STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — There’s nothing like being an eighth-grader at St. Rita School this time of year.
The 28 members of the Class of 2018 are gearing up for graduation day on June 8 that will begin with a Mass followed by the conferring of diplomas and a reception featuring a slide show of memories.
But there will be other chances to celebrate and reminisce before then.
On May 24, they’ll travel to Philadelphia for a final class trip. On June 1, they’ll dress their formal best for a dinner-dance in their honor at the Historic Old Bermuda Inn, Rossville.
And on June 4, they’ll gather for a graduation breakfast with time to wish each other well on the pages of yearbooks and autograph books.
Traditions are a centerpiece at the Meiers Corners school, founded in 1922.
“That’s what’s great about a Catholic school education,” says Nicole Fresca, finishing her fourth year as St. Rita principal. “Students look forward to these rites of passage.”
Many of the traditions are rooted in spirituality and family values. Students at St. Rita gather for a monthly school Mass and end each school day with prayer and intentions. With the Rev. Eugene J. Carrella, pastor, they are preparing for a schoolwide celebration of St. Rita’s feast day on May 22.
Grandparents and Special Relatives Day is so popular, two sessions are offered every spring. Family members and students play games and enjoy breakfast together during the special event in the school auditorium.
International Night organized by parents at the beginning of the year celebrates the school’s diversity and welcomes new families. And students and parents spend weeks rehearsing for the annual Lip Synch Spectacular, set for May 18.
Principal Fresca says she is dedicated to carrying out the school motto: “A tradition of excellence, a future of promise.”
As a blended-learning school, St. Rita offers Chrome books to students in grades K to 5 and iPad seamless learning in grades 6, 7 and 8.
A partnership with St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School gives students in grades 7 and 8 the opportunity to take additional science classes and participate in a Science Olympics.
St. Rita students score in the top 20 percent on state tests, Principal Fresca boasts, and this year’s eighth-grade class garnered $331,050 in high-school scholarships.
“We set the standards high and provide the steps to achieve those goals,” she explains.
St. Rita began offering Pre-K classes for 3-year-olds last year, and the program has already doubled in size. The school also offers Pre-K for All for 4-year-olds, with two classes of 18 students each.
Preschoolers enjoy their own playground in a grassy yard across from the school’s main entrance on Wellbrook Avenue, off Holden Boulevard. An expansion is planned to accommodate the growing enrollment.
Working parents can take advantage of a before-care program beginning at 7 a.m. and an after-care program that runs through 6 p.m. Afterschool activities at St. Rita include art club, CYO sports, Scouting and Bricks4Kidz — educational play using Lego bricks.
Students from St. Peter’s High School who are members of the National Junior Honor Society offer after-school tutoring. Many are St. Rita alumni who enjoy returning to their alma mater.
The Meiers Corners school also incorporates community service into the curriculum, and all 210 students participate in charity events during the year.
Through the Pennies for Patients fundraiser, students collected $1,160.71 last year for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And Last month, $1,258 was collected for autism awareness.
“It’s important for students to know we give back to those in need,” says Principal Fresca.
WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE
Born in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, Nicole Garelick Fresca graduated from St. Frances Cabrini School and Bishop Kearney High School, both in Brooklyn, and earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing and merchandise management from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Manhattan.
She briefly worked in a designer showroom before embarking on a career in education.
“I always loved being with children,” recalls Fresca, who taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes in her parish for many years. “I figured, let me give [teaching] a shot. I’m glad I did.”
She earned a master’s degree in education from Hunter College, Manhattan, and in 1998 took a full-time position at Eltingville Lutheran School where she taught math and science in grades 6, 7 and 8.
She also taught at Our Lady Help of Christians School in Tottenville before she was named its principal in 2003. Still in her 20s, she became the youngest Catholic school principal to serve on Staten Island.
“It was the right timing,” she recalls. “I needed an additional challenge.”
She put her career on hold to begin a family, then returned to teaching in 2013 at St. Joseph Hill Academy, Arrochar.
Six months later, was appointed principal of St. Rita School.
“I love my job,” the Tottenville resident and mother of two declares. “Our staff works very well together as a team. That’s why St. Rita is thriving and growing.”
There is always room for new students, she points out, promoting an open house scheduled for Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon.
“Our ultimate goal is to provide students with the skills to be productive members of the church and positive members of society,” Fresca summarizes in her online principal’s message.