Recently, Mrs. Wilson and I have had a few conversations about our admissions process and our mission here at BJAMS. We have heard a few comments relative to the admissions process at BJAMS – comments ranging from “BJAMS ‘cherry picks’ its students” to “It’s really hard to get in because the school is so elite.” Yikes! Since Mrs. Wilson and I have heard these statements more than once, I thought I should take a moment and speak to these perspectives in hopes to clarify a few things.
Yes, we do have high standards and expectations and we understand that these standards and expectations aren’t for everyone. What we attempt to do in our initial parent meetings and during prospective student visits is to establish a potentially good fit without the school or family needing to compromise. You see, the school has a clearly stated mission – our mission is to educate children of all faiths to achieve academic excellence, as they are challenged to fully develop their God-given talents with commitment to truth, compassion, self-discipline, and love for all. At our initial parent meeting, we work hard to explain how the school lives its mission, helping parents ascertain whether this is a good fit for what they seek. Usually, this is exactly what parents are looking for – however, sometimes, it’s not. This is not the result of ‘cherry picking’; rather, it’s about determining a good fit for both school and home.
We are not an elitist school, nor do we want to be. Our mission is the very foundation upon which our school is built. Academic excellence and the development of students’ God-given talents are what we want for all of our children who enter our building — no matter what their faith or academic ability is. We want to provide an opportunity to all – so that all can experience the difference to which so many of our BJAMS families and visitors can attest. There is a difference when you walk through our doors. You can feel it.
Our mission is about providing opportunity. Mrs. Wilson and I were just at a principals’ meeting last week where a fellow principal was speaking passionately about this very thing. He relayed a story to us about a student who enrolled at his school. This was a student who entered in need of a change. Not an academic change per se, but a cultural change. School did not come easily to him, and he needed extra coaching and guidance in nearly all of his subjects. The academic rigor was not what the family was seeking; they were seeking a change in their child’s learning environment. And that is what this student received. What he ended up getting during his years in that Catholic school was far greater than an A in math or reading. He learned about faith. He learned about love. He learned to be respectful, kind, and courteous. He learned to hope. He received the change that he so desperately needed in his life to make him a better person. Now this is truly the mission of a Catholic school. This is what we do. We provide opportunity to learn to be a better person. We provide an opportunity to love and care for the whole child: mind, body, and spirit. The academics? The icing on the cake for this family and the cherry on top for the student.
What about students with learning differences? How does the school meet the needs of students who learn differently? Well, most of the time, we can make it work. It really depends on the depth of the learning difference. Often times, the learning difference requires a little flexibility and a bit of differentiation. That’s what all great teachers do – and we have pretty great teachers at BJAMS. However, federal funding can limit our ability to offer substantive special education services to our children. We do need to follow an admissions process that allows us to make sure that Bishop Marshall is a good fit for all involved: parent, child, and school. The last thing we want to do is make a promise we can’t keep and we work hard to be realistic when discussing our offerings. We have reviewed Individualized Educational Plans and made accommodations work with our lean staffing. We have also reviewed Individualized Educational Plans and have had to let families know we don’t have the resources to meet the needs of the learner who is applying. You see, we want all students to be successful, and sometimes, that means the student will be served best by their sending school.
We have high expectations and standards. We have high test scores. We have amazing students and teachers. Not because we stack our enrollment with all of the gifted and talented students in the Lamoille County region; rather, we are providing our students with a culture of learning that is enveloped in love, respect, and faith. That’s how our students truly make the grade.