ST. MARY'S BLOG

CyberSaints

That’s what I call them. I also call them awesome.

Seventeen of our St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School students are competing in the middle school division of the Air Force Association’s (AFA) National CyberPatriot IX Competition. St. Mary’s participation is coordinated by Mrs. Lowery, computer teacher, who was instrumental in bringing this exciting program to St. Mary’s.

What is CyberPatriot?

CyberPatriot is a competition that gives middle school and high school students an opportunity to find out what it is like to be an information technology professional. Student teams are required to manage the network of a small company.  They are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems. They are then tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and “hardening the system” while maintaining critical services.

Is your head spinning? Mine is… but not our students’…

Our students are excited about this competition, and they are also learning from the best.

Four awesome St. Mary’s parents are generously donating their time and expertise to help our students learn and prepare for the competition rounds. The parents serve as coaches and mentors. And, Chiron Technology Services, where one of our coaches works, has offered use of a cyber training classroom!


Why is St. Mary’s participating in CyberPatriot?

Simply put… today’s students are tomorrow’s cyber professionals.

Career opportunities in the field of cyber defense and security are and will continue to be in high demand. CyberPatriot provides students with an introduction to this career path while also strengthening their teamwork and organization skills. It’s a win-win.

Go CyberSaints!

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For more information about the CyberPatriot program, please visit https://www.uscyberpatriot.org/.

Seventy-Six Trombones...

...led the big parade...

I admit it. Those are all the words I can remember from that very old song.

But I will definitely remember hearing our St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School band for the first time. It was impressive!

This band is a big deal. It is our inaugural band. We even have an inaugural band t-shirt. 

And, more importantly, we have fourteen 6th grade students who embraced the opportunity to stretch their musical selves. 

It all started with Dr. Kathleen Haley, St. Mary’s awesome music teacher, who wants our students to experience being in a band. As Dr. Haley said, “It is important that our middle school students have band experience so they have knowledge about and can determine their interest in participating in band at the high school level.”

So, our 6th grade students had an opportunity to choose their music class this year. They were able to choose between band class and their regular 6th grade music class. 

Fourteen students signed up for band class and only two of the students had prior experience with their chosen musical instrument. That means that twelve students had to start with the basics such as how to hold the instrument and how to make sounds.

Our band met during their music class which was held every day for six weeks. 

Did I mention they were under a little time crunch?

Dr. Haley and the band had a plan. They wanted to perform during our St. Mary’s football games and football season was already underway. 

No pressure, huh?

Within a few weeks they were performing at a St. Mary’s football game! What a treat!

What’s next for the St. Mary’s band?

They will be performing at our upcoming Pep Rally. And, they have an opportunity to continue their participation in band through a joint program with St. Mary’s and Aquinas High School. Two of our junior high students, who also participate in St. Mary’s band, have been participating in the joint program since last year.  

We are proud of our students and the impressive job they did. We hope they will remember the history they made being part of St. Mary’s inaugural band. We will!

It's a Zoo... Sort of

Well… it’s not quite a zoo here at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, but we are excited about our newest, four-legged addition!

Meet Nibbles.  She is two-years old and resides in Mrs. Bosch’s 4th grade (4A) classroom.  This is only her second week at St. Mary’s, and she seems to be getting used to her new surroundings.  Nibbles is keeping an eye on the students and hopping around the classroom when the students are at their specials classes, lunch, and recess. 

Nibbles is a welcome addition to Mrs. Bosch’s classroom.  Sadly, Jasper, 4A’s previous rabbit, passed away this past summer at the ripe old age of 13, which is pretty old in rabbit years.  Jasper was fun and had an “I-own-this-classroom” personality.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the students and they him.

Mrs. Bosch told her 4A class the sad news about Jasper at the beginning of the school year.  Fortunately, it did not take long for fate to step in.  Mrs. Bosch’s daughter told her mom that she knew of a rabbit that needed a home.  Mrs. Bosch knew exactly where that home would be. 

Nibbles is not our only four-legged friend at St. Mary’s.  Meet Bellarien (“Bella”), the bearded dragon.  Bella calls Mr. Allen’s Junior High science lab home. He is five years old and came to St. Mary’s during the last school year.  I am not sure if Bella can smile, but he seems to appreciate any and all who feed him his favorite food, meal worms.  

Outside Mr. Allen’s door is our fish tank with a blue tang named Dori, a few clown fish—all named Nemo, and a couple of other assorted species.  They are the school’s welcome wagon.  Just walk by the fish tank, and they will quickly approach the glass.  I like to think that is fish for “hi”.  Maybe not, but I do think they are as interested in us as we are in them.

We may not need to call the zookeeper quite yet, but until then, we enjoy having our four-legged and swimming friends at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. 

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School is a kindergarten-8th grade private Catholic school located in the beautiful and historic Summerville area of Augusta, Georgia.  For more information, please contact Christine Sweeney, Marketing Director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 706-733-6193.

