Small School with Big Opportunities
Dedication to excellence and innovative programming helps St. Francis compete as a small school with big opportunities.
“We are a small school but when our students leave here they are well prepared to face any challenges,” said Principal Jaclyn Behnke. “Many of our students that are going to high school are put in advanced placement classes because of what they have learned here. Our students compete very well.”
A new program instigated at the beginning of the school year requires all students in kindergarten through grade eight to participate in Spanish classes. Previously the Spanish curriculum only included the middle school students.
“A lot of it is just getting the basics and introducing them to the Spanish language and culture,” said instructor Kelly Wheat.
The younger students play games and sing songs while learning to pronounce colors and numbers in Spanish. Students in the upper grades begin practicing simple conversations.
“When they are young that’s when they pick up on the language the best,” said Wheat, a parent of four children enrolled at St. Francis. “When they reach middle school, they’ll have a jump on things.”
Wheat uses the holiday Cinco De Mayo and other traditions as learning tools to study Spanish culture. She also plans a Fiesta at the end of the school year to celebrate her students’ accomplishments.
“I love the kids and I love the atmosphere of the school,” she said. “I know the names of every student when they come in. They become like your own family.”
Wheat is also the advisor for the school yearbook staff. A new on-line program will allow each student to design and personalize their own pages in the school yearbook.
“It’s an amazing program,” Wheat said. “They are taught how to create a Web page and how to personalize it. The kids are going to design their own class pages as well.”
An expanded technology lab housing 18 computers complete with flat screen monitors opened in the school last year. The technology lab is used by students in all grades beginning with the kindergarten class. Smart Boards were also incorporated into the classrooms to allow for better student interaction.
Emphasizing the importance of reading and language arts, several classes at St. Francis have added a Center based reading curriculum. The size of the school library was also doubled and moved to the main floor to improve accessibility for students and staff.
Without a full size gym to work with, phy ed instructor Patti Gessler has added several sports to her program which aren’t usually available in a school setting. An outdoor ice rink opened this winter on the school grounds for all students. Gessler’s biggest challenge was finding skates for every child. Snowshoeing is also done on school property for the second year. Last year the program received a grant from “Beyond Crayons” to purchase a majority of the snowshoes needed.
“They are learning life skills and healthy activities they can do for the rest of their lives,” Gessler said.
Gessler also established a Mileage Club in 2008 for students to track the number of laps completed at a walk on the playground. For every five miles walked the students receive tokens and have their names displayed in the school cafeteria.
“It keeps them moving on the playground,” she said. “The first and second graders are my best walkers. The students have walked more than 150 miles total.”
In the winter months several swim days are held at Riverside Athletic Club for open swimming. Students can also participate in team sports through the Merrill Area Public Schools or the Merrill Park and Recreation Department.