By NANCY CZABALA
FLORENCE — Visiting St. Anthony will make you want to revisit elementary school. Diverse programs with a focus on the performing arts emphasize each child’s individual gifts.
At this Catholic school, kids are encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities that stimulate creative abilities. Drama, dance, music, art and a myriad of performances throughout the year, add a touch of excitement to everyday studies.
“We’re growing in the performing arts, and we try to get kids to be as creative as possible in what we do,” said Cottone.
Drama class gets the students involved in and prepared for musicals such as “The Wizard of Oz,” which will be performed this year along with two others. It combines music performed by the school’s band and dramatic efforts from eager students.
The school staff shows off their creativity at the annual talent show, when they, along with the students, entertain the community. Last year’s event could have gone on all night due to tremendous participation, according to Cottone.
Art classes, including art history, pottery and basic drawing, continue to expand.
Classes make masks for the annual Mardi Gras festival complete with jazz music, cajun food, a festive parade and a regal ball. The whole community gets involved in the event. The school band plays a few renditions, then a local jazz band joins in the celebration.
The community turns out in the fall for the Halloween carnival. This year, at the urging of the Parent/Teacher Organization, drama students will don fake fangs and black capes to perform vignettes of horror.
The choir enchants the school at performances throughout the year and sings at Mass at St. Anthony’s parish a few times during the academic year.
Father Basil Congro, pastor, and Father Scott Buchanan, parochial vicar, say weekly Masses. Deacon Jack O’Donnell substitutes for religion and offers communion services for the students. Father Buchanan also gets involved in teaching seventh-grade religion class, a shared position with Cottone.
“I love to get in the classroom,” said Cottone. “It brings you closer to the kids.”
He also teaches drama.
The school participates in the national “Make a Difference” community service project. The theme this year is, Kids Helping Kids. Students are collecting educational supplies to send to a mission school on an Indian Reservation in Arizona. Cottone had visited the reservation a few years ago and thought the kids could be pen pals. The schools have communicated ever since.
St. Anthony’s curriculum is much the same as other schools. Students from four-year-old kindergarten to eighth grade work with computers whether it’s in the classroom to become familiar with the popular means of communication or in daily classes.
Spanish instruction begins in kindergarten. Eighth-grade students can gain high school credit in Spanish, as well as algebra and English.
Students participate in various academic events throughout the year including the statewide literary meet and spelling bee.
Grades one through four have the unique experience of open classrooms, an experimental program that started in 1973. One large room divided into sections by chalkboards and bookcases provides the teaching arena. This summer parent volunteers renovated the area, taking out old carpeting, replacing ceiling tiles and painting brightly colored pictures — and bright it is.
The experiment, over 20 years in the making, seems to have taken. Each class has two teachers who team teach, allowing students to rotate to different tasks and study in groups at various comprehension levels.
“The setting helps children learn to focus,” said Cottone.
Students participate in the accelerated reading program, in which they take computerized tests on books they’ve read. Each Wednesday of this past summer, students filled the school library testing their knowledge.
The library, though fairly new, has already outgrown its space. Cottone constantly orders new reading material to keep the students busy as they delve into book after book. The school’s athletic field was recently renovated. Kids participate in soccer, basketball and cheerleading, competing against local teams throughout the year.
“Parent involvement and a family atmosphere help to make our school special,” said Cottone. Parents serve in school programs from substitute teaching to helping with after school projects, and planning annual events to serving on the school board.
The school strives to intellectually, academically, morally, socially, spiritually, emotionally and physically prepare students for the future. Cottone puts it simply: “A child that’s capable of smiling is capable of learning!”