Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Holy Family School, Clarkston: a passion for Catholic education

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 20, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Classrooms at Holy Family School, Clarkston, are equipped with “smart boards,” something like a computerized blackboard. (IR photo)

On a sunny, hot August day in 1921, four Sisters of Notre Dame concluded their long journey to Clarkston, Wash., from Mankato, Minnesota, arriving to become both administration and faculty for Holy Family School.

The first day, local Catholic families sent the Sisters 44 children, and by November the enrollment was up to 70. Classes met in the basement of the old frame church, then expanded into the convent, and the school “made do” with this arrangement for about 16 years.

In 1937, a modern brick school building went up, including four state-of-the-art classrooms, library, auditorium, kitchen, furnace room and lavatories. It took a major commitment on the part of the people of Holy Family Parish to make this happen, and several even mortgaged their homes in order to donate money for the new school building.

Ten years later, however, Holy Family School was bursting at the proverbial seams, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that the building needed to enlarge. At this time, over 200 students attended the school in grades 1 through 8, and there were six Sisters on the staff.

On May 9, 1950, excavation began for a new $55,000 addition, including two new classrooms, clubroom, cafeteria, kitchen, and gymnasium/auditorium. The old auditorium from the original 1937 construction was converted into two more classrooms.

The new addition began as a building at Farragut Naval Training Station, which was located north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The building was dismantled, shipped from its original location to Clarkston, reassembled, and attached to the existing school building. World War II Navy veterans sometimes come by the school to inspect this portion of the building, for it is the only remaining structure still in existence from the old Navy base, which closed in 1946.

Today, 84 years after it began, Holy Family School’s enrollment is 130 in preschool through grade 6, and the daycare – which is open year-‘round – is licensed for 49 children, ages 2 through 12. The school attracts children not only from Clarkston but from the nearby towns of Lewiston and Asotin.

There are seven teachers for K through grade 6, a part-time music teacher for K through 6, and four employees in the pre-school and extended care programs.

A native of Sandpoint, Idaho, Sharon Clizer this fall began her 17th year as principal at Holy Family, and she beams when she talks about the school. “What I always find is that when people come here they often comment on how they feel so good here, everyone is so friendly, the kids are open to talking, and everyone is comfortable with being here.”

Holy Family School is unique not only among the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Spokane, but when compared to a great many public schools, as well. Three years ago, a school parent who was a professional grant writer helped the school apply for and receive a grant for $168,240, from the Weigand Foundation. The grant covered the cost of state-of-the-art computer and learning systems in every classroom, plus a 24-computer lab for the whole school. Each classroom has a “smart board” mounted on the wall – when turned off, it looks much like a standard white board – which in turn is connected to a computer and allows the class to use a wide variety of interactive learning programs. The grant even covers service and maintenance.

“I was never big on computers,” Clizer said, “but I’ve been really impressed with how helpful they can be to learning.”

Principal Clizer explained that the school uses the classroom smart boards even for religious activities. “In October (the month of the rosary) we’ll pray the rosary every Monday morning, the whole school. On the smart board we can pull up the rosary online, and each bead is checked off as we go along. The kids will use their regular rosaries, but the images on the smart board help them to keep from getting lost. Plus, the prayers are on the smart board, so they can read them if they don’t know them yet.”

Holy Family School is fortunate in another way, too. Each year the school awards a $10,000 college scholarship to a departing 6th grader, which he or she receives upon graduation from high school, as long as certain conditions are met. In 1999, the 21-year-old daughter of one of the school’s teachers was the victim of a fatal illness, and the teacher’s brother set up this scholarship in his niece’s memory.

The scholarship recipient must be Catholic, active in the life of the church through junior high and high school, and not get into any serious trouble during this time. Clizer said that this year will be the first year that a graduating senior will receive the scholarship, “as the first one was awarded six years ago. One year we split the scholarship because two girls were equally deserving, so each was going to get $5,000 – but the man awarding the scholarship gave each one the full $10,000 amount.”

Clizer says that everyone involved with the school “wants to see it work. My big word is ‘passion,’ and we all have a passion for this school. The kids turn out so great. The public junior high in our area calls up each year and asks how many of our departing sixth graders they’re going to get, and they’re always excited if there’s a big class.”

The bottom line for Holy Family School is its Catholic identity. As the brochure on the school declares, “Catholic values are expressed and celebrated not only in religion classes and liturgy, but throughout each day at the school. Children experience the freedom to pray in this educational community as they discover God’s love and the dignity God gives each of us.”

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