Parents and area residents got to glimpse the inner workings of St. Thomas the Apostle in Woodhaven in recent days, as the school joined institutions across the country to celebrate Catholic Schools Week —at which time the Queens pupils feted a 90-year-old school that has evolved to mirror the rapidly changing community around it.
Over the past nine decades, the pupils at the Woodhaven school have come to represent the diversity that makes up Queens and are not solely Catholic but hail from a variety of backgrounds, including Buddhist and Muslim.
“During religious lessons, everyone —Buddhists, Muslims, Christians —are encouraged to share their beliefs,” Principal Katie Quinn said. “The message we focus on is we’re all called to a higher message.”
During the past week, anyone from the community who’s interested in the school was able to walk its floors and get a look at that diversity, as well as what life is like for the 194 students in nursery school through eighth grade. As residents traversed the hallways, students, teachers and Quinn said they hoped the institution’s emphasis on the arts, technology and community service — each presented in a way that makes sense in the context of an increasingly diverse student body — quickly became apparent to onlookers.
“For our class today, people can see the students are writing about the gifts that God gave them, and then how they can use those gifts in the world,” Sister Maria Barbera, OP, who has taught at St. Thomas the Apostle for 20 years, said during a religion class she taught on Tuesday.
Lynn Alaimo, a science and language arts teacher, said the basis of Catholic education revolves around the notion that life should be about something more than the individual.
“It’s not just about learning math or science but about creating people who want to go out and change the world,” Alaimo said. “It’s about the whole world and not just academics.”
Eighth graders Cynthia Rodriguez and Melany Caceres said they’ve enjoyed the service aspect of their curriculum, particularly tutoring.
“I used to go to public school, and it’s so different here,” Melany said. “Here, they support you. You realize how important education is here.”
Cynthia emphasized that her peers “are like family” to her.
“People here don’t just support you as students, they support you as a person,” Cynthia said.
Victoria Capasso, a parent of a seventh-grade student at the school and a son who graduated from it two years ago, lauded the institution.
“I love being here,” Capasso said. “They’re great, great kids and teachers. There’s nothing like it.”