The school day at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs on Arden Street in the Inwood section of Manhattan begins and ends in prayer in the church on site.
What a smart way to navigate the day given the range of academics, activities and even a small-scale animal kingdom that demand the conscientious time and caring attention of the 270 students in pre-k through eighth grades. And that’s not counting the rooftop garden the youngsters dutifully cultivate.
The school, under principal Andrew Woods, welcomed two distinguished guests for a National Catholic Schools Week visit Jan. 30. They were Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Angela Dinger, vice chair of the board of directors of the National Catholic Educational Association. Ms. Dinger belongs to St. Ignatius Loyola parish in Manhattan.
Joining them on a school tour were Michael Coppotelli, the archdiocese’s associate superintendent for student services and public policy, and Joseph Tweed, regional superintendent for Manhattan.
They were guided by six student escorts, some of whom carried members of the school’s cherished animal kingdom from classroom to classroom. Among the creatures that came along for the tour were a bearded dragon, a chinchilla and a boa constrictor.
As Ms. Donoghue and Ms. Dinger made their way to the classrooms, they were visibly impressed by the multitude of class photos of past students that graced the walls.
In the library, a group of parents were assembled to greet the visitors. “You’re such an important part of the mission of schools,” Ms. Donoghue told them. “Our Church teaches that parents are the first and primary teachers of their kids. We’re just blessed when you ask to partner with us. And I can see that here.” She added she was grateful they took time out of their day to be there to greet her, and that she was “happy to take that back to our bishops…It’s families that we serve.”
Many of the teachers in the classroom tours were also graduates. Donna Toscano, who teaches ELA reading and social studies, is a 1975 alumna. She was taught second grade at Queen of Martyrs by her mother.
A classroom of eighth-grade reading and ELA students were studying the Holocaust. That was a timely lesson, as three days earlier was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and this year marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Bierkenau concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland.
The last stop was the rooftop, which outside of winter is ripe with beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and more. “Welcome to the Botanical Gardens on Arden Street,” Tweed said.
Some of the fresh herbs grown there are used in the lunchroom, Coppotelli said. He also noted that on his first visit to the school the principal gave him a bottle of hot sauce made from peppers the students grow.
The six student escorts Jan. 30 were fifth-grader Mathias Dominguez; seventh-graders Gerardine Manan and Ella Tejeda, and eighth-graders Mathew Capellan, Isabella Martinez and Manuel Ramirez.
Gerardine started off the school day with a big win—in her grade’s math bee. “If you take notes, and write down all the formulas and then practice them with different problems, you’ll get it somehow,” she said when asked what advice she would give peers who struggle with that subject. She aspires to be an engineer or architect.
“We really enjoy being here,” Mathias told CNY as he climbed a stairway to the next stop on the tour. “It’s a great school, and I would recommend it to anybody.”
Mathias, who said he wants to be an entrepreneur one day, said science is his favorite subject. The fifth-grader was selected among seven students—the others being seventh- and eighth-graders—to participate in an after-school biology class.
Manuel was eager to show off the animals to the visitors. “We’re really close to animals,” he said. “We take care of them like they are our own.”
There are many good reasons for a school to have animals on site, he added. “It’s not just papers and books. Then kids can have more fun at school, and kids like school more.”
Queen of Martyrs School is “basically helping me choose the right path,” Manuel said, and to “become a better man in the future.”