Teenagers and Catholic Education

The following article is written by guest blogger Maureen Grady Lewis, awesome principal of Aquinas High School in Augusta, Georgia. Aquinas is a college preparatory, co-educational, Catholic high school that successfully prepares its students for college and for life. It’s worth reading especially if you are wondering about teenagers today and the benefits of Catholic education. Spoiler Alert: It has a happy ending.

My husband and I attended the Catholic vigil for a friend’s dad at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. He was someone who rarely if ever missed a Sunday Mass and truly valued Catholic education. His daughter and son-in-law here in town likewise made sacrifices to send their four kids to Catholic schools. We sat next to a teacher at Aquinas and an Aquinas family who had returned early from a weekend at the beach to attend the vigil.

I listened to the priest talk of the love that permeated the room as the 90+ year old Colonel lay dying for the past few days. He spoke of the laughter and the tears, the stories and the prayers, spoken and sung. Tears ran down my cheek, happy and sad for my friend’s family, and happy and sad as I recalled the similar last days of my own mom and dad, minus the singing because we Gradys were not gifted with musical genes.

From there, we went to St Mary on the Hill Catholic Church for the 5:30 Mass. We always sit in the first ten or so pews because I find it much easier to focus when I do so. I share that just so that you know I could not see many of the attendees at Mass, just those in front of us.

Before Mass even started I recognized numerous Aquinas students and alumni, some in town for the summer, others for the weekend. In addition I noted that several recent University of Georgia graduates (and Aquinas alum) were there for Mass. I could not help but smile to think that four years of living on a secular college campus had not tainted them to the point of no return (to the Church).

As the altar servers processed in, two of the four were current Aquinas students. As the collection was taken up, I recognized several handsome lads who are Aquinas grads. When Fr. Arnoldt talked of gratitude and hospitality in his homily, he spoke by name of Connor, a rising senior at Aquinas, whom Father said politely introduced not only himself but also his sister who was serving at Mass as well.

After Mass I saw numerous more graduates as well as several current students. One was in scrubs on the way to work the night shift at University Hospital; others had brought along younger siblings to Mass. One is soon to return to Louisiana for his second year as part of Teach for America. Another is a rising junior, busy playing baseball and conditioning for football, at least when he is not doing his summer reading.

One was home from Notre Dame; another is headed off to Emory Law School. The Aquinas parent I talked to before Mass has a daughter working on her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a son in the seminary.

My heart was warmed to see so many of our current and former students at Mass on a hot, July evening because fulfilling our Sunday obligation is the right thing to do.

Although I firmly believe that parents are the number one influence on the faith life of most teenagers, I found myself thinking that surely the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) surveys are correct: Students who attend Catholic high schools are eight times more likely to attend weekly Mass than teenagers who do not attend Catholic high schools.

So if you find yourself bemoaning teenagers today or the current state of our world, head to Mass. Perhaps, like me, you will be reminded of the beauty of youth and the hope that they bring to our community, our Church, and our world.

And, you might even recognize that the Catholic high school students of today are very often those in the Church pews tomorrow.

Maureen Grady Lewis
Principal, Aquinas High School
www.aquinashigh.org
July 17, 2016

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Guess what day it is?  Need a hint?  It’s the day that we can all remember with mixed emotions.  It’s the day that you could no longer sleep in until your little eyes opened, but it was also the day that held excitement and anticipation.  You guessed it… It is the first day of school!

At St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School…

The morning began with our students eagerly walking to their classrooms with parents in tow.  After a few quick minutes, hugs and goodbyes were exchanged.  Students began to get settled in their classrooms while parents gathered in the school lobby for a coffee reception. 

The morning bell rang and the PA system was awakened by a welcome announcement and morning prayers led by our new assistant principal and St. Mary’s alumnus, Ashley Fisher.  Then, the entire school, parents included, gathered outside for the opening day prayer and flag-raising ceremony with Fr. Jerry Ragan, pastor of St. Mary’s Church.

After the morning activities, I returned to my office. 

Just as I was getting settled, the age-old essay assignment “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” popped into my head.  It has been a long time since I thought about that assignment.  I then wondered – Is this assignment still popular in schools today?  As a grown up, I now know that its whole purpose was to dust off the summer break cobwebs from my brain.

I also wondered… What if students asked the teachers what they did on their summer vacation?  I think students would be very surprised to learn that teachers— especially our St. Mary’s teachers—did not spend their entire summer break lounging by the pool eating bonbons … okay… not the entire time.

For example…

Three of our teachers—Allison Hardy (1st grade), Allison Crow (3rd grade), and John Allen (Jr. High science)—traveled to Savannah, Georgia for the final curriculum development team meeting for the new Diocesan-wide science curriculum.  As with each subject curricula, St. Mary’s teachers are an integral part of curriculum development.  Our teachers bring their passion for teaching, expertise, classroom experience, and desire for the best for their students to the process.  Mrs. Hardy told me that she thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team and is excited to introduce the new science curriculum to her 1st grade students.

Karmen Lowery, computer teacher, was selected to participate in Augusta University’s week-long GenCyber Camp for teachers.  Mrs. Lowery told me that camp was a lot of fun.  She appreciated learning about some new resources that she and other St. Mary’s teachers can use in the classrooms.  What did Mrs. Lowery enjoy the most?  She especially enjoyed meeting other computer/technology teachers in the area.

