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Catholic school finding room for growth; looks to attract high-school age students

 By ARN ALBERTINI Recorder Staff
Published: Monday, December 01, 2008

        TURNERS FALLS -- In 2004 Mariamante Academy moved to Virginia, leaving the county without a Catholic high school.

The year after Mariamante left, Holy Trinity School in Greenfield added seventh and eighth grades. But, parents in the area also wanted a high school that taught with their Catholic values in mind, said Joseph Milano of Turners Falls

'I knew a bunch of parents would love to have a high school close by and not have to drive to Chicopee (home to Holyoke Catholic High School),' he said. In spring of 2007, Milano held meetings with parents. 'I said I would do it even if there are only two kids.'

And in the fall of 2007, Milano along with the Rev. Charles DiMascola, pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, and Larry Filiaut of Gill founded Divine Mercy Academy.

For that first year, there were only three students. This year, however, there are 11, from around Franklin County as well as southern Vermont and New Hampshire. The school makes its home in the Saint Teresa Catechism Center behind Our Lady of Czestochowa on K Street.

'We're starting small and I don't know if we'll ever be really large,' said Milano, who is the school's headmaster.

For now, the school has only ninth and 10th grades, but over the next two years it hopes to offer all four high school grades.

Having smaller classes means you all are friends, said Ingrid Zimmerman, a ninth-grader from Greenfield. 'You're close with everybody.'

The proximity to the church is also welcome, said Hanna Rose-Fish, a 10th-grader from Leyden. 'If you're having a rough day, the church is right there. You can go over and pray. It's very peaceful.'

Milano has worked as a teacher for 15 years, including two years in Nicaragua, six at Mariamante Academy and two at Holy Trinity.

Besides an in-depth education in Catholicism, the school offers an education with a focus on the classics, he said.

'It's a fundamental approach to education where we really nail down the basics; the rudiments of language, extensive writing, exposure to great literature, grammar.'

Among the classics on the student's reading list, 'Beowulf,' 'Canterbury Tales' and 'MacBeth.' The curriculum also includes math, science, history, Latin, Spanish and religion (including a class on the catechism of the Catholic Church and another on the lives of saints).

The course load makes for about three to 3ᄑ hours of homework, said Milano. 'It's really trying to prepare them for college.

'We encourage students to stay as long as they can (after school) to get as much homework done as they can because there are distractions at home. Also you have the added benefit of both teachers being here.' School gets out at 2:45 p.m. and the school's two teachers stay until 6 p.m.

'We have a lot of work, but you're capable of doing it,' Rose-Fish said.

Because the classes are so small, it's easy to ask for help if you're having trouble, she said.

Instead of electives, every month the school takes a trip. This month, they'll make a trip to New York City to visit museums and in January they'll head to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life.

Divine Mercy Academy officially incorporated in August and filed for nonprofit status in September. Although the school started in the fall of 2007, organizers waited a year before incorporating and filing for nonprofit status to make sure there was enough interest to keep it going. The school's funding comes from tuition and fundraising

It's part of the classical model education that teachers teach several different disciplines. Milano teaches Latin, English, history, grammar and composition. The other teacher, Lisa Cecala, teaches math, science and religion.

Eventually, the academy plans to add teachers, Milano said.

'Our goal is to have at least four full-time teachers and two or three part-time teachers.'

You can reach Arn Albertini at: aalberti@recorder.com or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 264

(Reprinted with permission of the Recorder, Greenfield, MA)