Families tour new Pope Francis Preparatory School

Nov. 9, 2017 |  Debbie Gardner

Pope Francis High School board of Directors member Tom Day.(Reminder Publications photo by Debbie Gardner)

SPRINGFIELD – There were labels taped to strategic steel girders and artist renderings mounted on easels through the construction site. Pope Francis High School board of Directors member Tom Day used all of these prompts, plus some brief notes, to paint a picture of the state of the art school for the small group he shepherded through the building currently rising on the site of the former Cathedral High School.

Day’s group of 10 were among a steady stream of parents and prospective students who toured the Surrey Road site as part of an open house hosted by Pope Francis teachers and administrators on Nov. 5. Jennifer Lopez, director of Marketing and Communications for Pope Francis High School, said the effort to introduce the new school to the public seemed to prove successful.

“Eighty-five new families registered for tours of the school today,” she noted, adding the administration chose to limit the number of attendees for this open house to insure a safe experience in what is still an active construction site.

Day, religion teacher Michael Dewey and Pope Francis Junior Katie Boutin led the group through the three floors of the site, beginning the tour on the third floor, where the majority of the school’s math and science classrooms will be housed. Here Day pointed out not only the numerous large windows – designed to flood the building with natural light – but also a double-size classroom with a wide doorway, explaining this was designated as a “Maker’s Room” – a space for robotics and engineering classes to engage in hands-on projects.

The school’s extensive network of athletic fields  – including a new baseball diamond, tennis courts and six-lane track surrounding a multi-purpose football, field hockey, lacrosse and soccer field were visible through the windows on this floor. Day noted bleachers at the track/field site would seat 500 when completed.

On the second floor, which Day said would house the school’s guidance offices and humanities classes, he used an artist’s rendering of the school’s media center to explain the floor’s large open space and what appeared to be a grand staircase in the center of it.

“The idea is that this will be an area were students can congregate,” he said, noting the space would contain flexible seating and multiple places where students could charge their electronic devices. “Several hundred can be seated on the stadium-style seating, and there will be a drop-down screen for movies.”

Teachers, he added, would be able to “sign the space out to use it for classroom events.”

Dewey spoke about the classroom space from a teacher’s perspective, noting that the second floor contained “seminar size rooms and smaller classrooms” to accommodate “different class sizes” for different subjects.” When asked by a prospective parent the size of an average class at Pope Francis, he indicated currently they ran around 15 to 17 students.

Moving to the first floor, Day said the combination of administrative offices, chapel, campus ministry offices and cafeteria would make that floor “a hive of activity during the day,” for students and faculty.  The school’s chapel, which is designed to accommodate 50, will include glass walls flanking the doors listing the “names of every religious who has taught at the legacy schools [of Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic],” he said.  When asked about school-wide religious services, Dewey said those would be conducted in the school’s new auditorium, which is located behind the cafeteria.

Though the new building is being constructed to house 550 students, Day also indicated the school was built with a provision to add additional classrooms off the cafeteria, if the need arises. Dewey noted a capital campaign is planned for that expansion, should it become necessary.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski joined Day’s tour briefly during their first-floor stop in what will become the cafeteria, thanking the prospective parents and students for making the time to tour the new Pope Francis.

“I’m not a good architectural person, I can’t imagine what this will look like,” he said to the group, “But I hope the photos will help you imagine it.”

The bishop then added, “We are promised that we will be ready to open in the fall of 2018.”

The tour continued to the new, state-of the-art auditorium, which Day said would be equipped with videotaping capability, flexible seating and lighting on the upper levels, and an orchestra pit.  Adjacent to the auditorium the tour saw the new choral and band practice areas as well as space dedicated to a broadcast and video editing lab, designed, he said, to support students interested in career in communications. The school would also be moving to broadcast, rather than audio morning announcements when the new school opens, he said, adding the entire building would be wired for broadcast and internet connectivity.

The tour concluded with a visit to the gymnasium, locker and fitness rooms, which are located on the lower level. The new gym will have a capacity to seat approximately 500 for school pep rallies and basketball games, has a separate entrance for sporting events, and will include a ticket window and concession stand in its lobby. Student Katie Boutin indicated there is talk of all freshmen being required to take gym class beginning in the 2018-19 school year, which is a change from the current policy at the temporary school site in Chicopee.  However, unlike some other prep schools in the area, students are not required to play a sport each season, Day noted.

At a presentation and school activities fair in the gymnasium of the nearby St. Michael’s Academy that coincided with the day’s tours, Director of Admissions Ann Rivers told prospective students and parents that Pope Francis High School will, “on July 1[2018] change its name to Pope Francis Preparatory School to better reflect who we are.” She indicated that the school has a “100 percent college acceptance rate” and that the school’s emphasis on STREAM – science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math – sets it apart from schools that emphasize just STEM classes. However, students do not have to be Catholic to attend Pope Francis, as illustrated by the impression of the school given by junior Bradley Zweir, who spoke to the religious diversity in the school and how the students study world religions, not just Catholicism. He also talked about the inclusion of values and morality in myriad learning experiences throughout the years students attend Pope Francis.

Rivers concluded her presentation by indicating the school, which currently has a tuition of $9,500 before parish subsidies, has not yet set its tuition rate for the 2018-19 school year.

However, she indicated that approximately 40 percent of the current student body receives some type of tuition assistance from the Diocese or school grants and that “If a student wants to come to Pope Francis we will work with the family.”

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