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Faith-filled education

Malverne, West Hempstead schools prep for Catholic Schools Week


From Spirit Day to a Latin food festival, Catholic schools in Malverne and West Hempstead are preparing to observe Catholic Schools Week — an annual celebration of Catholic education in the United States that started in 1974 — from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1.

“It’s an exciting time for people to see what we have to offer,” said Kathleen Cotilletta, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Malverne. “I get to show off this wonderful place with confidence.”

During the week, OLL will have a magic show, Valentine’s for Vets, sports competitions and a book fair, among other events. Cotilletta, who joined Lourdes in August, said that building new relationships with Malverne residents would take time, but the community has accepted her with open arms.

“She is building on our strong foundation to make our school the best that it can be,” said Sharon Frohne, the Lourdes school board co-president. “She leads by example and creates a positive, supportive environment for all.”

Frohne, who will coordinate many of the upcoming events, added that she looked forward to seeing parents, students and educators come together to recognize Catholic education. One of the special parts of being a part of OLL, she said, is the lifelong relationships that students cultivate.

“They truly become like family to one another,” Frohne said.

At St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead, Principal Dr. Valerie Serpe said she was most excited about showcasing the school’s diversity. One of the ways it will do so is with a Latin food festival, in which parents share homemade meals from their home countries.

“I’m excited that our Latino community is increasing each year and that we have such a great diverse population,” Serpe said. “It’s a great role model for the world that we live in so we’re really excited to show that off.”

St. Thomas parent advocate Jesica Hernandez, who has worked with the school’s Latin families for the past five years, said that helping students apply for financial aid along with finding them the right student support has been an unforgettable experience.

“It’s a great journey to see the school’s growth throughout the years and to welcome new families,” Hernandez said. “I’ve seen the impact that Catholic education has had on my son, so I want more kids to have that opportunity. Our principal has a great heart and she’s inspired so many people like myself.”

In addition to the school’s Latin food festival, St. Thomas will host Student Appreciation Day and Bishop John Barres, of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, will be one of the school’s special guests on Jan. 27.

Catholic Schools enrollment has declined across the country over the past decade — 1,267 schools were reported closed or consolidated, while 258 school openings were reported, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. In addition, the number of students declined by more than 403,000.

St. Thomas, Serpe said, recently partnered with the Marianist brothers to help re-energize the school system. Serpe said she hoped that the Morning Star Initiative, a plan for the revitalization of Catholic elementary school education on Long Island, would help bolster student enrollment.

Cotilletta said that at Lourdes, the hope is to develop a stronger social media presence. “We want to get our message of faith-filled, joyful learning through as many platforms as we can,” she said. “To accomplish that, we have to be that constant presence.”

Both schools will kick off Catholic Schools Week with Mass on Jan. 26. OLL’s will start at 9:30 a.m., and St. Thomas’s will begin at 10:30 a.m.