Faith, Family, Friendship
At Saint Andrew Catholic School, students discover a community in which they learn to become moral leaders, creative thinkers, and high achievers who are well prepared to enter the world.
There’s something very different about Saint Andrew Catholic School in Newtown. The faculty and school leadership foster it. So do the community of parents and alumni, both of which remain highly engaged with the school. And the students of this Catholic elementary school and preschool live and breathe this difference on a daily basis.
“First and foremost, we are here to emulate Jesus,” says Nancy Matteo, who has served as principal of Saint Andrew Catholic School for the past 16 years. “Our Catholic identity is very strong.”
The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary founded Saint Andrew Catholic School in 1927, and the school has been imbuing students with strong moral character and other vital life skills ever since. To build on its rich Catholic history, the school is constantly pursuing more “creative ways to inspire reverence,” as Matteo puts it.
In December, for example, students participate in a living nativity. On Thursday mornings, seminarians from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary—the seminary of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia—come to the school to offer Adoration. Other examples include frequent liturgy celebrations, weekly class masses, and monthly religious celebrations for the entire school, as well as visits to the school’s Chapel of the Holy Family.
“Children are very reverent about that chapel,” Matteo says. “You can watch children walk by and bless themselves.”
Jessica Wagner “loves” teaching at Saint Andrew for many reasons. The school’s commitment to nurturing each student’s spirituality may be what she appreciates most about the school.
“Our spirituality comes forth in everything we do,” says Wagner, an eighth grade teacher now in her sixth year at Saint Andrew. “We can tie faith into just about every lesson, every conversation, every activity; connection with people and sharing faith and sharing stories really sets us apart.”
While faith and character are paramount, Saint Andrew aims to develop the whole child. A rigorous academic program, which includes world language lessons for every grade, from pre-K through eighth, has helped prepare Saint Andrew students for the challenges ahead. As a result, Saint Andrew has earned a prestigious distinction: National Blue Ribbon School status, awarded for overall academic excellence.
“Our students get some of the highest scholarship amounts in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Matteo says, noting that one recent class garnered a staggering $1.3 million in scholarship awards. “We are known because our children get into the finest high schools. A lot of people see us as a stepping stone to finer higher education. Our children achieve very well.”
When graduates return to Saint Andrew for a visit, Matteo usually leads with a question: “Were you prepared for high school?” She says they usually answer with a resounding “yes,” adding that they were far more prepared than friends who went to other elementary schools, especially in regard to technology and writing.
To her point, technology abounds at Saint Andrew, ranging from SMART Boards and Mondo Boards in classrooms to a one-to-one program whereby every student in grades five through eight receives a Chromebook. In addition, students in lower grades can access Chromebook and iPad carts through “SWAT,” an acronym for Students Working Around Technology.
Saint Andrew prepares its students for the future in other ways, too.
“As with college, we encourage students to apply to a ‘reach’ school and a ‘safe’ school,” Matteo says. “Ninety-five percent of our students get into their first choice school on the first try, but we tell the students not to put all their eggs in one basket.”
In addition, the school has a financial literacy program with a branch of The First National Bank & Trust Co. of Newtown in the building. Open to students (and employees) every Thursday, this unique program enables students to begin thinking about the mechanics of saving and spending at an early age.
“When we ask what students are saving for, 90 percent say they’re saving for college,” Matteo says. “We have first graders who plan to go to Notre Dame or Princeton.”
Although the academic curriculum is a core part of a Saint Andrew education, some of the school’s greatest assets are largely intangible. There’s a tremendous sense of community, according to Wagner, as evidenced by the ongoing involvement of two particular populations: parents of students, who lend their tireless support as a way to help their children “grow and move forward”; and alumni, who return to the school frequently for special events “because they’re family.”
“People say our sense of community is palpable,” Matteo adds. “We all feel we have something very special here.”
Saint Andrew School
51 Wrights Road
Photography by Jody Robinson