Katharine Doss (2nd grade) and Allison Crow attended the National SDE Reading, Writing, Math & More! Conference for grades K-5.  The conference included fabulous speakers, lots of ideas for the classroom, and teacher resources.  Mrs. Doss and Mrs. Crow are looking forward to sharing all the good news from the conference with their fellow St. Mary’s teachers.

Back at home, Laura Kuhlke, reading interventionist, administered placement tests for our new students.  We are so excited to welcome many new families to St. Mary’s school for the 2016-2017 school year.  Thank you, Mrs. Kuhlke, for helping to make the summer placement testing process run so smoothly.

We thank all of our teachers and staff who work so diligently throughout the ENTIRE year for the benefit of our students.  We wish them, and our students, a wonderful 2016-2017 school year!

Let the school year begin!

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The process used by our curriculum development teams is the result of a partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Collaborative for Academic Excellence.  The ACE Collaborative is a professional development program that strengthens curriculum, instruction, and assessment by increasing collaboration among teachers.  This partnership resulted in a curriculum development process that has been successfully implemented for three new diocesan-wide curricula to date—social studies, math, and science.                                                                  

St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School is a private Catholic school located in the beautiful and historic Summerville area of Augusta, Georgia.  For more information, please contact Christine Sweeney, Marketing Director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 706-733-6193. 

"Have a Nice Day, Mrs. Cagle"

Sitting in carline, I am waiting for my first born to get out of school. We have piano today and I cannot help but think about this school and how beautiful it is. Not physically beautiful- it does not overwhelm me with gables and antiquity. The original building was built in the 60s and few things about the 60s scream “Beauty!” Rather, I am talking about the interior beauty of the school. 

Seven hours prior to this, I dropped off those little blonde curls. A sweet seventh grader opened the door, waited patiently for my pokey child to get out and gave her a high five before looking at me and saying, “Have a nice day, Mrs. Cagle.” As the door closed, I heard her say, “Morning, Eileen! Are you ready for a great day?!” Eileen responds with an emphatic YEAH before tearing across the playground and heading into her first grade classroom, those curls and that book bag bouncing the whole way.

It’s hard to argue with that being the start to your school day. 

Eileen’s teacher is the quintessential southern belle. She is incredibly soft spoken and adored by every one of her students. Mrs. Folsom has been teaching for 34 years, but you would never know it, as her enthusiasm is as fresh as the first day of her first year. She openly says, “I love teaching first grade. Kindergarten has just a little too much chaos for me. I need the structure of first grade students.”

Having volunteered throughout all of last year in Eileen’s kindergarten class, I understood what Mrs. Folsom meant. It is chaotic compared to first grade- but, I could see the method to the madness and the control in the chaos.

Eileen’s kindergarten teacher had “her number” from day one. Mrs. Wilkinson, one of the three kindergarten teachers, showered her students with both love and affection. The students knew where the lines were and worked hard to both push those boundaries and stay safely within the realm. 

As both a kindergartener and first grader, Eileen’s grades reflect a smart kid. That being said, I don’t know how she best learns and what magic tricks her teachers have to cease her incessant wiggles. The brains underneath those blonde curls clearly come from her mother. The wiggles? Probably from me, too.

This year, the first grade has a third class. Mrs. Tyre came from a Catholic school in Macon, GA. Her husband was relocated to Augusta. I get the impression that her previous principal called Joe McBride, St. Mary’s principal, and said something to the effect of, “If you have a need for a teacher, you don’t want to let this one get away. She is that amazing.”

And, y’all— she is. She truly is. 

One of Mrs. Tyre’s students is Eileen’s BFF… you can be as shocked as I am that first graders know what “BFFs” are. The students love her and those two girls argue/debate/decide who has the best teacher. 

The third teacher that rounds out first grade is Mrs. Hardy. She is a native Augustan and an alumnus of this sweet school. Mrs. Hardy has been teaching for 10 years and also coaches the girls cheerleading squad. If memory serves, I think she once donned the uniform and pompoms, too. Having three teachers and two assistants keeps the classes small, the children engaged, and the opportunities endless.

The clock is winding down. In about 6 minutes those blonde curls will pop into my car and she will regale me with the things she gets to do on Tuesday— Good Shepherd (religion class), gym (they like to play “cookie monster”), and computer class. She got a special treat in the lunch line today— breakfast!— and I will learn that she did not eat the biscuit with sausage gravy, but ate all her waffle and bacon. We will talk about what she did on the playground (probably some sort of version of “Store”) and she will read to me from her Tuesday homework book. After piano, we will head home and have supper before doing it all again the next day.

Those same little blonde curls will get dropped off on Monte Sano Avenue and a different seventh grader will help her out of the car before looking at me and saying, “Have a nice day, Mrs. Cagle.”

Knowing that she is encapsulated in love and learning the best from the best, I will. 

I absolutely will.

