Progress Edition: St. James Catholic School provides 100 years of education

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Photo: St. James Catholic School. (Teri Chupp/Messenger)

Describe the history of St. James Catholic School in the community.

St. James Catholic School is the oldest private school in Etowah County, having served Gadsden and surrounding areas for over a century. Since our beginning, St. James has grown from a small parochial school serving the Catholics of St. James Parish to a thriving private institution for students of all faiths looking for a quality education. Second and third generations of families send their children to us to receive a time-tested education with moral standards 2,000 years old.  The school prepares students to be future stewards of the community and faithful followers of the Christian way of life. Our alumni go on to excel in high school and beyond, becoming participants in service organizations and academic honors societies while continually ranking at the top of their class.

What is the mission of St. James?

For more than a century, our mission has remained the same: to proclaim the faith of Jesus and to promote social, educational and spiritual excellence. We educate the whole child to develop a passion for learning, a commitment to social justice and a deep love of God and neighbor.

What sets St. James apart from other schools?

At St. James School, we partner with parents to provide the type of educational atmosphere where students can succeed. Our approach considers the following factors: the quality of the curriculum, the learning atmosphere and the cost.
Our rigorous curriculum is composed of daily classes in math, language arts, science, social studies, religion and physical education with weekly courses in art, computer and music. In addition, we offer electives in robotics, drama, outdoor education, soccer, basketball, track and choir.

These courses are offered in safe and modern facilities where the physical, academic and emotional needs of each child are met by expert instructors. With a student-teacher ratio of 10 to 1, each child receives individual attention. Our instruction also emphasizes the qualities of good Christian character, which include responsibility, creativity and respect for oneself and others.

A final important factor that sets St. James apart from other private schools is cost. St. James has the lowest private school tuition rate in Etowah County and currently offers some form of financial assistance to over half of our students. Even during times of economic distress, we persist in our belief that no student should be denied the right to a quality education due to financial reasons.

Describe what the St. James has accomplished over the past year and share a few of its goals for 2023.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent economic downturn, we increased enrollment by 10 percent. Our building underwent extensive renovations this past summer, including newly painted halls and bathrooms, the installation of digital bulletin boards and an expanded video security system. The 2022 school year also saw the implementation of our school-wide “I am” campaign to promote positive character traits in our community. These expectations are visible to any visitor who walks through our doors. In addition, we were recognized as a Junior Beta Club School of Distinction and renewed our Cognia accreditation.

Our goals for 2023 are to continue expansion.  We are currently working toward certification as an International School, which will allow us to host students from around the world. We hope to broaden our local outreach to surrounding counties and the homeschooling community as a safe and family-friendly alternative to public schools. Finally, we would like to continue to develop our sports and electives programs. We hope to add volleyball next year, along with a Spanish language elective.

What classes or programs does St. James offer that help it stand out from other schools in the area?

St. James has a “small school feel” with “big school opportunities.” We have built a community of acceptance where everyone’s talents and effort are valued. In sports, for example, rather than host a cutthroat tryout process, we accept every student regardless of skill. We instill the values of practice and sportsmanship and consistently rank as a top school for athletics. We also insist that every child be exposed to art and culture. Every student learns how to read music beginning in third grade, while younger grades explore rhythm and melody through play. Art classes introduce students to famous painters, drawing techniques and elements of light and color.

What is St. James’ educational philosophy?

St. James bridges the best in modern teaching practices with the centuries-old educational heritage of the Catholic Church and its universities. Rather than teaching children to master a test, we firmly believe that teaching our children to reason critically will prepare them to master life.

What extracurricular activities are available to students?

Our sports program currently includes soccer, basketball and track. Students may also choose to participate in the Junior Beta Club, Builder’s Club and Art Club.

What about the school are you, as an administrator, most proud of?

I am proud of the partnership we develop with families for the formation of their children. I often quote an early Jesuit who stated, “We are working to lay the foundations of houses that will last as long as the world endures.” So, I am most proud of the students who when leaving St. James use what they learn for the betterment of their community.

Identify the most important things that distinguish this school from other schools.

When we talk about character building at St. James, we do not talk about developing a touchstone with cute slogans; we talk about Jesus as our cornerstone. Our differences are much more than prayer in school. It is a pervasive culture and tradition of faith that is a part of everything we do. Our day begins with a reading from scripture and how it should influence our lives, followed by morning prayer as a community.

Our school maintains a long-standing record of academic excellence because of teachers who are intrinsically motivated to do more for their students. We have our children’s future success in mind, but we do not simply point them toward a career goal and say, “Go be happy and make money.” Instead, we nurture the question of, “How can your future success help your neighbors?”

In using the four cardinal virtues, we teach moral reasoning when making decisions (prudence), respect for others around us (justice), continual pursuit of the good (fortitude) and balance in our wants as opposed to needs (temperance).

Clarify the misconception that your students must be of the Catholic faith to attend St. James Catholic School.

It is a common misconception that students of St. James must be Catholic to attend. We accept students of all faith backgrounds, both Christian and non-Christian. Our atmosphere of tolerance does not distinguish between students based on religion. We instead promote Christian values such as loyalty, respect and integrity as “human values” applicable to every person. Counted among our alumni are students from Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds, in addition to Christian denominations of all sorts.

Submitted by John Parker, Principal, St. James Catholic School

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