Jack Thompson, a sophomore at St. Mary’s High School, praises his grade school, Annunziata, for the quality of its education, its Catholic values and its faculty.
The school, operated by the archdiocese’s Department of Special Education, teaches students how to get along with others, Jack said, and is open to the needs of the students. “Teachers listen and respect others. They help students prepare well for high school by giving the right amount of schoolwork and homework,” he said.
“They see how each student learns, individually or with others,” Jack added.
Jack’s dad, Tim Thompson, said, “Annunziata was a blessing to us. We live in the city, and I didn’t think there were a lot of good options here. We absolutely wanted him to have the Catholic component of his education. That was huge.”
Tim said they needed another option because Jack had learning delays and needed a smaller class size. Jack attended Annunziata for grades 2-8, and it helped prepare him for success in high school.
“It was hard for me to take him out of the grade school he was at,” Tim Thompson said, noting that he initially thought Jack would return in a year or so to the parish school, Our Lady of Sorrows, which was within walking distance and the place where Mark’s cousins attended. Soon, however, Tim Thompson realized Annunziata was the best fit for Mark.
Annunziata and South City Catholic Academy are locations for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, speech and language deficits and autism-spectrum disorders. The archdiocese program focuses on a child’s strengths, abilities and current successes and potential for the future, rather than on his or her disability. It incorporates Catholic teaching and guidance throughout all course offerings.
Parishioners of Annunziata Parish and the archdiocese help support Annunziata, which receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Kathy Remaklus taught with the Department of Special Education for 21 years and came to Annunziata from the Academy of St. Sabina. Her class has students in kindergarten through third grade. It’s her calling, she said.
“I love watching their expression when they first learn, like someone who doesn’t know how to read and then they read a sentence,” she said.
She works to promote God and the Church in her classroom, and her students pray throughout the day.
Vicki Houghton returned to teaching as a substitute in a public school after her children were grown. She earned a master’s degree and was thrilled to be hired at Annunziata because she loves to talk about Jesus. She’s taught at Annunziata for 20 years and now teaches junior high students.
“I try to figure out what type of strategy I can use to help them the most,” Houghton said.
Prayers are important to her students, including prayers related to current events. “I encourage them to pray for other people. Right now we are praying for homeless people and firefighters since we had Fire Prevention Week. The children come up with these prayers,” she said.
Annunziata has a range of students, she said, noting that some are gifted, yet learning disabled. Graduates of the school have excelled in high school and college, with some now working as doctors, nurses and other professions.
'Champions for students
The Kirk family of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood point to small class sizes and individual attention as key components of Annunziata School.
Sophie Kirk is in the sixth grade and has attended the school for about four years. Sophie had signed up to start at Annunziata the semester following Christmas, yet was invited to take part in the Christmas play, getting the role of Mary.
“She was welcomed with open arms. The kids take care of each other. She’s very upbeat about school. There are no issues,” Bruce Kirk said of his daughter.
It’s a very accepting community, said his wife, Liz Kirk, adding that the teachers take on the role of “being champions for their students.” Best of all, she said, students are taught about their faith.
Sophie’s grandmother, Christine Davis, added that the teachers and classmates show the patience that is needed and provide the students with confidence.
“They’re not left behind,” Bruce Kirk said.
The archdiocesan Department of Special Education, the first diocesan special education department in the nation, provides Catholic special education for children with disabilities.
Now part of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Formation, the Department of Special Education was established in 1950 by Msgr. Elmer Behrmann, who considered the education of children with developmental disabilities an issue of social justice.
Sister Luanne Boland, SSND, worked in the department from 1963-92, then served again from 2007-17. “This touches my heart to see that this program is still moving forward into the future,” she said.
“It’s an opportunity for parents who want a quality education for their children. All God’s children with special needs deserve that,” she said.