Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
St. Aloysius School: hard-working parents, dedicated to families, help create ‘a great semse of community’
Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the March 18, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
St. Aloysius School’s history stretches back more than a century. (IR photo)
St. Aloysius Catholic School on Mission Street in Spokane occupies more than a whole city block. The long rectangular school building fills nearly the whole side of the block facing Mission.
The huge blacktopped playground and parking lot fill the rest of the property on the back. In the northeast corner stand several large, colorful playground toys and a sign that states “Heath Park, established 1979, the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.”
The history of education at St. Aloysius Parish goes back over 100 years. When the Jesuits began St. Aloysius Parish in 1890, the children were taught by the Sisters of the Holy Names at the facility on Superior Street, about six or so blocks to the east of the present site.
In 1916, the parish was able to rent the original Gonzaga College building and a parish school was officially started at that location. The Holy Names Sisters continued as teachers to the more than 200 students enrolled that first year.
In 1940 the parish built the first section of the school on the Mission Street property, purchased from the Heath family in 1936. In fact the story about the land’s purchase, as published in a parish history, states that Father Michael O’Malley, who was St. Aloysius’s pastor in his first round from 1924-1929, was taking a walk on Mission and saw the “For Sale” sign on the Heath property.
Father O’Malley knew the parish didn’t have the money right then to buy the land. So he threw a medal of St. Aloysius “on to the center of the grounds ... and never worried about school property again.” Not long afterward the parish was able to make the purchase for its future school.
The school was crowded from the beginning and an addition was built on in 1950.
Currently there are about 400 children in the building each day, counting the toddlers, pre-schoolers and everyone else.
Unlike many schools, St. Aloysius is open all year. Official school instruction ends in June, but Educare and other programs, including free breakfast and lunch, bring children to the school every day.
St. Aloysius School, affectionately called St. Al’s, is a powerhouse of activity. A huge “Welcome to St. Aloysius School” sign hangs near the stairs right inside the school entrance. The low hum of student activity is also noticeable as soon as visitors enter the building.
One important activity is reading. There was a special emphasis on that during the first week of March. Many children learn reading skills with books by the late Dr. Seuss. All the classroom doors had been colorfully decorated with the author’s characters in honor of his 100th birthday March 2.
Students work on various and sundry kinds of projects in their classrooms. One recent day, the fifth and sixth graders were working on inventions in their Lifeskills class, and had electronic parts scattered all over the floor. Their hopeful plan was that eventually they would put the parts all back together.
In the school’s chapel, the second graders were praying the rosary. The eighth grade science class was learning about acids and bases. Seventh grade students were studying about water systems, and a student was giving a Power Point presentation on how those systems work.
The toddler room was about the only place that was quiet, but only because it was the children’s rest time.
The school uses the Montessori method of education for one of its preschool classes. Last September saw the beginning of a multi-age classroom (MAC) for first and second graders. In this classroom, students work at their own level and pace. Teacher Alicia Gustafson worked with one group; a volunteer parent worked with another. The rest of the children worked in groups on their own.
Tom and Amy Brozik’s son is a second grader in the MAC. Amy Brozik said she was reluctant at first to put their son in the class, but decided to trust the judgement of his teacher and Kerrie Rowland, the principal of St. Aloysius. “He loves it,” said Bozik.
Brozik helps in the classroom one day a week and loves how the children “help and encourage each other.”
A bonus for MAC students is that Gustafson knows sign language and has shared that skill with her students. The children decorated a garden bench for the school auction and painted their names on the bench, in sign language.
The auction is the school’s main fund-raiser each year. Each class prepares an auction item. The second grade class decorated a deacon’s bench with all their names.
The auction was held March 13 with the theme, “New York, New York.” Several trips were among the hundreds of donated auction items along with the school classes’ items.
Parents at St. Aloysius are very dedicated with many, if not most, spending many hours at the school, volunteering in their children’s classrooms or in other areas of the school.
Jolene Stewart has two children at the school: one in the multi-age class and one in the Montessori preschool. She assists in the MAC one day a week and is in the process of recruiting other volunteers. She also helped with the auction.
She and her husband, Matt, chose St. Aloysius because they wanted an advanced program for their oldest son. “We were having a hard time finding one,” Stewart said, “and a neighbor told us about the Montessori preschool. That’s what attracted us.”
The Stewarts do not live close to the school, choosing to put miles on the car in order to take their sons to school. “We feel very blessed to have a school like that available to us,” she said.
Mary Green’s son has been at St. Aloysius “since he was three,” Green said. He’s now in the seventh grade.
“There’s a great sense of community (at St. Aloysius),” she said. “They are hard-working parents dedicated to their families.”
As an example, Green pointed out that about three-fourths of the 24 students in her son’s class have been at the school since preschool or first grade.
The school recently held an “International Potluck” with food dishes from India, China and Vietnam. “We had quite an array of foods,” said Principal Kerrie Rowland. One parent with Scottish heritage wore his kilt and played the bagpipes; one guest speaker was from Thailand.
Another unique feature of St. Aloysius School is its proximity to Gonzaga University, located just three blocks away. Some professors’ children attend the school and the educator-parents will offer their particular expertise to enrich the classroom or student body. GU students often do their student teaching at St. Aloysius.
Rowland has been principal the past three years. She has a staff of about 40 people for the nearly 400 children at the school. About half of the 400 children are in the kindergarten-fourth grade classes.
“Our enrollment has stayed pretty sound,” Rowland said.
Joanne Duffy is a former principal at the school. She is the Curriculum Coordinator in the diocesan Catholic Schools Office and confesses going over to the school occasionally “to visit the kids.” She loves “the family atmosphere” at the school and sees that as an essential ingredient in the school’s programs.
“That was a regular comment we’d receive,” she said, “even from visitors who didn’t have children in the school. They could sense it when they walked in the door. They’d say ‘it feels so nice to be here.’”
The chapel was added to the school when Duffy was on staff. Since the parish church is some distance away, the school did not have a special place to pray. Little by little the space in the school used for prayer was improved; the final chapter was the installation of a beautiful stained glass window. Up to three classes of students can fit in the space for Mass or other prayer services. Rowland said there are regularly-scheduled all-school Masses in the parish church as well.
Duffy pointed out the “sense of empowerment” that students get at the school. “There are a lot of really wonderful people, encouraging the students whatever their gifts are,” she said.
While the school’s basketball team made it to the top of its division, other students are just as active in the school choir and band. Some school musical presentations are also on the school’s schedule.
“The school draws them to participate,” Duffy said. “St. Al’s has really tried to provide programs for all types of students. There’s also an opportunity to be a vital participant in liturgy and service. It’s hard to have that same feeling anywhere else. It’s the greatest gift we give our kids.”