St. Joseph Reinforces Mission

St. Joseph School Reinforces Mission of Community Service

By Justyna Tomtas / The Chronicle

Students from St. Joseph Catholic School take a break from planting trees near the Chehalis River to take a photo.

A new principal at St. Joseph School in Chehalis has taken the initiative to further the school’s mission of creating responsible, productive citizens by increasing the students’ community involvement efforts.

First-year principal Nickalous Reykdal is encouraging students to make the world a better place to live. Although the school has always been very community oriented, new projects within the classrooms have expanded the students’ reach, helping more people than ever.

“My whole approach this year is trying to empower students, to get them more in a leadership capacity, and we try to find all sorts of ways to do that,” Reykdal said.

The school started an advisory program this year in an attempt to help students think about their future careers and prepare them for college, while increasing engagement within the school and the community.

The pre-kindergarten through

eighth-grade school has started a partnership with the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium and will soon begin participating in more environmental projects.

The plan is to conduct water quality testing in China Creek, near Centralia College.

“This is part of a broader effort to help monitor the Chehalis Basin, the environment,” he said.

The advisory program has reached out to various local agencies to create relationships that will help fuel more community oriented programs. According to Reykdal, the school recently helped the Lewis County Food Bank Coalition with its Walk-N-Knock campaign, helping to bind 30,000 bags. The effort saved the organization approximately 60 hours of labor. Students also teamed up with the Chehalis Basin Education Consortium to plant trees near the Chehalis River on the Discovery trail.

Alison Grant, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Joseph, has organized projects for the students to give back to veterans. The kids helped make 30 to 35 care packages, which were later distributed to veterans throughout the area.

“We all need to be outside of ourselves,” the teacher said. “You get the attitude of its about helping others, and the kids have real satisfaction in knowing they are helping others.”

Administrative Assistant Christina Witchey said by holding the annual coat drives, food drives and fundraisers, the students are learning something they will hopefully carry on once they no longer attend the school.

“If they’ve been doing it since they were little, hopefully it will be apart of their lives and they continue doing it,” she said.

As the only Catholic school in Lewis County, the goal is for the students to leave a footprint on the community, learning skills that will hopefully carry them through the rest of their lives.

Future plans include starting a compost recycling program in partnership with Centralia College. The plan is to donate the compost created to local families with a farm, and recycle other items, to help minimize waste.

“To be a productive citizen, a piece of our mission is we want to get kids to see that you don’t just throw things in the garbage,” Reykdal said. “Everything has its place and we want kids to be good stewards of the earth, take care of the environment, and it is our job as a school and as teachers to import this vision on kids.”

Reykdal said the starting phase is to teach kids that if they want to make a difference in the world, it starts with the choices they make on a daily basis. Through the community oriented projects, students learn they can make a difference in the world.

“Just because you’re a kid does not mean that you can’t help someone out or raise money for a good cause, or contribute to your school, your city, your town, your county, your state, your country.”

Many of the students are eager to participate in the outreach, and one sixth-grade student, Anneliese Werner, has brainstormed a multitude of ideas for projects.

The 12-year-old said she enjoys being involved.

“I really like the part when it actually comes to action,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I can say that I helped with that.”

Another student at the school, Xavier Mendez, has worked every year to raise money for the school by seeking donations from outside businesses. So far this year, Mendez, 11, has raised $2,150 and hopes to continue raising funds until he reaches $3,000.

Not only has the school pursued efforts to increase its impact on the local communities, but St. Joseph is also focused on building new curriculum, which will revitalize programs offered at the schools.

The school is in the works of implementing an online grade system and is working to revamp its science curriculum with the help of funds raised through their annual auction. The school has also received money to do a number of school improvements, including rekeying the building, installing electronic locks and adding a fire management system.

A drive toward improving student learning skills is in full swing, and Reykdal said the school is focused on professional development, utilizing title funding to help teachers attend training and workshops to further their education. The school’s telecommunications program will also see improvements, allowing an intercom system and an integrated system for their electronics.

The principal realizes the importance of growth and what it brings to the school.

“You have to have a constant focus on growth and change,” Reykdal said.

With big plans in the works for next year, Reykdal invites anyone interested to join the school and benefit from the many programs it has.

“It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, Christian or not, we are welcoming to all values and beliefs,” he said. “We want to help give back and we want everyone to be a part of that together.”