At one time, St. James the Less and Holy Redeemer schools were separate K-8 schools; in 2009 they merged. St. James took over the responsibility for the elementary school, while Holy Redeemer handled grades six through eight.
By separating the grades and campuses, each school is able to direct educational programs specifically to its grades or age groups.
Some of these programs may surprise those who have an antiquated view of Catholic school. Like public and private schools, St. James and Holy Redeemer have programs that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and foreign language.
“We have the benefit of living so close to Caltech and [Jet Propulsion Laboratory],” said Father Ed Dover. “We can connect with [those who work] there and utilize that resource.”
Some of the students recently returned from Astro Camp in the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild. The camp focuses on physical science, astronomy and space exploration. Each year the students at Holy Redeemer celebrate science through its Reverse Science Fair. This program invites local specialists to the school to help promote and answer science questions. In the past, a neurologist from Huntington Medical Research Institute brought samples of a human brain and a JPL astrophysicist taught kids how astronomers use spectrometry to determine elements of a star.
The schools also have active foreign language programs that follow students from elementary to middle school, said Susan Romero, schools principal.
All students learn Latin, which educators have found helps students in spelling and understanding the roots of words.
“We have found [since teaching Latin] our kids have a strong vocabulary base,” Romero added.
In addition, the schools emphasize programs that have been cut from some other schools, like art.
“We have theatre arts in the elementary school,” said Dover. “We [emphasize] mind-body-movement and public speaking.”
“We keep a full humanities program at the schools,” Romero said. “So many schools consider these [programs] as extras.”
To St. James and Holy Redeemer, the classes in the arts, humanities and STEM are an important part of the curriculum and an important ingredient for creating a well-rounded student.
Dover said there is a misconception about the Catholic schools. A student, and family, does not have to be Catholic to attend a Catholic school. They welcome all students.
“As a Catholic school, we serve the community in the broadest [sense],” he said. “We are not here to convert.”
He added the school reflects the community and its values. The students do not take the traditional public school tests like Academic Performance Index; however, they do take standardized testing with academic excellence awards.
“[On average] our first graders read at a third grade level,” Romero said.
She added smaller class sizes with credentialed teachers play an important role in their academic excellence.
Many of the students continue their education in the Catholic school system.
“About 80% of [Holy Redeemer] students apply to Catholic schools,” Romero said. “And they enter with honors.”
Romero and Dover continue to follow the students’ progress through high school.
“[Administrators] at St. Francis High School have told us the students come in well- prepared,” Romero said. “I take that as we are on the right track.”
The schools have a strong family sense. Students who have gone through St. James and Holy Redeemer have come back to teach at the school.
“They bring a special gift to [our school]. They are home- grown and understand what we do here,” Dover said.
He added because these teachers returned to their school shows him they respect the education provided there.
As they go into their fifth year after the “split,” Dover and Romero are finding the academics are still strong, the family feeling is prevalent and students are well prepared for the future.
For information about St. James and Holy Redeemer schools, visit www.stjames-holyredeemercatholicschool.org, email Susan Romero at firstname.lastname@example.org or call St. James Elementary School at (818) 248-7778 or Holy Redeemer Middle School at (818) 541-9005.