St. Peter Academy – A Family Oriented Learning Community

By Lisa Gilbert

“Hi Lucas’ dad,” shouted four-year old Pre-K student, Lucah, out of his car window as it approached the school building.  He was referencing the father of one of our first-grade students, who obligingly said hello back, although he didn’t know Lucah from any other Pre-K student at St. Peter Academy.  Lucah is our resident greeter, not unlike those one sees at Walmart entrances who seem to spot you before you spot them.  The difference is that Lucah knows names; Walmart greeters typically don’t.

The thing is that a Pre-K four-year old student “should” not know the names of people in the building.  For one thing, the Pre-K classroom is in a completely separate area of the building from the elementary classrooms and there is not much overlap between them.  There is the occasional whole school event, but other than that there is only the off-chance that a Pre-K student would catch a glimpse of other people in the building in passing.  Further, and more to the point, the recognition of other people outside of their little world is not on the radar for most four-year olds.  By definition, four-year old children tend to be egocentric.  They may be beginning to come out of their self-absorption by this age, but they are still very much concerned with the people and surroundings that they interact with on a regular basis and not much more.  It’s highly unusual for a child so young to be so outwardly aware.

And then there’s Lucah.  To my surprise one morning as I was making my way through the community room, Lucah exclaimed across the room, “Hi, Mrs. Gilbert.”  I turned to see an animated young child, wildly waving his arms and smiling at me.  At that point so early in the school year, I was still learning the names of children, so rather than make an attempt at it, I went with the tried and true, avoiding the use of an assigned name.  “Good morning, sweetie,” I said.  As time has gone on, I’ve heard Lucah greet many people throughout the school building.  It’s as if he has taken home a school yearbook and studied it to associate names and faces (like I’ve been known to do when I’m new at a school).

As extraordinary as Lucah’s talent is in identifying people, it gave me pause to reflect on our Vision Statement for our school.  We state that “St. Peter Academy is a family oriented, forward thinking learning community providing academic excellence while educating the whole child.”  In sixth grade at the Willett School in Norwood, MA, I learned to diagram sentences- thank you Mr. Ainsworth.  Day after day we dissected simple and complex sentences with the precision of surgeons; subjects, predicates, prepositional phrases, etc.  It’s a skill that never left me and one that probably helped me to become a writer.  I understand language and how to use it.  It’s not surprising, then, that I would look at our school’s Vision Statement and break it down from the complex to the simple.  Let’s look at the first part of that statement; “We are a family oriented, forward thinking learning community…”  Without realizing it, our little Lucah is living out our vision- he is one of our young community members.  He is living (and learning) within this school community with the familiarity of family.  That’s a beautiful thing.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we put our Vision Statement into reality as we hosted our annual school-wide Thanksgiving Feast, held in our community room.  Parents, teachers, and school board members brought food to share in buffet fashion.  Among the traditional offerings of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes we also had spaghetti and pot stickers.  It was a multi-cultural banquet.  Parents accompanied their children, along with some grandparents who were visiting for the holiday.  Our youngest students, the fifteen-month old toddlers, wandered in briefly before going down for their naps.  The fourth and fifth grade students enjoyed a game of soccer on the playground after clearing their plates.  Back in the community room, excited children jumped, hopped, and skipped around as the adults socialized.  It was a true community event.  And, yes, Lucah was there, greeting everyone by name, making everyone feel at home.  And it was good.