Third- and fourth-grade choral club students at St. Stephen Protomartyr School recently gathered in church singing their hearts out and then begging their music teachers to let them sing the school song.
And sing it they did, with gusto, ending with “Red, white, red, white, go Sharks, go Sharks.”
The song was the result of a class project a few years ago, with each grade adding a line and musical tips.
The students gushed about the choral club and their music classes. “They make it fun,” third-grader Eva Clark said of the volunteer teachers Anne and David Borgmeyer. “I absolutely love them.”
Experienced, talented educators lead the fine arts at St. Stephen, an anchor in the Holly Hills neighborhood of St. Louis, offering a faith-based, challenging education since 1927.
The Borgmeyers have taught music there for about 35 years. They started teaching, a stop-gap when the music teacher fell ill, when their son was a kindergartener. Before long, they were teaching music to all the grades, and it no longer was temporary.
They had four sons who attended the school, and now they have grandchildren there. The Borgmeyers are rooted in the parish since 1979. David Borgmeyer has a dental practice in the neighborhood, and Anne is a nurse practitioner. They met in a choir as students at Saint Louis University. “It’s ministry,” Anne said. “We love doing music at liturgies, prayer services and school Masses.”
In recent years, they’ve had 90-100 students in the choral club, though this year it’s about 50 due to COVID-19 issues. They’ve practiced virtually after school and did some recordings of Christmas songs, learning to use technology to sing together while distanced. A YouTube video was shared with senior residences, the Sisters of St. Joseph community, parishioners, family members and others. Our Lady of Life Apartment residents watched it on their in-house channel.
The Borgmeyers teach liturgical, seasonal and classical music along with music appreciation. They also have bell-ringers who are part of the music program.
David, originally a theater major in college, directs the eighth-grade play, a virtual performance of “Virtually Ever After,” a series of nine skits to be shown at the end of Catholic Schools Week. “We both like singing and we think it’s good for the kids to do some performing,” he said.
Danait Hagos, a seventh-grader at St. Stephen, appreciates her art teacher, Mary White, for the variety of projects she assigns and for giving students the freedom to explore the art on their own with just the right direction. “She makes it enjoyable,” Danait said.
White retired about four years ago after teaching literature to junior high students at St. Stephen for about 20 years. Over the years, she also taught art to her class. At St. Stephen, she picked up other classes when other teachers didn’t want to teach art or were busy with other subjects. By the time Dolan retired, she was teaching art in grades five through eight in addition to literature. Her principal asked her if she’d return just to teach art, grades three through eight. White teaches two classes three days a week, bringing her art cart into the classrooms.
One of her students a couple years ago was among the state winners in a national contest. “I like students to experience a lot of different things, not just drawings,” White said. “We do oil pastels, printmaking, art on foil, foil embossing. I try to introduce a couple new things every year.”
Through the years, White has had students design a holy card for Catholic schools week, with a note on the back, placed in the church bulletin. She’s asked students to design Jesse tree symbols and a form of stained-glass windows with Advent symbols and Christmas scenes.
At the end of the year, St. Stephen has an art fair for parishioners to see the students’ work. An eighth-grade student told White she’d seen some of the work previous eighth-graders did and thought she wouldn’t be able to do it. But with the tips she received from White, it was much easier than she imagined, she told White.
Ann Dolan can be found playing flute professionally with the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis, the Union Avenue Opera and other ensembles.
She has a degree in music education, teaches band at St. Stephen Protomartyr School, and gets a kick out of it, too.
Dolan taught band at St. Stephen in the late 1990s, then stepped aside for other pursuits before returning in 2009. She teaches two days a week for a couple hours, though currently the lessons are virtual. Fewer students took band this year because it’s virtual, allowing Dolan to give them more attention and help them refine their skills.
Students can start learning to play an instrument in fourth grade. Dolan teaches flute, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet, making for a nice ensemble. She’ll make an exception sometimes, such as for a girl from last year’s graduating class who came to her in fourth grade and desperately wanted to play drums.
They use a computer program called SmartMusic, which allows students to play along with the sound of other instruments.
Dolan brags about her students. Last year’s eighth-graders, she said, sounded good on the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane” though they couldn’t perform it in person because of the impact of the pandemic. This year’s group did a virtual Christmas concert that was placed on the school website. “They all have a pretty decent ear. I enjoy all of them,” Dolan said.
>> Catholic Schools’ offerings
Fine arts promotes
an appreciation and sharing of culture while enhancing students
cognitive abilities, said Maureen Lovette, director of academic planning
and programs for elementary schools for the Office of Catholic
Education and Formation of the archdiocese. Fine arts encourage
creativity, critical thinking, risk taking self- confidence, expression
and collaboration, Lovette explained.
St. Stephen Protomartyr School is typical of Catholic schools
that provide a curriculum preparing students to be successful in high
school and to live their faith through prayer and community outreach.
addition to fine arts staff, St. Stephen’s faculty includes a learning
consultant, school counselor and help from the English Tutoring Project.
The curriculum includes Spanish instruction, STEM (science, technology,
engineering and math), physical education and Chromebooks integrated
into all classes. Extracurricular activities include a science club,
robotics team, Bellarmine Speech Club and more.
Videos from the school’s fine arts are also found at www.youtube.com/ststephenprotomartyr.