January 26, 2007

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Shawe Memorial earns national award with hard work

Shawe Memorial High School senior Alyssa Richard works on a yearbook page layout on Jan. 11 about the Madison school’s designation as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

Shawe Memorial High School senior Alyssa Richard works on a yearbook page layout on Jan. 11 about the Madison school’s designation as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

By Mary Ann Wyand

MADISON—Seniors at Father Michael Shawe Memorial High School create a class T-shirt every year as a keepsake. This year’s senior shirt is royal blue and features the words “Reason for the Ribbon.”

The Class of 2007 chose that slogan because as sophomores they all passed the Indiana Department of Education’s graduation qualifying examination.

That distinction and other academic accomplishments helped earn a 2006 “No Child Left Behind” Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award from the U.S. Department of Education for the small Catholic high school in the Seymour Deanery. Five grade schools in the archdiocese also earned Blue Ribbon awards last year. (See story, page 10.)

Last year, Shawe Memorial claimed the honor of being the only parochial high school in the nation to earn a Blue Ribbon School award. With 161 students enrolled in the junior high and high school this year, Shawe officials are still marveling about their national recognition.

Jerry Bomholt, Shawe’s principal and volunteer boys’ basketball coach since 2003, said the students, faculty and staff worked extremely hard to achieve this honor.

“Shawe has always been a great school and always had a very high reputation for quality education,” Bomholt explained, “but there were some standards that needed to be met to improve the school. … We had a high level of student achievement that could have been much higher. That’s what we were striving for. Our goal is to make every student a saint … and prepare them for college so they can be accepted at any university in the United States.”

In a variation of his coaching pep talk, Bomholt challenged the faculty, staff and students to pursue the Blue Ribbon School award because they deserved it.

“The credit goes to our great staff, wonderful faculty, parent support and dedicated students trying hard to be all they can be,” he said. “It’s been a rewarding experience to see this group of kids blossom and the school become what we thought it could be. We’ve grown from 139 students to 161 students. Next year, we’ll have approximately 175 students. We think in two to three years we’ll have 200 students in the seventh through 12th grades.”

Bomholt stands at the front door every morning to greet students by name and visits classrooms often to show his interest in their academic achievement. He coaches the boys’ basketball team as a volunteer, and reminds team members that student-athletes are students first.

“This year, no one on our coaching staff is accepting any money to coach,” he said. “We needed to cut the budget to save a teacher’s salary so we discussed it and decided to forfeit our salaries. We’re probably the only school in the state that has all-volunteer coaches.”

Father Shaun Whittington, school chaplain and religion teacher, said the teachers strive to build character and help students live moral lives whatever their faith tradition.

“We’re growing … and achieving higher levels of success,” Father Whittington said. “Archbishop [Daniel M.] Buechlein said one time that, ‘We don’t educate students because they’re Catholic. We educate students because we’re Catholic.’ I’ll never forget that. Education is a very important mission for the Church. This school exists to make saints.”

Lisa Gray, dean of studies and guidance counselor, said she is proud to tell people about Shawe’s national award.

“It’s affirmation that the hard work that has been done and is continuing to be done is making a difference,” Gray said. “I see it on a daily basis. … It gives value to the coursework. Our students are college bound, take their studies seriously and are very competitive academically. They are very focused on success. Seven seniors have grade point averages over four point [a straight A average].”

Shawe junior Luke Wise, president of the 16-member Student Council, said “it’s really nice, after putting in a lot of hard work, to see your fellow students recognized” by the federal government, the state and the archdiocese.

“There are a lot of opportunities at Shawe that you don’t receive at larger schools,” Luke said. “The teachers are more caring here, and have a lot higher standards that they expect the students to meet so we have to work harder. I’m most interested in economics and philosophy. The biggest benefit of a Catholic education for me was the introduction through theology classes to philosophy. I plan on pursuing that after high school and eventually going to law school.”

Shawe senior Paige Jones said she hopes to earn valedictorian honors and is working hard in advanced placement classes to achieve the highest grades in her competitive class of 27 students.

“The teachers put a lot of effort into advanced placement classes,” Paige said. “There are a lot of students who take AP classes. They’re up for the challenge.

“We are a small Catholic school, but that doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish great things,” she said. “When we received this award, I realized how fortunate I am to go to such a great school. It gave me a sense of pride in the school. I feel fortunate that I am able to attend this school, and that my parents are able to send me here.” †

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