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High school transformed during pandemic

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By Sister Lupita Hernández, SJS

CALEXICO — Vincent Memorial Catholic High School, the only Catholic high school in the Imperial Valley, returned to in-person learning this past August for the current academic year.

The pandemic hit our area particularly hard. We spent nearly a year and a half learning exclusively online since the schools closed on March 13, 2020.

When the students returned to our campus in Calexico this year, they arrived at a totally transformed school. For them, it was a brand-new school. Not only had the old trailers we had used for decades as classrooms been removed, but we had a new school building, new sidewalks and a new staff parking area. The outside of the gym had been painted to match the main field and its entryway, as well as the other existing classrooms, had been remodeled.

We now have a new front gate, which is very attractive. It carries the slogan of our religious order, Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament: “Blessed be God.”

Our new building has seven classrooms and a science lab. It has bathrooms for the students and for faculty, a copy center and, last but not least, our chapel.

When the students arrived last summer for orientation, they were stunned at what they saw.

“Wow! This is an American school!” they exclaimed.

This was especially true for the juniors and seniors, who had seen their time at the school interrupted for a long time.

This year, due to the pandemic, we adapted our schedule in a way that we could avoid having the students eat lunch at school. For the first semester, they took seven classes. Six were at the school, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then they went home. The last class was online, from 2 to 2:45. For the second semester, we had no online classes; we were only on campus from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

About 67% of our students live in Mexicali and cross the border to go to school. In Mexico, most people eat at 2 p.m., so this schedule made sense for them. Next year, though, we will return to having lunch at school.

Most of our students still wear their masks indoors, even though it has not been mandated since mid-March.

As the pandemic has eased,  it is great to be able to return to having our traditional events. We are having the Junior Ring Ceremony on May 19, when the juniors get their school rings, with seniors as their sponsors. We are going to have our May Crowning like before, for the fidelity students. These students have been in Catholic education from first through 12th grade. We are going to take the students to Grad Night at Disneyland on May 31, something we were not able to do the last two years because of the pandemic. Our graduation on May 27 will be at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as before.

There is more construction to come at our school. We have a new project that is scheduled to start in May and be finished in December. We are going to build two more classrooms and a student center, where the students will be able to eat lunch and stay after school to rest or do their homework, all with AC, away from the heat.

We have had a big increase in our enrollment. Last year, we had 262 students and, this year, we are at 309. Part of the growth is due to our teachers, who taught online all last year. They did an awesome job. They were always there for our students. The parents were very happy with the schedule we followed. Some parents told me that they even sat with their children to hear some of the classes and really enjoyed them.

We have received great support from our school community during this difficult time. I am grateful for our benefactors, especially Bishop Robert McElroy and the diocese.

Everything we have accomplished is through God’s grace. I haven’t done anything on my own. He works through me.

As the year is coming to a close, I feel very thankful for all of the people who believed in us. I am especially thankful for all of our faculty and staff, for their hard work and dedication. They helped us to make a difference in the lives of our young people. May God bestow abundant  blessings upon the people who have believed and supported Vincent Memorial.

Sister Lupita Hernández, a member of the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, is principal of Vincent Memorial Catholic High School. 

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