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Rachel Cagle, guest blogger, is a parent of three children and member of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. Her first born, Eileen, is in her second year at St. Mary’s School. When Rachel is not sitting in carline, she is wrangling the other two and is an active volunteer. Her husband, Dr. William Cagle, is a Pediatric Intensive Care physician at Children’s Hospital of Georgia. They call The Hill home and St. Mary’s the perfect place for their children.

Evening of the Arts: The Talent Show

Knock knock… who’s there?... interrupting cow… interrupting cow who?… moooo!  It was the opening line in a comedy bit by one of our 2nd grade students that kicked off the Talent Show.

St. Mary’s Evening of the Arts continued with the always-anticipated Talent Show.  Auditions are open to all kindergarten through 8th grade students making it a mix of grade levels and talents. This year’s talent pool included musicians, singers, a karate kid, Irish dancers, a cheer-dance team, and a 5th grade student who—according to my ears—easily hit all the notes in Adele’s Hello.  No kidding.

Although we have a large gymnasium with plenty of seating for even well-attended sports events, the ranks swell considerably when you add grandparents, siblings, other relatives, and friends who are eager to attend a student performance. 

Call me a smarter and wiser audience member… For many years, I would walk (read: run) to the gymnasium before the rest of the crowd to find a seat (and save one for the husband).  Not this year: I pulled the marketing director card and requested a front-row seat so I could take photographs.  This is the smarter and wiser part… and it was worth it.

The Evening of the Arts is a highlight in our busy school year.  We enjoy that our students share their artistic talents with us, and we appreciate that they and their talents are, indeed, gifts from God.

Evening of the Arts: The Gallery

School cafeteria by day, the space was transformed into the St. Mary’s Art Gallery for an evening. Patrons, also known as family, friends, and St. Mary’s alumni, perused the masterpieces. The gallery was bathed in colors, media, dimensions, and smiles—lots of smiles.  There were smiles by the students when they discovered their artwork, and smiles by family and friends who showed their appreciation for the artist and their creation.

The Evening of the Arts showcases selected works created by each of our kindergarten through 8th grade students.  Each piece has some type of meaning for the student; each piece may represent their “favorite”.  Was it the media used?  The colors?  The feeling of accomplishment?  Or, possibly, did creating that particular piece ignite their passion for art?

As I strolled through the art gallery, there was a deep sense of appreciation for Mrs. Jenny Storer, awesome St. Mary’s art teacher, and all that she taught her students this year.  I was also reminded of a story Mrs. Storer told me at the beginning of this school year – her first year teaching at St. Mary’s.  

She was traveling to Athens, Georgia last summer to visit a pottery studio.  St. Mary’s has a kiln in the art room.  Mrs. Storer, an acrylic artist, wanted to learn more about pottery so she could share it with her students.  

After arriving at the studio, Mrs. Storer was directed to a young woman named Michelle.  They began to talk and soon discovered that Michelle was a former St. Mary’s student!  She told Mrs. Storer that it was ironic that she was teaching pottery to Mrs. Storer, when it was the St Mary’s art room where Michelle created her first piece of pottery.   

We strive for a well-rounded Catholic education for our students because, as we know— you never know in what subject or St. Mary’s classroom someone discovers their passion. 

A Mom, a Car, and a First Grade Field Trip

Given the opportunity, I jump at the chance to volunteer at my daughter Eileen’s school, St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. There are plenty of places to get involved.

Recently, the first graders made the trek to Aiken, SC to the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center. Of course, when the note went home that drivers were needed, I signed up. At the time, I remember thinking, “Hmmm… I wonder where the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center is? Must be near Fort Gordon.” 

Imagine my surprise when I get the address. 

“AIKEN!?” I scream. 

Aiken.

I packed snacks. I packed drinks.

Four little girls in their perfect Mass uniforms eagerly walked to my car on the day of the trip, carrying their car seats, and giggling the whole way. Twenty minutes and one wrong turn later, the kids are in a classroom acting as “junior scientists” learning about magnets. They performed experiments to determine what things are magnetic and what things are not. They learned how to drive a car from South Carolina to Oregon using nothing but magnets.

FYI: It is harder than you think to steer a small toy car with a magnet. Fortunately, the kids did not need to ask for directions or stay on the interstate. 

After learning about “cow magnets” (something that cows swallow to catch all the metal they eat) and how compasses work, they headed downstairs to the planetarium. 

When I was a kid, the planetarium came to the school and was set up in the cafeteria. We took turns going into the blow-up tent and learning about the constellations. Childhood has advanced in the last twenty (ok, thirty) years. 

The students went to a real planetarium and were dazzled with, not just the constellations, but also the stories behind them. Hearing those little “ohhhhhs” and “ahhhhhs” of amazement when the lights dimmed and stars came out made me smile. Oh, to be a kid.

After a sack lunch, the kids loaded back up, tired from their adventures and ready to get back to school. It was a fun day for the kids and a fun one for the parents who volunteered. We got a chance to see budding scientists in the making.  

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Rachel Cagle, guest blogger, is a parent of three children and member of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. Her first born, Eileen, is in her second year at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. 

