Monday, January 24, 2022
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
“Coming out of COVID, we are the school of new,” said Tara Marino, the new principal of the Fort Lauderdale school. “People need to feel like it is a new time.”
After stepping into her new leadership role over the summer, Marino immediately went to work hiring people, planning and preparing for the new academic year.
“It has only been three months since we opened. We are so busy,” she told the Florida Catholic in November. “We haven’t had time to think about all the new things that have happened here.”
St. Jerome features programs for students from prekindergarten to eighth grade. On Nov. 9, 2021, the school announced an additional preschool facility to better serve the community. Ferlady Wilhelm is program director for the two facilities. One is for 3-year-olds and the other for 4-year-olds.
The school building has a fresh coat of paint. Classrooms and offices have been rearranged, cleaned and decorated. Gates were added to provide greater security and athletic fields and grounds are ready for outdoor activities once again.
Benjamin Savath, a graduate of Florida International University, is the school’s new physical education teacher, athletic director and soccer coach. He also started the year at a fast pace and on a good note.
“We have won every game this season,” Savath said, crediting his players and their team spirit for the wins.
Team spirit and a winning season are good words to use when describing St. Jerome this school year.
Valerie Bryant is the school’s new guidance counselor and media specialist. She is celebrating 11 years in education and is a former teacher at Nativity School in Hollywood.
“I am happy to be here,” she said. “St. Jerome is a little gem in Fort Lauderdale. All of the new aspects here bring a fresh energy to the school. Everyone is connected. Everyone is on board.”
Marino has worked in education for 14 years. The wife and mother of three earned her master’s in educational leadership from Barry University in 2019. This is her first year as a school administrator, joining other new faces around campus.
“We have 14 new faculty members and staff,” she said. “Enrollment was 131 in May and in November we have added 50 new students. We opened with six children in preschool. Enrollment is up to 18 children.”
The school has a new Facebook page and modern website with plenty of content, photos, team introductions and information. The administration has revitalized and added programs to the curriculum including an accelerated reader program to monitor student reading practices and progress.
“We ordered Chromebooks for every student,” said Marino about new tablets to go along with the school’s iPads, Apple televisions and interactive whiteboards used in the classrooms.
Colleen Ramroth, a teacher for 20 years, is a former teacher at Nativity who teaches second grade this year at St. Jerome. She retired from teaching three years ago but has remained connected with members of the school community.
“When I heard that St. Jerome was being revitalized, I came out of retirement to help,” she said. “St. Jerome is a nice campus to be on. The people are great to work with.”
Blue and white are still the school’s colors. Other items that remain tried and true are school uniforms, the panther mascot, traditions, rituals and the strong Catholic identity that has been handed down over the school’s 60-year history, since it was first staffed by Sisters of St. Philip Neri from Cuba.
The mission statement, posted prominently on the school’s website, also remains consistent. “St. Jerome is a Eucharistic family that empowers student to grow in knowledge, love and respect. Inspired by the Gospel, we engage our parish and school community in joyful service.”
In keeping with that mission, St. Jerome launched a new Charity Club, moderated by fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Brooks. Members meet once a week. “They work as a team and vote on what they are going to do as far as projects,” she said. “They have been sharing ideas.”
Charity Club members hope to help around the school and volunteer at the church. Their long-range goal is to help people and organizations in the community at large.
Fifth-grader Uriyah Townsend said she was eager to join the club. “I wanted to donate my time to serve and benefit others.”
The club kicked off its initiatives with a teacher appreciation event.
“We made cards for the teachers,” said fifth grader Emma Denman. “We wanted to thank them for all the work they have done. Being at home during the pandemic was pretty boring. I am glad to be back at the school. We are thankful to the teachers for all they have done for us.”
NEW PASTOR, NEW CHAPEL
In June, Father Joseph Maalouf took the helm as the new administrator at the 600-family St. Jerome Parish, where Masses are celebrated in English, Spanish and Chinese.
He too has been nonstop at the parish and at the school. In September, he led a schoolwide retreat with the theme “God’s love” setting the tone for the academic year. In November, he joined Marino and members of the parish and school community to bring the annual fall festival back after a year-long COVID pause. The fundraiser benefited the parish and school, but also brought families together once again in the spirit of community.
Also in November, the parish opened a new chapel that had been in the planning stages for the past five years. Beautifully decorated with images, statues, chairs and liturgical items both found around the parish and donated by the Chinese Apostolate, the Chapel of the Little Flower features the original tabernacle of the main church built 60 years ago.
“The chapel is a gift from heaven,” said Father Maalouf. “I prayed about it. Everything fell in place. It was God. He put the right things in place and made them available.”
Father Maalouf praised Marino for her leadership and dedication, and credited God for sending her and all the new employees who are helping to bring new life to St. Jerome, whose namesake is the patron saint of scholars and students.
“God gave me a gift. The teachers that God sent here are God centered. How can you ask for more? We are a Catholic school. God sent us the right people to hire,” Father Maalouf said.
“This is the community-building year,” said Evelyn Rodriguez, the parish’s new office manager. “It is great to be part of new beginnings. Everyone is looking forward to seeing what is coming up next.”
Catholic Schools Week: Jan. 30-Feb. 5
The archdiocese’s 62 Catholic schools will be celebrating Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2022. Each school has planned a variety of spiritual and social activities to celebrate the vibrancy of Catholic education. This week is also the start of registration season for Catholic elementary schools. Anyone interested in a Catholic education, should start by visiting the School Finder on the archdiocesan website: https://www.miamiarch.org/CatholicDiocese.php?op=school_location.