and fathers seeking a Catholic education for their children have an excellent partner today and a hundred years from now — expanding options for family access to early education is paramount,” Slattery said.

“Prekindergarten programs strengthen Catholic schools,” Slattery said. “St. Agnes has educated children for over a hundred years. A century later, they are finding new ways to partner with families. It is terrific.”

“The mission of St. Agnes Preschool is to provide a premier Montessori education with a fully integrated Catholic curriculum in a joyful and nurturing environment ,” said Angela Boris, Montessori lead guide, or teacher. The school also supports parents as the primary educators of their children, she said.

St. Agnes preschool student Gudina Feyissa trims a potted plant at the St. Paul school last year, as Montessori lead guide, or teacher, Angela Boris observes. COURTESY ST. AGNES SCHOOL

Seton Montessori was founded in 2011 by the original Montessori lead guide, Elizabeth Trojak, with the support of Faulkner and his wife, Erica.

“As the school was looking to grow, it was important that we be authentic to our mission, making sure we were aligned with the archdiocese, as well as communicate directly and overtly that we are indeed Roman Catholic, and everything we do is aligned with that basic premise,” Faulkner said. “The partnership with St. Agnes was a providential extension of that goal.”

Kenna Millea’s 3-year-old son, Trey, attends St. Agnes Preschool; Trey’s two older siblings attended Seton Montessori.

“The Montessori method resonated with the way we saw our children learning at home, and also had profound respect for the growing intellect and spirit of our children,” Millea said. “To find that pedagogy within a joyful, Catholic environment was exactly what we were hoping to find for our children.

“I saw immense goodness and beauty in Seton Montessori before, and am amazed at how much the school has gained through its new placement at St. Agnes,” she said. “Clearly the hand of the Lord is upon this school.”

The preschool’s faith formation focuses on nurturing a relationship with Jesus, said Meggie Langlois, lead guide for its Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.

“Materials and presentations on the life of Christ and his teachings help to make the great mystery of who God is more understandable for children,” Langlois said. “Through geography, the words of the prophets, and infancy narratives, Jesus is established as a real person. The Paschal narratives are treated similarly, using model cities of Jerusalem, empty tombs and Last Supper cenacles (or ‘upper room’ used by Christ and his Apostles the night before his death).”

To add the preschool, St. Agnes remodeled a large area to accommodate Montessori learning. It held a ribbon cutting for the new space on Aug. 31, 2018.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd had been offered at St. Agnes Church since the fall of 2016 for children ages 3-6. Participants included younger siblings of current school children, home schoolers from the parish and families outside the parish and school.

“It was a natural fit to add a Montessori preschool that would support the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as the interest was already there,” said Michael Adkins, director of St. Agnes’ prekindergarten through sixth grades and dean of academics at St. Agnes.

To better accommodate the program, a classroom near the preschool was converted into what the Catechesis program calls the Atrium, used exclusively for prayer, study and religious experience. Parish faith formation students and students at St. Agnes School are sharing the Atrium for the Catechesis program.

“Having the Atrium outside of the regular classroom environment distinguishes it further as a sacred space to learn about Jesus, the good shepherd,” Adkins said.

Along with parish faith formation students, preschool and kindergarten students at St. Agnes School used the Atrium last year. First-graders are being added to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program this school year and the school plans to add second-graders in 2020-2021, along with preparation for the sacraments of reconciliation and first Communion.

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