Going to State!

You’re thinking sports, right?  It may be because you heard about our award-winning athletic program at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, but did you know that our students also successfully participate in academic competitions?

Two of our awesome 7th grade students recently qualified for competitions at the state level -- Alex C. for MATHCOUNTS and Jude W. for the National Geographic Geography Bee.  

Alex C. and Jude W.

MATHCOUNTS        

MATHCOUNTS is a national math enrichment, coaching, and competition program for middle school students.

Alex qualified for state based on his strong results from the regional competition held at Augusta University.   He was invited to compete at the state level with other Georgia middle-school students at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Alex arrived at Georgia Tech ready for competition.  All students first competed in two timed rounds.  At the end of the second round, the top ten students were invited to participate in the countdown round.  Although Alex was not in the top ten, Mrs. Donna Skidmore, Junior High math teacher, said that he did a great job and represented St. Mary’s well.  

What did Alex like best about the competition?  He liked that the event was held at Georgia Tech and it was very organized.  Alex also told me that the day went by very quickly.  He must have been having fun!

Alex is definitely looking forward to next year.  He has his sights set on a spot in the top ten.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC GEOGRAPHY BEE

Jude was one of the top 100 students in grades 4 through 8 to qualify at the state level for the Geography Bee recently held at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I am hoping that no one had trouble finding the Geography Bee.  

Being in the top 100 in your state is quite impressive. Think about it:  National Geographic reports that millions of students from thousands of schools in the United States participate in school-level geography bees.  The competition is then narrowed down to the top 100 students in each state who advance to their state’s competition.  

What did Jude like best about the competition?  He liked the challenge of the competition.  Jude also liked that he learned some new things.  Did you know there are tree kangaroos? 

As the year wraps up and eyes start to look towards summer, we can reflect on another successful year for academic competitions.  St. Mary’s upcoming Academic Awards Ceremony may be a long one.

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For more information about MATHCOUNTS and the National Geographic Geography Bee, please visit www.mathcounts.org and www.nationalgeographic.com/geobee/.

It Was a TerraNova Week

It was an unusually quiet week at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School.  It certainly was not the week to wear tap shoes in the halls.

The 1st through 8th grade students were taking their TerraNova standardized test.  Published by CTB/McGraw-Hill, TerraNova is our only standardized test.   Its purpose is to assess student achievement in language arts, mathematics, reading, science, social studies, spelling, and vocabulary.

So, I hung up my tap shoes and did my best not to be noticed.  Fortunately, the tests did not actually comprise the entire week.  Classes, including specials classes (art, computer, library, music, PE, and Spanish), were held on a modified schedule. 

I almost forgot about testing week since there is not much fanfare leading up to it.  The teachers do not spend teaching time preparing the students for the tests unless you count reminding students to get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast as preparation.

Yes, there has been a lot of negative discussion in the news about standardized tests.  The biggest discussion seems to center on too much required test taking in public schools.  So, why would a private school even bother with a standardized test?

St. Mary’s and other Catholic schools in our Diocese, the Diocese of Savannah, use TerraNova results to show how our students compare with other students nationwide using nationally-based standards. 

Our teachers use TerraNova results to identify students’ needs and achievements with regard to lesson planning.  St. Mary’s also uses the aggregate scores to analyze curriculum strengths and weaknesses for internal review and improvement.  TerraNova results provide us with important information that we use to make our curriculum and teaching even better than it already is.    

How do our students perform on the TerraNova test?  Our students consistently score well above the national average.  And, our students do not seem to mind taking the tests; it’s a small price to pay for a no-homework week.

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School is located in the beautiful and historic Summerville area of Augusta, Georgia.  For more information, please contact Christine Sweeney, Marketing Director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 706-733-6193.

"The Hill" Continued...

Both my husband and I were raised in the Catholic faith; we wanted the same for our children.  So, we would take our young family to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church for Mass. 

Any mother who has attempted to take any child to Church, to Mass, to Temple, to the grocery store knows that this is, rarely, a successful endeavor.

There were readings? We sang? There was a homily? These things I cannot remember- what I can tell you is that Cheerios can be washed out of noses, babies don’t choke on a bottle- they throw up, and when the older brother causes the younger sister to cry, the threat of a trip to the bathroom with mom is REAL. We were blessed with two beautiful children and further blessed that homily quizzes were not given after Mass.

My darling children were a distraction… cute… but a distraction.

Then one Sunday I found myself at Mass without my husband and children.

Although it felt strange to be at Mass without the rest of the family, I decided to focus on the positive.  I could pay attention to the entire Mass--including the homily.  It took a little while, but I recall thinking that I did a decent job staying focused (although I do remember a little voice in my head that sounded like one of my kids saying “mom” periodically).

Then it was time for the priest and his homily, and I was ready and focused.  But, there would be no homily.  Seriously.  This is the “God has a sense of humor” part of the story.

There was a guest speaker, Bob Larcher.  Mr. Larcher was the then-principal of Aquinas High School, the Catholic high school in Augusta.  His talk was about Catholic Schools Week and the benefits of Catholic education.

