In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras break, you might have seen our PreK-4 students outside Atkinson Hall in pig masks, throwing straw and sticks around, laughing and playing. While this might seem more like a scene from Lord of the Flies, we will assure you that these young students were engaged in purposeful learning. In recent weeks, the PreK-4 classes had read different versions of The Three Little Pigs as part of a study of homes and houses. After reading, they ventured out to the lawn to build replicas of each house in the story and to reenact the scenes together.
Back inside their classrooms, students explored home construction by building log cabins, apartments, parking garages, and other structures out of blocks. Children also put on hard hats to practice hammering and sawing (with toys), and they created peg board designs with (pretend) nails and screws. All of these activities helped students gain self-awareness and a strong sense of place in addition to early literacy and numeracy skills.
As the study continued, the focus shifted to spreading love within their homes and communities. The children learned to write their addresses and added drawings of their homes to an illustrated class book. Next, they wrote letters to their parents, sealed them inside hand-addressed envelopes, and took a walking field trip to mail them at the downtown US Post Office. On Valentine’s Day, they passed out valentines to each other and created Love Grows art and writing to hang in the classroom.
“Powerful connections are made and great fun is had when children engage in a curriculum that is creative, meaningful, and integrated,” PreK-4 teacher Rachel Daigre explained. “At St. James, we combine our knowledge of developmental standards with the specific interests and abilities of students in our classes to create learning opportunities that are enriching and challenging.”
With caring teachers, an expertly designed curriculum, and nurturing class communities, at St. James we aspire to give our students the strongest of foundations for learning - not fragile ones made of straw or sticks. We want our students to create long lasting, joyful memories of school that will make them want to return day after day and year after year. We also want them to know that they are loved -- by God and by the St. James community -- and that even as young children, they are capable of sharing that love and joy with others.
At the close of the semester, third grade teacher Kathleen Shahla reminds our community of who we are: "If you were to peek in an SJEDS classroom, you would first notice the modern design and furniture, children working on iPads or reporting from the Broadcast studio. While cutting-edge technology, best practices and innovative learning have been stressed, and teacher Apple-certified badges hang outside doors, at its heart, the school is steeped in beloved traditions." The first semester of the 2020-2021 school year was one full of challenge and patience but also creativity and joy. Our yearbook theme for 2020-2021 is “Traditions Take Flight,” referencing the Day School’s commitment to traditions even during a most unusual school year.
Traditions remind us each year of what’s important, contribute to a sense of anticipation, and strengthen the community by bringing people together. Mrs. Shahla explains, "It’s through these traditions life-long friendships are cemented and memories made." Although we missed the face-to-face connection involved with classroom parties, field trips, and whole-school Chapel services, the students at St. James still came away from the holiday season with reminders of the importance of generosity, faith, and friendship. Masks, social distancing, extra hand washing, and cohorts couldn’t stop the building sense of wonder and hope before the birth of Christ.
Even though visitors have been kept to a minimum this fall, the school has never looked better this December. Teachers, students, and administrators continued to take pride in our surroundings and enjoyed traditions of placing Christmas trees in each classroom, decking the front office tree with family Christmas cards, and adorning each hallway, bulletin board, and the cafeteria with student art and seasonal writing. The St. James second grade even helped decorate our nearby EBR Public Library on North Boulevard by donating angel artworks to display for the month of December.
In their classes and at weekly Chapel services, students continued to learn about the nativity and traditions surrounding Christmas. The season began with the Advent Feast of St. Nicholas on the first Friday in December, with classes participating in Chapel either virtually or in person. Later in the month, PreK-4 students created a large nativity scene bulletin board and performed a reading of the Christmas story in front of it that was shared with parents over Seesaw. The Christmas program--a beautiful concert of Christmas carols held by third through fifth graders--unfortunately had to be cancelled, but we look forward to holding it again next year.
In Christian Education classes, students participated in an annual Advent Outreach Project. Christian Education teacher DeSha Carter led the school in an “Helping Hands and Faithful Feet” collection of new socks and gently used blankets this year to donate to St. Vincent de Paul. Our students participated by bringing donations during December, and the fourth and fifth graders pulled the effort together by gathering donations from each hallway and transporting them to trucks outside the school. Fourth and fifth graders also continued monthly service projects by preparing We Care Bags for the church and organizing donations for the Food Bank.
