This interview feature on Jennifer Maier, who, at this time, was the principal of my grade school, St. Joseph’s School in Blakeslee, Ohio, originally appeared in the Catholic Chronicle, which is based in Toledo, Ohio. St. Joseph’s is currently a closed school. She and many others were my schoolmates during my time there from 1980 to 1988…
St. Joseph School, grades 1-8, was first established in 1874, but closed in 1887. The new
school opened in 1920 and has been operating ever since. In 1958, a new school building was begun and was dedicated in 1960 – the former school building is now used as a gym. In 1989, a kindergarten class was started at St. Joseph’s and the Young 5 program, in coordination with the public school program, was added in 1993.
What’s the total number of students enrolled for the upcoming school year?
What factors distinguish performances/testing levels typically being higher in rural schools than urban areas? Personnel/environmental factors probably play a big role, but does allowing more freedom and fewer restrictions promote higher learning even though the latest technology might not be available?
Because of the smaller knit community, at least at our rural school, the students encourage and help each other learn. This benefit promotes higher learning across the age groups. Even though we are a rural school, we have worked very hard to stay competitive with the latest technology. We have a networked IBM lab and all classrooms have networked computers, both IBM and Apple. This technology also enhances the performance of our students.
In my experiences at St. Joseph’s, church and getting a detailed understanding about God was very important to my life. The parish priest would even talk to boys in our class about sex education and other important life issues. The small classes really give you that needed attention and direction. What are your comments/experiences about politician discussions about taking God out of the pledge and other attempts to reduce the amount of religious teaching in schools today?
It is an interesting discussion that is going on. We are fortunate in the Catholic school to be able to discuss all of the facets of each of the positions and to see why we take the position we do. God is in the classrooms here, as I believe he is in the public schools. Our teachers can discuss religious topics in all subjects, not just religion. We say the Our Father and the Pledge every morning, and we feel our students benefit from that.
Do most community-based rural schools actively try to attract new business and other commercial attractions to increase enrollment?
At least for us, we are not working to recruit new business but to establish relationships with the existing businesses in our area. There are many opportunities to explore with the businesses that are already in the area. We are focusing on those areas instead of as a school, trying to attract new business to the area.
What are some of the most common misunderstandings/misconceptions about small schools?
That the kids “miss out” on something. We have an outstanding course of study that our teachers teach. We add a variety of special classes, art, physical education, music, computers. We have the DARE program, the library staff reads to our younger students. Our students participate in band, not just in our school but also with the larger band of the public school. There are sporting activities that our students can participate in that aren’t school related. The older students help plan social activities like school parties or dances. The opportunities are immense here.
What are your most memorable experiences at St. Joe’s?
Attending school here was the most important part of my formative years. The entire experience was wonderful. I remember so many happy things from going to school here: the Christmas plays, the field trips, the service projects, the teachers. So much of this school has touched me and helped me develop into the person that I am today. I don’t think I would be where I am now had I not attended St. Joseph’s school.
What do St Joseph alumni say to you about the school today?
It seems so much has changed, yet much remains the same. There are many activities students now are doing that the alumni remember as well. But much has changed, with the addition of the Young 5 and Kindergarten program, the technology enhancements, changes in staff, etc.
Would it make a difference if more teachers were available for students or is it dependant on if student’s homes are rural or urban (rural homes tend to be unlocked and they know people more/more crime in city)?
This is a wonderful environment for our students. Our teachers are here for them before school, after school, etc. The teachers are close to the community and know and see the students outside of school.