As I listened to Mr. Larcher talk, memories of my very own Catholic elementary school were dusted off from the back of my mind.  It was actually more than memories; it was also feelings.  The big memory was that I loved my elementary school!  It was my school.  It was my second home. 

Gosh… it was a great talk, and the Holy Spirit (no doubt about it!) helped me to really listen to the message and, more importantly, remember. 

My husband could tell that something was up when I arrived home.  I told him that our children need to go to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School.  They need to receive a Catholic education and all that it has to offer – especially academically and spiritually.  He smiled.

You see… that was my husband’s plan all along.  He’s a quiet guy, and he never said much about it.  He certainly was not pressuring me into any decision.  And, if he prayed about it, his prayers were certainly answered.

Many years have come and gone.   We eventually returned to this side of town.  The more we were on “The Hill”— the more we appreciated all that the area has to offer.   We are older now— wiser, too.  We learned that living across town is what our family needed to appreciate what we now call home.

We love our new “old” home, our neighbors, and the entire area.  We enjoy being in close proximity to everything that Augusta has to offer. 

My children have since graduated from St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School where they received a wonderful, well-rounded education.  They are both doing well at Aquinas High School.  My husband and I are grateful for the Catholic education our children, actually our entire family, have received.  And, yes, like me, our children do think of St. Mary’s and Aquinas as both their school and second home.  As my son has said, “Aquinas is more than a school; it’s a family.”

I like to think that my children will not have any trouble remembering their Catholic education experience when deciding on schools for their children.  If they do, God can ask Grandma to remind them.

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School is a private Catholic school located in the beautiful and historic Summerville area of Augusta, Georgia.  Please contact Christine Sweeney, Marketing Director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 706-733-6193 for more information.

"The Hill"

There are families who visit our school and remark they did not know about the area where the school is located.  The remarks are usually along the lines of “It’s beautiful here.  We had no idea this area existed when we were house hunting.” 

St.  Mary on the Hill Catholic School is located on “The Hill,” a beautiful and historic area in Richmond County, Augusta, Georgia.

It is near downtown and close to the river.  Far enough away to prevent the founders from dying of malaria, close enough to enjoy the breeze.  It is the very center of Augusta--the hub.  There is no map showing the clear cut lines of “where” The Hill is, because it is more than roads and signs.  The lines of the area are gray, moving with the ebb and flow of the people.  It’s the heart and soul of all that is Augusta.

What’s so great about The Hill?  Everything. 

In addition to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School and our vibrant parish, The Hill is where you can immerse yourself in Augusta’s history and call one of the charming Southern homes (big or small, new or old) yours.  You can enjoy the arts and great restaurants, have access to educational and medical resources, and stroll the Summerville campus of Augusta University – St. Mary’s awesome next door neighbor.   And, if you are lucky enough to get a badge, you are practically a five iron from the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Golf Tournament.

Sometimes though, we do not always appreciate what we have, but with age comes wisdom. 

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I lived not far from “The Hill.”  We thought that we needed newer and better.  We were living in Richmond County and thought we had to have a Columbia County address.

We thought it was a must because we were new parents.  We needed to be in the “better” of the public school districts and enjoy all the benefits of whatever “better” could be.

We sold our nice home in a nice Richmond County neighborhood with nice neighbors and moved into our “better” home across town.  The new neighborhood was fun and we enjoyed living there.

In the blink of an eye, our oldest was about to turn five years old and kindergarten was rapidly approaching.  A neighbor noticed official-looking people walking through the woods behind our homes; surveyors.  They were going to build a new Columbia County elementary school in our backyard.  All I would have to do is open my back gate and walk my children to school!   Applaud here…

So, that was the extent of my education plan for my children, but it was not necessarily my husband’s plan.

It is great to have a plan, but there is one undeniable thing that I have learned from my attempts to implement one of my plans.  God has a sense of humor. 

To Be Continued…

Taking Time to Play

Finally, that big, round, bright light was visible in the sky.  I did not count the number of consecutive rainy days, but there were a few more than normal.  I took notice because moving to Augusta 20+ years ago was in direct relation to the wet (and cold) northern winters.  I still remember them and remember that enough was enough.  My last northern winter was particularly unpleasant.   It can be summarized in two words – ice storm.  For more explanation, how about – dead car and frozen pipes.  

I still fondly remember my first visit to Augusta.

Hours after shoveling snow out of my driveway, the plane landed at Bush Field Airport.  It was sunny, in the 70s, and flowers were in bloom.  I tossed my coat in the back of the rental and decided that I would accept the job, any job, in Augusta for a song.   

Where am I going with all this reminiscing?  Twenty years later I still enjoy bragging about the mild winters in Augusta with family and friends up north, maybe because it feels a little like a competition.  It’s not that I am overly competitive; it’s just that the winter weather discussion is one of those times when the odds are usually stacked in my favor.  Just saying…

Now that I work at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, I also appreciate our Augusta winter climate for allowing us to enjoy an important part of our school day—recess.  Our students socialize with their friends and burn off energy on our expansive playground.   Kids are bundles of energy, and they need to move.  In addition to playground climbing equipment and swing sets, our students play soccer, football, basketball, four square, and more.  

