Merging elementary schools is never simple, especially in the midst of a pandemic. But teachers, students and parents at the new Ave Maria Academy are rising to the occasion.
“Passions for Catholic education, and its history in our region, run deep,” principal Lynne Lynch told Father Tom Burke on the diocesan radio program Catholic Education Plus, airing Sunday. “The only thing which runs deeper than our ties with the past is our hope for the future. People want us to succeed.”
Lynch was principal of St. Thomas More School in Bethel Park, which merged with the former St. Bernard School in Mt. Lebanon, Our Lady of Grace School in Scott Township, and St. Anne School in Castle Shannon. Ave Maria Academy uses two campuses—in Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon, and is working to build a new identity starting with the motto is “Shared Values and Academic Excellence.”
“From our shared faith comes our shared values—how we interact with one another, not only in church or schools, but in our homes and in general,” Lynch said. “Academic excellence is that high bar—academic rigor. Our parents want their children to be fully prepared.”
Shortly after the merger announcement, the coronavirus struck. The schools offered online classes for the rest of the academic year. To move ahead with the merger, teamwork was key.
“We had a lot of help from our families, teachers, regional administrator Sharon Brown and diocesan leadership,” Lynch said. “At Ave Maria Academy, our families are our first line of defense, as they monitor and check their children every morning.
“Everyone puts on a mask before they enter our buildings. Children do not move between classrooms—the teachers do. We social distance, our restrooms are cleaned every hour and teachers wipe down their homerooms at the end of each day. So, it’s pretty thorough.”
Lynch shares her time between both school buildings alternating where she starts and finishes each day. She greets students for morning arrival and saying goodbye in the afternoon. “I normally walk through and interact with our teachers and staff,” she said. “I normally take a break to visit with our students during lunch or recess.”
Ave Maria Academy was established as part of a new region—the South Hills Regional Catholic Elementary Schools. Instead of parishes running their own school, they now support regional schools in their area. Principals run school buildings under the direction of the regional administrator and business manager. A governing board of pastors and lay leaders provides expertise and oversight to all schools.
“I understand the sacrifices that parents make for their children,” Lynch said. “Thank you for prioritizing their future.”
Catholic Education Plus airs Sunday at 6:30 a.m. on KDKA-AM 1020. Podcasts of the show are available at https://www.radio.com/kdkaradio/podcasts/catholic-education-plus-20662.