St. Joseph’s School, Devils Lake, to extend to seventh, eighth grade

by Kristina Lahr | New Earth

The sign outside St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Devils Lake.(submitted photo)

St. Joseph Catholic School in Devils Lake is preparing for some big changes in the next few years.

On March 28, the St. Joseph’s Board of Education voted to begin educating students through seventh grade for the 2018-19 academic year and through eighth grade the following year. After many years of dreaming this possibility, the Strategic Planning Committee was formed in 2016 to take a deeper look into making this dream real. The team of planners includes Father Wilhelm, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church; Michelle Clouse, St. Joseph’s School principal; Cynthia Eward, teacher at St. Joseph’s; and several parents.

They diligently worked together with the Fargo Diocesan leadership to plan what could be offered, and over the years, they met on various occasions with additional parents and teachers.

“We want to provide a faith-based education longer,” said Michelle Clouse, principal. “We want to help students get through the tough middle school years.”

“We’re always plopping our children in the middle of middle school,” said Father Wilhelm, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Devils Lake. “I want the transition to be easier. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade are the most difficult years bridging education and physical changes. I want to have more opportunity to provide spiritual direction during that time.”

Father Wilhelm and Father Steven Wirth, who will move to St. Joseph’s Church at the end of June, will teach the seventh and eighth grade religion classes at the school, five days a week. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in the same middle school sports and activities as they would if they attended public school.

Since each student now has a Chromebook, and the computer room is no longer in use, the lab will be converted into extra classroom space. A school board member’s brother also just happened to buy an old school with extra lockers, and those lockers will be installed this summer.

“We have the room,” said Father Wilhelm. “We have the desire. We can handle it financially. This is the right time to do it.”

Two years ago, St. Joseph’s incorporated another change: the five-day After School Activities Program (ASAP), where any student can stay after school until as long as 5:30 p.m. This gives working parents a “one-stop shop” according to Father Wilhelm, so that they don’t need to drive their children to daycare. At ASAP, students do homework, play in the gym or outside, and do other activities throughout the year.

“They know they’re children are safe,” said Father Wilhelm. “They don’t need to bring this child here and that child there. It’s convenient for parents, and it allows us more time with the children to teach and practice virtue with them.”

For the 2017-18 academic year, the school also added a five-day afternoon pre-Kindergarten class. Next year, the school will offer a full-day preschool option five days a week for three, four, and five-year-olds.

Parents, alumni, church members, and community members were surveyed about the needs and growth for the school, including preschool options and the desire for continuing faith-based education. St. Joseph’s school served approximately 200 students for the 2017-18 academic year from pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade. St. Joseph’s, as do all Catholic schools in the diocese, welcome Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Students and teachers gather every morning in prayer. Their mission is educational success through the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church.

“I’m very proud of our parish and parents who really want to see education in our Catholic school extended,” said Father Wilhelm. “It shows they have great confidence in our Catholic school system.”