St. Mary’s students go back to class

New principal excited for new school year

BIG RAPIDS – Monday brought the first day of school and a fresh start for St. Mary Catholic School students, as well as their new principal Joseph Watters.

“It’s great to start out with all this new excitement. Everybody was so excited (at the open house) on Sunday,” he said. “A lot of times kids are dreading the first day of school, but our kids are coming with smiles on their faces ready to get back to school.”

MAKING PLANS: First- and second-grade students in Molly Zarb’s class at St. Mary Catholic School look through their new planners on Monday, their first day of school this year. (Pioneer photos/Lauren Fitch)

Watters took over the position from retiring principal Barb Borth on July 9, moving to Big Rapids from Virginia where he was principal of Saint Michael the Archangel High School and St. John’s Elementary School in the Washington, D.C., area. After growing up in Mount Pleasant and living in Texas and Virginia for many years, Watters’ move back to Michigan brought him, his wife and daughter closer to extended family members in Saginaw and Grand Rapids.

From his experience teaching in public schools and acting as principal of Catholic schools, Watters observed a trend in parent involvement. St. Mary’s supports his observation that parents whose children attend private schools likely are involved in their children’s education.

“The main difference between public schools and private schools is the involvement of the parents. In a public school, you can have an open house and you’ll get probably 10 percent (of parents). We had our open house this past weekend, and we had probably 75 percent there,” Watters said. “The only way Catholic schools work is by people volunteering their time and having parents and kids become involved in the community outside of the schooling.”

ORGANIZING INFORMATION: Fifth-grade students at St. Mary’s learned about Venn diagrams as a way to organize facts about their classmates.

As Watters continues to learn about the school, he hopes to implement more technology in St. Mary’s classrooms to advance academics, while maintaining focus on the Catholic faith.

“I want to make sure the kids get a good, solid Catholic education,” he said. “I want to make sure that they’re becoming closer to God, but also to make sure the academics are the best they can be. The teachers have been great. … It’s a very dedicated staff.”

Watters’ daughter, Ashley Rose, started eighth grade at St. Mary’s on Monday.

“I love it,” she said. “I want to make new friends, get really good grades and have a fun time this year.”

First-grader Austin Hinkle and second-grader Hannah Reed, both in Molly Zarb’s class, enjoyed playing on the school’s new playground for the first time on Monday.

Hinkle was excited for school to start and looks forward to doing math this year. Reed was a little sad to see the end of summer, but she is excited about taking field trips with her class this year.

For more information about St. Mary Catholic School, visit www.stmarystpaulbr.org.

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from the first day of school at St. Mary’s.

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