As I write this blog post, our 1st through 3rd grade students are having fun on the playground.  Our awesome principal, Mr. Joe McBride, is on the playground with them.  Recess gives him an opportunity to interact with the students.  It is also why Mr. McBride knows ALL 430 students by name!  He definitely does not sit in his office all day.

Although there is a little chill in the air, this Augusta winter should provide us with many more fun recess days.  It’s not like we had to shovel our driveway this morning.

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School is a private Catholic school in the beautiful and historic Summerville area of Augusta, Georgia.  Please contact Christine Sweeney, marketing director, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 706-733-6193 for more information.

Thank You, Georgia Power

It was one of those days when I was happy to see the power company.   Although nice folks work there, my electric bill is not necessarily something for which I look forward.  But, Georgia Power’s recent visit to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School was a highlight in my day. 

We welcomed back Mrs. Teresa Cobb from Georgia Power’s Learning Power Program.  She was here to teach our 3rd and 4th grade students about energy, how it works, and tips on being energy efficient.  Think of it as an in-school field trip.  Both fun and interactive, the field trip comes to you.

I am just speculating that teaching elementary school students about energy is not necessarily an easy task.  You cannot see it and most of us probably do not even think about it (until the electric bill arrives).  We plug in our phones, they charge, and life goes on.  I want to say something that starts with the phrase “This generation…” but then I quickly realize how much I will sound like my grandmother.

Through hands-on lessons, our 3rd grade students learned about heat transfer, reading thermometers, and discovering differences between an insulator and a conductor.

Our 4th grade students also participated in hands-on lessons.  They learned about open and closed circuits and finding insulators and conductors with every day materials.

St. Mary’s appreciates Georgia Power’s commitment to education.  Our students appreciate that Georgia Power puts the “FUN” in an in-school field trip.  And, our school parents should appreciate how much their children know about energy efficiency.   Let’s hope the next electric bill is a pleasant surprise.

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School extends a big thank you to Teresa Cobb from Georgia Power’s Learning Power Program.  This visit was Mrs. Cobb’s third visit to the school in as many years.  We are already looking forward to her visit next year!  For more information about Georgia Power’s Learning Power Program, please visit www.learningpower.org/georgia/.

Are You Smarter than St. Mary's Academic Team?

It was the question that quickly flashed through my mind as I watched our Academic Team scrimmage in the school gym in front of the 5th through 8th grade students, teachers, and parents.  It was the day before the team was scheduled to compete in the PAGE* Academic Bowl’s regional competition.   It was the day that showed all that our St. Mary’s team was ready. 

Some questions were easy, but many were not.  It was impressive to listen to the students answer those tough questions.  The PAGE Academic Bowl reminds me a little of the TV game show, Jeopardy.  As in Jeopardy, the questions range in difficulty and cover a wide variety of topics—math, science, geography, current events, world leaders, language arts, etc.  The differences are that in the Academic Bowl you do not select your topic (Alex, I’ll take music for $200) or answer with a question, but your team has to be prepared to buzz in first with the answer.

The 7th and 8th grade Academic Team students began preparing for the competition immediately following Labor Day.  They would arrive early to school two mornings a week to practice. 

Four of our awesome Junior High teachers—Mrs. Skidmore, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Fain, and Mrs. Weber—are St. Mary’s Academic Team coaches.  Mrs. Skidmore told me that the Academic Team was organized a little differently this year as this year there were no tryouts. All 20 students who wanted to be on the team were participants.  This gave all the students a great opportunity to experience preparing for the Academic Bowl.  

The practice sessions ran a little differently too.  They included scrimmage opportunities where scores were counted.  Total scores were tallied and the top 10 participants were invited to compete in the regional competition.    

Our St. Mary’s team did a great job in the competition.  They brought home a regional runner-up trophy. 

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School likes the challenge of academic competitions.   In addition to the PAGE Academic Bowl, St. Mary’s participates in the Future City Competition, various literary/writing competitions, MATHCOUNTS, Catholic Math League, National Geographic Bee, Scripps National Spelling Bee, and more.  Our students enjoy challenging their brains.  Go Saints!

*PAGE stands for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation.  More information about the PAGE Academic Bowl can be found at www.pagefoundation.org/.

They Came with Packages, Boxes, and Bags...

They are the ten awesome physiologists from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University who spent a morning with our 7th grade students.

Their packages, boxes, and bags were filled with cool things to teach our students about physiology and how much “PhUn” it can be!  

How cool?  Try a 12-pound cow’s heart kind of cool.

The morning was filled with interactive, hands-on demonstrations set up in four stations that focused on understanding the body’s response to exercise and stress.  Students learned about heart rate, lung function, blood pressure, and the functions of cells and tissues through microscopes and experiments.

Reflecting on the morning, I am left wondering if one or more of our 7th grade students may now be considering a career as a physiologist.  

I would not be surprised.  It was that good of a morning.

