When Principal Katie Teekell returned to Saint Francis High School 18 years after she graduated, she was instantly hit with familiar feeling of family that permeates the campus. Family and inclusion are two hallmarks of a Holy Cross school, and to kick off the school year, Mrs. Teekell explained to students at the opening assembly how she experienced family when she was a Lancer.
“I had never been at a school before where the teachers cared so deeply about their students and intentionally worked to build community in their classrooms to make students feel comfortable and safe,” she said. She recalled teachers who were just as invested in her personal growth as they were in her mastery of a subject.
Celebrating family and cultivating relationships is the theme for the year at Saint Francis, and students are taking this value to heart. One way students are building community is with the new campus club SF Family, where upperclassmen are striving to make freshmen feel at home. Each freshman is assigned one or two juniors or seniors who serve as their mentor for the whole year so that the new students have a constant support system. There has been great energy around older students helping freshmen transition to high school and to support them in their spiritual, intellectual and social development, said club moderator and English teacher Natalie Lai. Some mentors are sending weekly emails to check in with their freshmen and to include them in school events.
“The beginning of the school year was great because the mentors reached out to their freshmen and wished them a great first day or week of school,” Ms. Lai said.
Cultivating relationships is also an emphasis for the parent community. Parents can expect education nights tied to the theme of celebrating family. In addition, parent volunteers have stepped up to serve as resources for new families so that they feel supported and understand better how to navigate high school life. Before school started, parents hosted new families at regional coffee receptions to welcome them to Saint Francis and introduce them to other families who live in their area.
“When parents connect at Saint Francis, they become a part of the Lancer family, and they build long lasting friendships and beautiful memories with both fellow parents and faculty and staff members,” said Vidhu Sharma, a current parent who sits on the Board of Directors and served as a former president of the school’s Women’s Club.
The faculty and staff also have many avenues with which to strengthen current relationships and forge new ones this year, from gathering in small groups to discuss books on inclusivity to working together in a spirit of collegiality.
At the opening assembly, Mrs. Teekell encouraged the community to make room in their lives for people they value and to widen their circles to include those they might not have had gotten to know before this year.
“If we can all commit to make an intentional effort, the results can be very powerful,” she said.