Senior ambassadors Abbie Melvin, Alexis Dawson and Riley Lessard stand with Father Lopez Catholic High School principal Leigh Svajko on the first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Six Volusia County Catholic schools welcomed students back Wednesday, Aug. 14.

The schools are Father Lopez Catholic High School, Basilica School of St. Paul and Lourdes Academy, all in Daytona Beach; St. Brendan Catholic School in Ormond Beach; Sacred Heart Catholic School in New Smyrna Beach; and St. Peter Catholic School in DeLand.

Leigh Svajko, principal at Father Lopez, said “I respect educators everywhere, from all different walks of life and all different schools, (but) Catholic schools are different than other schools I believe because they are faith-based. The reason we exist is because of our faith.

“Our mission is so unique, really recognizing the dignity of each and every individual student, supporting each and every individual student and knowing them personally,” Ms. Svajko said. “One of the reason students come here is they want to be known; they don’t want to be just another face in the crowd. Our mission as a Catholic school helps us see each student as an individual and get to know them as an individual and support them on their journey.”

Senior Dante Picchiello and junior Bella Dorcy read a morning prayer and pledge of allegiance over the intercom to start the new school year for their classmates. Prayers begin and end each day. The high school has seven periods and students remain on campus all day.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University provides a faculty member to teach dual-enrolled students Principles of Aerospace and Unmanned Aircraft (Drones). Professor Randy Lynch, who died in a plane crash last year, was the instructor and a weather vane with a Cessna on it in his honor was placed at the school as a memorial. Barry University also offers a theology class on campus.

Carrie Rosolino, a second-year English teacher, said, “What I like about Catholic education is that the kids are really able to express their faith. Everything that we do is based on our Catholic faith. The way that we treat each other the way they study, the way they cooperatively learn. Everything is based on being an example of Jesus to each other. It allows kids the freedom to be able to say those things in a school environment, in a safe environment. I have found it enhances the learning process.”

Kathy Foster is a faculty member at Father Lopez who started coaching in 1986 and now works in enrollment and student activities.

“This is like my second family,” Ms. Foster said. “I have been hers so long and it’s so great to see the students come back and now I am actually having kids of students that went here. You really develop close bonds with the students. You see the growth from freshmen to senior year.”

Abbie Melvin is a senior student ambassadors for the school.

Abbie who is senior captain of the school’s national championship dance team, said, “I love being an ambassador because I feel really strongly about what we do here at Lopez and being able to share that with everyone coming in underneath me has been really fun. I want everyone to know how to do things and where to do things. I want everyone to have a good time here and really grow like I think all the seniors have. I just feel a lot of pride for my school and I want to share that with my community.”

Dawn Melcher, director of marketing, Eastern Region of the Diocese of Orlando, Office of Catholic Schools, stated in a press release, “Catholic schools offer an educational experience not only rooted in high academic standards, but also steeped in the Catholic faith and traditions. The Diocese of Orlando Catholic School approach embraces three components – offer a challenging curriculum that promotes creativity and actively engages students in exploration and inquiry; encourage students to live like Jesus through prayer and a variety of community service projects; and give students a wide range of activities, clubs and athletics to bring balance to their lives, help them discover their God-given gifts and talents, and learn the value of teamwork. From PreK3 & VPK4 through 12th grade, we help form the whole child –mind, body, and soul — within a safe and nurturing environment.”

The reason for the later start than public schools is Catholic schools operate on a different schedule.

“Our superintendent, Henry Fortier, determines the start date of our schools,” Ms. Melcher said. “In the past, we usually started a few days prior to the public schools, but as that start date drew closer to the beginning of August, our superintendent pushed it back a week so as to give our school communities ample time to rest in the summer and to prepare for the upcoming school year.”

Nearly 15,000 students within the Diocese of Orlando returned to the classroom for the first day of school.

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