Rising Star Religious Middle School
Around the world, Christian virtues transcend the barriers of language and culture. Within the walls of the Blessed Sacrament School, those same Christian values bring together a student body whose roots reach across the globe.
“We are special because we are diverse,” explains Imelda Engel, now in her eighth year as principal at Blessed Sacrament. “We accept any student whose parents are willing to make a bond with the school. We treat one another as a big family of many nations.”
A multitude of nations are represented in the student body, and Blessed Sacrament celebrates that diversity daily. Students work together to create a multicultural dinner for Thanksgiving, studying international cookbooks and reading from the library’s extensive social studies section. On Passport Day, each class adopts and studies one student’s country of origins, which in recent years has included France, England, Japan and the Philippines.
“We set up the classroom looking like their country, and there is an immigration office, so they present the passports that they make in art and computer classes,” Engel said. “They visit one another, listening to music and stories about the country.”
The faculty, which is international itself, works across disciplines, incorporating the global theme into the curricula. Jillian Lazaridis, the library teacher, was born in Europe, brought up in Australia and lived in London, so she takes particular pride in helping the students to study the world’s cultures.
“The Passport Day works really well with the curriculum because we integrate it,” said Lazaridis, who is entering her 10th year at the school. “We work collaboratively here. We study international poetry, music, food and dance. We give children an appreciation of rich cultures that they can learn from other countries.”
That international perspective shines through in extra-curricular offerings, as well, with renowned art and music programs complementing tennis, creative movement and Taekwondo after-school offerings. One-third of Blessed Sacrament’s 270 students are African-American, one-third Hispanic and one-third “a trickle here and there,” as Engel said, with students arriving from every Borough, Long Island, New Jersey and as far as Pennsylvania, where one student wakes up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to get to class on time.
“We focus on the child getting the infusion of Christian values,” Engel said, pointing to those values as the school’s core. “First and foremost are our faith formation and our love for God and one another. When you enter the building, you can feel the Catholicity, that certain welcoming atmosphere.”
Students take a daily religious studies class, but religious studies are a part of everyday life at Blessed Sacrament. The students participate in prayer services, liturgies and Mass in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament at least once each month, but teachers are free to bring their students to the French Gothic Chateau-esque church for prayer and appreciation as often as they like.
The school’s library has a large section on the biography of the Saints, but in keeping with Blessed Sacrament’s international flair, religious studies do not end there.
“Depending on the curriculum, we might also concentrate on the different religions in the world,” Lazaridis said. “It’s a Catholic school first and foremost, and Catholic means universal. It is important to help these children understand that differences are good.”
In middle school in particular, students take an active role in Christian service, participating in volunteer work in the community of their choice.
“The kids have to do 20 hours of community service,” said Michelle Leon, who drives daily from Long Island into Manhattan to bring her two sons to Blessed Sacrament. “But a lot of the kids go over the 20 hours. It’s not just service of the community of Blessed Sacrament, but of your community because they have so many kids that come from different boroughs.”
Leon’s older son, now in 8th grade, took on multiple projects last year, from participating in the New York Cares coat drive and serving as an altar boy to serving lunches in a senior home near his own house in Long Island.
The feeling of community extends to faculty as well. In the school’s 105th year, not a single teacher left at the end of the 2007-08 school year.
“I’m very happy that they all returned back to school this year,” Engel said. “To me, that’s a good sign that they’re happy, they love the students, and that’s why we’re still here.”
147 W. 70th St.
New York, N.Y. 10023
Imelda Engel, Principal
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