Wilton’s Our Lady of Fatima celebrates a new beginning

Bishop Frank Caggiano visited Wilton last week to help celebrate the transformation of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Academy. The morning included mass and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with students before they attended their classes. The event drew local and state officials, Our Lady of Fatima graduates, parents of students and members of the community.

During the mass he celebrated with Father Reggie Norman, Our Lady of Fatima Church’s pastor, Caggiano took the opportunity to talk to the students who attend pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Speaking of the approach of Hurricane Dorian, he used it as an example of preparing not only for extraordinary events but also for preparing for ordinary life.

He asked the children why they attend school. Their answers ranged from preparing for high school and college to learning how they will spend the rest of their lives — to perhaps become leaders of their community.

“You have the privilege to come to a Catholic school — this school, our Lady of Fatima — because you and I are preparing to go to heaven,” he told them. “In this coming year your teachers will help you to become ever more prepared to become a disciple of Jesus.”

He reminded them they “are starting a new chapter at Our Lady of Fatima because now, boys and girls, you will have a new way to prepare — to open your minds, open your hearts and to serve the Lord. And as you will see in the weeks ahead … you’ll be able to have adventures that you never were able to have before and your teachers will guide you so that you can become the person Jesus wants you to be with your mind filled with truth, your heart filled with love and compassion, your hands filled with energy and courage so that you can be successful, yes, become a leader, yes, become a disciple yes.

“Take every opportunity to do what is asked of you, even at times when you may want to do something else,” he said. “Because the truth is, your teachers are here because they love you, they care for you, and they want you to be prepared to the best of your ability.”

Academy model

Our Lady of Fatima’s move to an academy model was initiated by the Diocese of Bridgeport. While it will remain a diocesan school, the new model will move the decison-making process to the local level. While there are at present several diocesan representatives on the school board, Kevin Vallerie, who is an OLF alum and board president, that involvement will lessen as community members of the school board, principal and parishioners expand their decision-making role.

The academy model, Vallerie said, has been tested and proven throughout the diocese at several other schools.

With this change, comes the introduction of multi-age classrooms and a Personalized Approach to Learning. The latter employs a flexible method of instruction geared to the needs of each student.

Stacy Clements, the personalized learning coordinator for the diocese, said the multi-age classrooms were initiated last year.

The concept tested in pre-kindergarten and she said it helped three-year-olds with their language skills and four-year-olds learn some leadership skills. It was also tested with first and second graders.

This year, students will be grouped in kindergarten and first grade, second and third grade, and fourth and fifth grade. Middle school students will be grouped based on subject areas.

“The goal is to create a community of learners where everyone can learn at their own pace,” she said. There will still be an emphasis on meeting goals through assessments.

“The biggest benefit is for students to be leaders and learn from one another,” she said, adding that there will be continuous self-assessment and reflection on the part of teachers.

Clements will be one of the diocesan representatives on this year’s school board, helping the school community members learn how to run Our Lady of Fatima before turning over the reins.

“It’s about letting the community own some decision-making,” she said.

Principal Stanley Steele is a proponent of the academy model, saying it “gives more input to parents in overseeing school life, the curriculum and finances.”

The multi-age aspect, he said, is responsive to children’s strengths and by allowing students to spend two years with the same teacher, it eliminates any slow startup in September.

Our lady of Fatima, which was founded in 1967, had an enrollment of 104 students when classes began on Aug. 28. Information: olfacademy.org.