Building a community of faith


So many families have made the decision to attend St. Odilia School in Shoreview that its expansion project, which has been in the works for several years, is more necessary than ever.

Principal Brian Ragatz attests that parents are looking for something different for their children — “a virtuous, values-filled education,” which the school is ready to provide to families when they come.

“We continue to see a rise in the enrollment in our school,” said Ragatz, who recently completed his third year in the role. “With a 20 percent increase in our retention rate from preschool to kindergarten, we are projected to need three kindergarten classes by the fall of 2017. It’s nice that the demographics are showing that there’s a need to grow. We prayed about it, we hoped for it, we planned for it, and now God has answered our prayers of expanding the opportunity for us to share his love with so many more children and educate their minds and hearts.”

The fundraising for the expansion project began last January when the parish and school community kicked off a $6 million capital campaign.

“It’s a community campaign,” Ragatz said. “It’s not just for the school. It’s for all of the community’s ministries. We have over 100 different ministries that we serve. There are so many people within the St. Odilia Catholic community that we reach out [to], and we just don’t have the space to do all of it.”

Plans for the expansion project include making the parish campus look more inviting, increasing security around the premises, improving the buildings’ infrastructure, and constructing more space for faith formation, music ministry and the growing school population.

Learning partnerships

In addition to the new faith formation spaces, St. Odilia hopes to have space for more specialty classrooms that support its STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and mathematics) curriculum. These updated specialty classrooms include a library, a science lab, a computer lab, a learning lab and more art and music rooms.

The STREAM curriculum encourages students and teachers to integrate their learning experiences from all of the disciplines.

“We can really focus on all of our subjects working with each other, versus in silos, so it creates a unique opportunity for children to learn in all different ways,” Ragatz said.

The engineering focus of the STREAM curriculum has been particularly successful at the school, partly because of the school’s partnership with the engineering program at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley.

“The high school students are getting mentored by engineers in the field at 3M and Medtronic, and we have a dual mentorship, where they are now the mentors to our kids,” Ragatz said.

The school’s STREAM curriculum is supported by its iPad program, which gives a tablet to every student in fifth through eighth grade and provides multiple mobile laptop and iPad carts to all other students. Chris Heinrich, a parent and one of the third-grade teachers, said that the program has opened up a world of new learning opportunities and skill development.

“The use of the iPads has helped them to practice their public speaking. Even as early as the third grade, students are giving many presentations, and the iPads give them more confidence and allow them to take charge of their ideas and share them with others.”

School of ‘and’

Along with the many academic opportunities presented by STREAM, St. Odilia works hard to provide its students with character building and spiritual formation. This supports their mission to educate the whole child: spiritually, academically, emotionally, socially and physically.

“Sometimes parents worry that it’s almost a ‘faith or academics’ deal,” Ragatz said. “I think academically, we like to think of ourselves as the school of ‘and’ versus the school of ‘or.’ We have high test scores, and we can talk about character. We have above grade-level standards, and we can talk about faith . . . and 85 percent of our teachers have master’s degrees, and we can do service projects without expecting anything in return.”

Faith and service

Faith formation and service are vital components of a St. Odilia education.

“The whole child for us is about teaching about character, teaching about integrity — doing what’s right when no one’s watching and no one’s going to find out, teaching the value of service — doing something for somebody else without expecting anything in return, and teaching how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus,” Ragatz said.

The school also puts in more than 1,000 hours’ worth of service projects every year. Lynda and Tom Savard, parents of two St. Odilia students, maintained their children have greatly benefited from the strong emphasis on service and faith formation.

“Participating in a faith-based education gives you a vocabulary to use that makes you more willing to learn and more open-minded in talking about philosophy, religion and faith,” Lynda said, adding that the vibrancy of the parish has greatly influenced the faith of the students.

“The children really don’t have to look far to see good examples of people living out their faith,” she said.

Her son, Xavier, a recent graduate from St. Odilia, also stressed the strength of the school’s faith formation.

“I think my spiritual life with God has gotten a lot better over the past nine years,” he said.

The school starts and ends each day with prayer, and students wholeheartedly participate in the sacraments – including planning the school’s weekly Masses.

Father Phil Rask, pastor of St. Odilia Church, said, “They’re the ones singing, doing the readings, writing the prayers of the faithful, serving and bringing up the gifts. During the homily, I ask questions and engage the kids. They’re full participants in their faith.”

An aspect that is perhaps most striking about the school, if not most important, is its friendly and welcoming environment.

“The first thing that you feel when you walk in the door at St. Odilia’s is how it’s a family,” said Julie Ruzynski, who has taught at the school for 20 years. “You know everybody and you know that they care about you. My kids come running down the hallway in the morning when it’s time to start kindergarten. They’re smiling. They’re happy.”

“I wish every student could go to school here,” Lynda Savard said. “My kids have grown so much from it, and it’s such a welcoming and warm community, and the faith component is so apparent here. It’s not something that you can put into words so
easily. It’s truly a community.”

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