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More information about physiology and career options can be found at The American Physiological Society website at www.the-aps.org.

You may notice that our students are having an out-of-uniform day in the photos.  Our entire school had an important task that morning.  We were sending off the Aquinas High School Fightin’ Irish football team as they began their trip to Atlanta, GA to play in the GHSA Class A private school state championship game at the Georgia Dome.  We gathered outside with signs and banners to cheer on the team as the bus traveled past St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School.  

Talented Elves

It happened again!  It must have been Santa’s elves who visited the Dairy Queen on Central Avenue in Augusta, Georgia.  For close to twenty years, the elves have left their handiwork on the Dairy Queen windows during this special time of year.  The handiwork?  It’s a little Christmas artwork.

We confess… we actually know the elves.  They are our awesome 4th grade students of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, and they spent part of a morning creating their masterpieces.  Some are individual paintings; others are a team effort.  Because of the number of 4th grade students, the homerooms went to Dairy Queen in two shifts to complete their art project.

Yes, the students have fun painting the windows, but it is not as easy as you think.  They need to paint their drawing in reverse so the correct side is visible from the outside of the building.  The students first sketch their idea and then plan how to paint it in reverse.  This year’s creations include a Nativity scene, Christmas trees, presents, a snow globe, Rudolph, Snoopy, and even a Christmas Yoda.

 

When you are out and about this Christmas season please stop by and enjoy a double-dipper treat at the Dairy Queen on Central Avenue – yummy food and a Christmas wonderland! 

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St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School extends its appreciation to Dairy Queen for so graciously continuing this longstanding and special tradition in the Augusta community. 

The Future Has Arrived

Our 8th grade students are giving us a glimpse of the future with cities they imagined and built for the Future City Competition, a national STEM competition.   Future City is a required five-part science project for all 8th grade students at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. 

The city models are built to scale and each one has at least one moving part (that’s required).  Some models even light up (not required).  The cities are impressive considering they use mostly recycled materials.  The use of recycled materials is both a creative way to build the cities and helps each team stay under the $100 budget limit set by the Future City organizers.  It’s interesting to see how some materials are recycled.  For example, the Iris City team used an Xbox circuit board in its industrial zone. 

You could sense a mix of excitement and a little nervous energy on November 23rd -- the day the scale models arrived at school.  The students were excited to show off their creations, and some were also a little nervous about the judging portion of the competition.  All the teams eagerly presented their cities to the judges and were prepared to answer some tough questions.

After the presentations, the judges were challenged to identify the top five teams for the Regional Competition in January 2016 at the University of South Carolina—Aiken.   The results were announced and the top five teams, in order, include:  Tranzurka, Christopolis, Energeia, Keina Abfall, and Ocir Otreup.  The judges reported that the Tranzurka team’s use of recycled materials and outstanding presentation gave it the edge.

 

  1st Place – Tranzurka

Congratulations to all of our 8th grade students for their hard work and good luck to the teams advancing to the Regional Competition.  Go Saints!

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More information about the Future City Competition can be found on the St. Mary’s Blog at http://stmaryssaints.org/blog/227-meet-george-jetson or http://www.futurecity.org/.

A Carton of Milk

It’s the week before Thanksgiving and a carton of milk—specifically the December 4th expiration date on the carton of milk—caused me to have a bit of stress at the grocery store.  Why?  Raise your hand if you agree that 2015 has flown by.  I know that I am not the only one with my hand in the air.  As a child, time definitely did not pass so quickly, especially those LOOOOONG days leading up to Christmas morning.

But, here we are… days away from Thanksgiving and December is within earshot. 

As I was about to start the ole’ “let’s stress about the holidays” routine, life got in the way or, actually, life at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School got in the way.

Sitting in my office the following morning, one of our 8th grade students was leading the entire school with our morning prayers and intentions.  A short time later, Mrs. Patricia Gormley, library/media center specialist, asked a 1st grade homeroom about why they are thankful.  It was an absolute privilege to listen to those sweet voices respond. 

Just as I was placing envelopes in the outside mailbox, a school parent was returning from the Adoration Chapel with some of our 3rd grade students in tow.  They took a few minutes out of their busy school day to visit Jesus. 

From the school office I saw our principal, Mr. Joe McBride, looking out the front door.  The skies were dark; the rain was starting to fall.  He told our 1st and 4th grade teachers and students they would not be able to attend their weekly Mass.  They had religion class instead.

All this happened within the first hour of the school day.  So exactly what was so important at the grocery store that it caused me to stress?   So what if the expiration date on a carton of milk reminded me that life is moving along maybe more quickly than I desire? 

That first hour of my workday reminded me to focus on being grateful.  I work at a wonderful school where Jesus is welcome.  For that I am very grateful.  He is most definitely the center of our school.  He is that presence that moves our day along.  He helps our teachers create a caring and supportive environment for our students, and He helps our students excel in a very challenging academic curriculum. 

During every school day here at St. Mary’s, Jesus helps grownups and students alike achieve the balance we all need.   He helps us remember what is truly important and to be grateful for all that we have.

Happy Thanksgiving!