A day in the life of Catholic school

Sept. 16, 2011 at 4:16 a.m.

Wearing a crimson T-shirt, khaki skort and matching red-and-black Puma sneakers, Jazmyne Alegria thrust the handle to locker 172 upward, and flung open the metal door. On either side of the 14-year-old statuesque brunette, metal lockers crash open and shut, as uniformed students ready themselves for class.

There are no locks on lockers at Nazareth Academy Catholic School, Alegria explained, gathering notebooks for Dana Howard's eighth-grade homeroom. Neither faculty nor students tolerate stealing at school, and no one dares tote anything inappropriate on campus.

"They put a lot of trust in us here," said Alegria, Nazareth's student council president.

It's a day like any other for Alegria and her classmates. But a typical day at Nazareth is anything but a common academic experience.

Nazareth students are exposed to an offbeat scholastic experience, public school students may never encounter. Academics at Nazareth are fused with prayer and religious studies. Creationism is taught alongside evolution. Teachers not only expect moral conduct from their pupils, they discuss methods of achieving it during class and focus on the consistent formation of conscience. At Nazareth, God and his son Jesus are the beacon of good behavior. Honoring God, therefore, is as much a part of the student's education as math, literature, history or science.

Entering Howard's homeroom class just before the 8 a.m. bell rings, Alegria joins 13-year-old friends Hailey Miller, Devyn Turner and Bailey Houck at their desks.

Standing around chattering about the day -- boys on one side of the room, girls on another - Howard shouts, "Has everyone marked their lunch? Boys and girls, make sure you get your song book for church, OK?"

Once a week, Nazareth students attend church for morning Mass, worship, prayer and Holy Communion before regular studies begin.

At 8:09 a.m., Alegria and classmates make a single file line in the hallway, and walk to St. Mary's Church in Victoria. Father Bob Knippenberg leads morning services, discussing the feast day of Jesus' mother Mary.

"On this birthday of the blessed Virgin Mary, what presents are you going to give her?" Knippenberg asks the students, waving their hands from the pews to respond. "Do something today to love each other; that will offer a special present to Mary."

After services, students return to school for classes.

"Mass always fills you up for the day. You always leave feeling good," Alegria said. "It starts your day off well, and you feel ready for classes."

At 9:08 a.m., students return to Howard's class and transition to literature studies, warming up with a reflection on Father Knippenberg's sermon. Howard's warm up essay for the class: "How do we honor Mary?"

Howard then turned the discussion to fairy tales, encouraging the class to consider how elements of fairy tales, like "Sleeping Beauty," are similar to books of the Bible.

"The youngest, poorest, ugliest or most mistreated person often becomes the hero or heroine," Howard explained.

Other fairy tale themes discussed include settings of paradise, or Eden; restoration of peace through a prince, or the Prince of Peace; and the intervening of supernatural forces.

When literature is over, Alegria makes her way toward Rose Burkett's math class at 9:53 a.m. where another warm-up awaits. Integers, absolute values, order of operations and other algebraic equations are the focus of Burkett's class.

At 10:40 a.m., Alegria returns to Howard's English class for a lesson on grammar rules, and negative and positive sentence structures.

"Since it's Mary's birthday, will y'all please participate?" Howard asked during the lecture.

After English, Alegria attends American history at 11:35 a.m., taught by Sister Bernarda Bludau, who also serves as Nazareth assistant principal.

A little after noon, Alegria's class breaks for lunch in the cafeteria.

Among friends, Alegria discusses why she's attended Nazareth since she was a child, and prefers Catholic private school education to public school.

"It's a different experience here. You don't have to watch what you say about God," she said.

Houck, a Nazareth Jets cheerleader and one of Alegria's close friends, said even though she's Baptist, she prefers attending Nazareth because she can be open about her faith.

"If you're the kid reading the Bible in public school, you're like the uncool one; the outcast. But here, it's normal," Houck said.

"We are the best Christian school in Victoria," 13-year-old classmate Briana Luna said, who's known among her friends as the best hip-hop dancer in school.

Nazareth's student body is comprised of an interfaith population.

All students however, are encouraged to learn, reflect and participate in Catholic traditions, such as signing the Trinity across their chest, or stating the Hail Mary prayer.

"It doesn't feel weird to me," Houck said. "I sign the cross and say the prayers. Apart from the Communion, it's basically the same in my opinion."

Even when the students walk past the second-floor chapel throughout the day, all students are supposed to sign the Trinity, Alegria said.

"Or, if we're carrying too many books, we can sign it in our minds," Alegria said.

After lunch, about 1 p.m., Alegria attends Gail Bragg's science class, where students listen to popular Christian music while participating in a class project and learning about noted physicists through history.

Following science, Alegria enters religion class about 1:52 p.m. and settles in her desk long enough for Sister Mary Jean Bludau to invite the class into prayer. Prayers for rain, those affected by the Texas wildfires and the families of Sept. 11, as they approached the 10th anniversary of the attacks, were offered to God.

On the docket for Sister Bludau's class was a discussion on morality and how to determine morally good acts based on intention and circumstance.

"We do what's right even when everyone isn't," Bludau said. "It's necessary to do the right thing."

When religion class ends, Alegria walks to Debby Chen's media class to work on her "Stop Motion" photography project about a day in the life of a Nazareth Catholic student.

Donning press badges, Alegria's project team, including Abigail Gwosdz, 13; Makayla Jones, 12; and 13-year-old Jaci Dickinson, roam around the school taking photos of each other engaging in typical Catholic school activities.

"As long as we're quiet in the halls, we're allowed to go wherever we need to go," Alegria said of her freedom to roam the school unsupervised during media class.

Alegria's media class ends with a Hail Mary prayer, led by Chen, and students are excused to return to their lockers. Alegria's day isn't over, however, and she prepares for afternoon volleyball practice.

Even after Catholic school is over for the day, Alegria said her faith follows her home.

"I'm proud of my relationship with God ... it's part of my everyday life. In my family, we never miss church, even if we're out of town," Alegria said. "I'm surrounded by my faith every day ... but not only do I prefer it, I wouldn't want it any other way."



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