Our annual Gingerbread Day still took place thanks to the hard work of Development Director Jennifer Whittington, administrators, teachers, and parent volunteers behind the scenes. Students stayed in their grade level cohorts throughout the day to enjoy gingerbread balloon decorations and a snow machine in the front entry, festive music, gingerbread house decorating, outdoor Reindeer Games, and a hot chocolate break with their classmates. Students in our Early Childhood Development Center formed a new tradition with a Drive-in Movie. Children in our toddler and PreK-3 classes brought cars crafted from cardboard boxes to use for a class showing of a holiday cartoon outside on the Killgore Hall playground.
This year, Head of School Bridget Henderson tweaked the schedule slightly to have Gingerbread Day on Tuesday, December 15th instead of Friday. This change allowed students who wished to stay home from school to quarantine before seeing grandparents on Christmas to do so without missing the annual celebration day. “Although we had to make some adjustments this year, we look forward to bringing back Gingerbread Day on Friday next year with parents there to share in the festivities,” said Mrs. Henderson.
In another favorite tradition, students reminded each other about the joy that comes from giving by participating in a class book or gift exchanges. In 1st grade, students brought a wrapped book and came home with a different one gifted by a classmate. Kindergarten students brought homemade ornaments to exchange. Fifth graders focused their attention on giving to the community by doing an annual visit to La Belle Aire Elementary’s first grade to read the story Santa Mouse by Michael Brown. Although they were not able to make the field trip this year, the tradition still happened through small groups creating video read-alouds for the La Belle Aire first graders. 5th grade teachers Erin Adkins and Kellye Carville sent the videos and also delivered the gifts and materials to make a Santa Mouse craft on behalf of their students.
A final longstanding St. James tradition that continued this year was the creation of Christmas plates. Each year all St. James students, including our early learners, decorate plates at school, create their own wrapping paper, and bring the plates home as gifts for their parents. A number of St. James parents have collected a stack of plates over the years to use throughout the season. Some, such as current parents Caroline Graham and Sarah Harvey, have created colorful plate displays in their homes. Caroline described how putting up their plate collection "commemorates our holiday highlights year after year," creating a diary of sorts.
As we close our doors for the holiday break, we’re grateful that so much of what we love about Christmas at St. James continued during this unprecedented time. The patience and flexibility of our teachers, parents, administrators, and students allowed us to still come together to experience love, kindness, and joy this season. Reflecting on the fall semester, Mrs. Henderson said, “Our team is working on plans for Spring 2021, and we are excited to share with you about how other beloved St. James traditions will take flight in the coming months.” In the meantime, our students helped with this special message, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Over the past few weeks, members of the St. James 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes have been preparing for an election for the St. James Student Council, a group of student leaders elected by peers to represent their school. Student Council sponsors Kellye Carville, Shelby Miller, and Julia Spaht gathered all 3rd through 5th grade students on October 15th to discuss the Student Council and election process. Students were encouraged to consider qualities such as kindness, honesty, confidence, integrity, and commitment to service in electing their student leaders. The students also learned about the differences between certain offices, such as the Secretary, Chaplain, and President.
The Student Council meets monthly and organizes service projects, fundraisers, and community events for the student body. Student Council leaders are also called on to serve as ambassadors at school events such as Grandparents’ Day. This year, interest in serving was high. 23 students ran for officer positions, which includes the Student Council President, Vice President, Secretary, and Chaplain. An additional 17 students ran for class representative positions at each grade level.
Candidates for president wrote and filmed 30-second speeches, which were shown to the student body on Friday, October 30th. Then, on Monday, November 2nd, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades participated in a campaign event on the large playground. Each grade level had a chance to visit tables set up by the candidates, who created posters and bookmarks to hand out to the electorate. After the campaign, students voted on paper ballots.
The election winners will be announced on Bayou St. James, our school’s daily news broadcast, at 2:40pm on Tuesday, November 3rd. Students will hear their election results on the same day their parents are participating in national, state, and local elections!
