By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Thirteen-year-old Kellie Holland of West Philadelphia is proud to be a Catholic student. The eighth grader at St. Ignatius of Loyola School in Wesr Philadelphia is an animated tour guide as she shows off her crafts hanging in Sister Carole Pollock’s contemporary art classroom or points to the new Dell computers in Erika Thornton’s state-of-the-art computer laboratory. She even introduces her counterparts at Our Mother of Sorrows School, which shares St. Ignatius’ campus and administration, who are attentively listening to their instructor.
Holland was one of the many student guides who led an entourage of business and community leaders around the urban Catholic school. This was the culmination of the BLOCS “Business Leadership Breakfast in Partnership with Comcast and PBS KIDS Sprout” held on Jan. 29.
Dozens of representatives from public, private and university communities were on hand to learn how they can help support and promote education initiatives at archdiocesan schools.
“I believe together we can make a difference in urban education,” said Mike O’Neill, chairman of BLOCS, (Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools), after the tour. “People often question whether putting all these resources in Philadelphia schools can make a difference. I know of the success stories. Today, we see one of the examples of what can be done. We all need to change our perspectives. It’s time to chart a new course and realize that we can make that difference.”
Also on hand for the 7:30 a.m. breakfast were Joseph Donnelly, senior president of Comcast programming; Sandy Wax, president of Sprout; Chica and Sean, stars of Sprout’s “The Sunny Side Up” show; Sister Owen Patricia Bonner, S.S.J., principal of Our Mother of Sorrows and St. Ignatius of Loyola schools; and councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, whose district includes the parishes.
In his remarks to the breakfast crowd, Donnelly said that Comcast wants to support urban education and has targeted resources for schools like Our Mother of Sorrows and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“We are happy to give assistance to BLOCS to support their lofty goals at this time because of all the fantastic things that result,” he said.
“I am impressed with what I have seen here,” Wax added. During the breakfast dozens of preschool to upper grade students gave performances showcasing the spiritual and academic education they receive at the school. The fourth grade students sang a crowd-pleasing version of the contemporary gospel song, “God is God.” The kindergarteners taught television personality Sean the gestures to their a cappella tune.
“I love to hear about the glorious things you are doing here,” said Blackwell, who stopped by briefly on her way to Thursday’s City Council session. “This is a beautiful light in this city. I get to see firsthand what partnerships can do. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
The faculty and staff at the school were animated about the progress being made at the school. Pollock explained that to raise money for tuition students are engaged in an art competition. While the fourth to eighth graders are creating African shields, the first to third grade pupils are doing watercolor depictions. All the competing artwork will be displayed in a gallery in the coming weeks.
Thornton added that she is amazed at the resources that the school has been able to attract. A donor, she said, contributed 32 new computers to her classroom, complete with color printers. “We are very appreciative of all of this and the fact that so many took time today to come here for this,” she said.
Perhaps Vice Principal Rosemary Halm summed up it up best. “I think that what everyone is doing for this school is amazing,” she said. “We have such great kids here. We have students who have been here through their whole education and have been accepted at the top Catholic high schools. We are able to do this because we work hard and have the help of BLOCS and the other donors.”
Holland agreed. As a student who will graduate this year, she feels ready to compete at any secondary school in the Delaware Valley. Yet she did have one request for those who are interested in contributing to the school after she graduates. She singled out the room with only a few older encyclopedias, several Bibles and dictionaries and a small collection of books. “Our library resource room needs help,” she said.
BLOCS is an independent scholarship organization that believes all children should have access to high-quality education in a safe and nurturing environment, regardless of race, religious belief or income. BLOCS raises funds so financially disadvantaged children in the Greater Philadelphia region have access to a results-driven education.
BLOCS is supported by more than 70 businesses and corporate partners. The scholarship organization touches more children in more communities than most private education charities in the city. For more information visit www.blocs.org.
Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at ArleneEdmonds@aol.com.