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Saintly partnership lifts two schools

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SAN DIEGO — Over the past three-quarters of a century, an Augustinian presence has been one of the constants at St. Patrick School, said its principal, Hernán Valdivia.

St. Patrick’s, which opened in 1944, is the only elementary school in the Diocese of San Diego founded by the Order of St. Augustine. The Augustinians also founded and continue to run St. Augustine High School, popularly known as “Saints.” Both schools are located in the North Park neighborhood.

The school’s relationship with the Augustinians is poised to play a significant role in its future.

St. Patrick School currently boasts a partnership with St. Augustine High School and has received financial assistance from the local Augustinian province and grants from the St. Augustine Foundation. The latter has pledged $450,000 over a three-year period that ends next year. All of this has resulted in tangible benefits for St. Patrick’s students.

The flagship initiative in this partnership is the Augustinian Promise, a guaranteed admissions program for eighth-grade boys from St. Patrick School who would like to attend Saints. To be eligible for the program, which started with the 2020-2021 academic year, students must have attended St. Patrick School for at least five years, beginning in the fourth grade; have maintained at least a 2.5 GPA and have no failing grades in the sixth through eighth grades; have had exemplary Christian conduct and participated in a Christian service project; and taken the High School Placement Test at Saints.

“Saints has always been good to us and, if boys in general have met those criteria, generally they overwhelmingly have gotten accepted,” said Valdivia, who graduated from Saints in 1993. “But to have something in place that formalizes that process is important, because I think it really reflects our partnership with them and their commitment to help us.”

From Saints’ perspective, Principal James Horne said, “We want students who have committed to a Catholic Augustinian elementary [school] to have an opportunity to continue that tradition of scholarship and community at the high school level.”

He added that the Augustinian Promise “formalizes a longstanding tradition at Saints” and has “deepened the connection of the two Catholic Augustinian schools.”

Because Saints is an all-boys school, only St. Patrick’s male students directly benefit from the Augustinian Promise. But the close ties between the two schools provide other benefits that are felt by the entire student body.

Jane Richardson, vice principal and curriculum coordinator at St. Patrick School, has worked with Saints to ensure that her school’s students are adequately prepared for high school and has adjusted St. Patrick’s curriculum accordingly.

“Mr. [Tom] Isaak, an algebra teacher at St. Augustine, has taken a vested interest in math at St. Patrick,” she said. “This has helped me to tailor a course of study for our junior high students that will prepare them for the academic challenges they will meet in Catholic high school.”

St. Patrick’s has also received permission to use Saints’ facilities, including its basketball courts, football field and state-of-the-art performing arts center, though this arrangement has been temporarily suspended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donations from the Augustinian Province partially funded St. Patrick School’s new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) lab, which opened during the current academic year and serves as a computer lab for junior high students and as a place for K-5 students to learn basic engineering principles.

A portion of the St. Augustine Foundation’s three-year grant funded St. Patrick’s efforts to “get COVID-ready” and safely reopen last fall, said Valdivia. Among other things, the money was used to purchase personal protective equipment, disinfectant, and thermometers to conduct daily wellness checks, and to install handwashing stations and automatic hand sanitizer dispensers in all classrooms.

The $450,000 grant’s benefits will continue to be felt in coming years, Valdivia said, in the form of curriculum improvements as well as in the beautification, remodeling and installation of stronger safety features on campus.

The school’s new music program, now in its second year, was made possible by a $30,000 grant from the St. Augustine Foundation in the Spring of 2019. Those funds transformed the school’s library into a music room and allowed the school to hire a full-time music teacher and purchase musical instruments. Beginning last fall, all students from kindergarten through eighth grade have attended a weekly music class.

Valdivia, who is currently in his third year as principal but in his 10th year as a member of the St. Patrick’s faculty, said it is “really awesome” that the school has been able to provide this level of musical education at a time when many schools, both private and public, have been forced to cut their arts programs.

The Augustinian presence is felt in other ways on the St. Patrick’s campus as well. For example, since the fall of 2002, the school has regularly received members of the Augustinian Volunteers program, recent college graduates who have chosen to devote one year in service. More than 30 Volunteers have served at St. Patrick School as tutors, computer and physical education teachers, and speech therapists. Some have gone on to join the school’s staff on a permanent basis after the conclusion of their volunteer commitment.

Valdivia said St. Patrick Parish’s pastor, Augustinian Father Carlos Medina, has also been actively involved with the school.

“There’s a real presence of the Augustinians on our campus,” said Valdivia, “not just in name but in practice.”

More information about the Augustinian Promise is available at stpatrickssd.com/augustinian-promise/

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