Click the buttons below for our Head of School and COVID Task Force's July 13th update about our COVID-19 Protocols and reopening plans.
On a typical school day, you might see Ralph Howe seated with his guitar at the front of a group of one-year-olds as they grin and clap their tiny hands or dance on the carpet. You’d see him preaching to elementary students and their parents, asking them questions about the Bible and speaking with wide, encouraging eyes. Howe has spent days leading classes of high school students, too, motivating them to write and think about God and their world amidst all of their adolescent distractions. Through it all, “Father Ralph” as many call him, has brought patience, a relentless sense of humor, a warm smile, and a commitment to spreading God’s love. Howe is retiring at the end of the month from St. James Episcopal Church and Day School in Baton Rouge, ending a long and successful career as a priest and educator within the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
It’s fitting that his last position has been with St. James--the church he grew up attending every Sunday. Now somewhat of a St. James historian, Howe reflected, “I remember how I would stand on the kneeler so I could see over the top of the pew and see Parson Werlein at the altar.” He remembers going to Sunday school in the Day School building (now Werlein Hall), and he remembers when there was a bank in the space where Bishops Hall now stands--he used to have an account there. He even remembers Killgore Hall housing a radio station, then apartments, and then offices, before it became the Early Childhood Development Center.
Ralph has served in Episcopal churches and schools in Louisiana since 1981, which is also the year he and his wife Suzette were married. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Sewanee: The University of the South and General Theological Seminary in New York City. After positions in New Orleans, Alexandria, and Crowley, Howe took the call to come to Trinity Episcopal in Baton Rouge, which was the first work experience he had directly connected to a school. As the rector of Trinity, Howe also served as the Head of School and the Chaplain. All of Ralph and Suzette’s children attended Trinity and then went on to Episcopal High School. Following Trinity, Howe served for 10 years as the Chaplain at Episcopal High School before taking the call from Mark Holland to return to St. James as an Associate Priest and Day School Chaplain.
Although Howe always saw himself as a chaplain more than a K-12 educator, he is grateful for the joy working with children has brought him. In a recent conversation about his retirement, he mentioned how much he will miss seeing “the smiles on the kids’ faces and the hugs and the high fives, and the ‘Hey Father Ralph’s’.” He chuckled and noted that he’s often been mistaken as Father Michael, Father Mark, or others. Whether teaching preschool students a new song or high school seniors about the Bible, Howe maintains the same goal: “People are going to forget what I taught them about the Bible, but what I hope they remember is my goal to love those kids and let them know that there’s something bigger out there that we call God that loves them and that took on human flesh to show us that love.”
During his final year at St. James, Ralph has had the added bonus of working with his longtime close friend Michael Kuhn, the Interim Head of School for 2019-2020. With Michael joining the school leadership, Ralph witnessed “a school that I thought was great get even better.”
Howe said he’s always amazed by the teachers and administrative staff at the Day School, but he certainly has amazed them, too. During the COVID-19 school building closure, Ralph’s love for the community was never more evident. He took prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, adapted them for a younger audience, recorded himself reading them, and published them for parents to say with their children at the end of each day at home. “Evening Prayers with Father Ralph” brought comfort by helping the community pray for frontline workers, parents, students, teachers, and relevant topics like times of leisure and graduation. Parents expressed their gratitude all season through countless likes, shares, and comments on the Day School Facebook page.
Reflecting on his years with students, Howe said, “I always thought of myself as a parish priest. I never thought I would be teaching in a school, but it has been such an incredible joy for me to have the contact with those kids over the years. I love working in a church (the liturgy, preaching, pastoral work, and outreach), but to work with kids brings so much joy. Episcopal schools have been such a blessing to my children and their education, and to be a part of that in the lives of other kids--the joy comes back to me. I always get so much more than I give. It’s been great.”
After taking a much-deserved break in retirement, Father Ralph will visit and volunteer at the Day School as well as the church and homeless ministry. He’ll also enjoy time with Suzette, their four children, and several grandchildren. He will always hold VIP status on our campus and be known for his unparalleled contributions to St. James Church, the Day School, and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.