Catholic Vancouver July 6, 2018

Community takes ‘leap of faith’ to support new Catholic high school

By Agnieszka Ruck

A concept drawing of Saint John Paul II Academy, which is currently under construction. (CISVA and Saint John Paul II Academy images)

SURREY—The archdiocese’s youngest Catholic school doesn’t even have classrooms yet.

Saint John Paul II Academy, which opens this fall, doesn’t have a gymnasium, offices, or a science lab. It only has a principal, teachers, students – and a vision.

“This has been one of the most worthwhile projects I have been associated with during my 36-year involvement in Catholic education in the archdiocese,” said principal Michel DesLauriers.

The brand-new school is opening with small class sizes and with the goal to provide more Catholic high school education in South Surrey – an area, he says, that badly needs it.

Classes will be temporarily held at the Star of the Sea Community Centre while the school campus, now a partially-cleared field at 184 Street near 24 Avenue, is built. The school is accepting Grade 8 students this September, and will add a Grade 9 class in 2019-2020, relying on parents and buses to help students access extracurricular activities unavailable at the centre.

By 2020, the Saint John Paul II Academy should have a permanent home.

All that flux has some community members feeling that getting on board requires a “leap of faith.” Teacher Charmaine Jansen is one of them.

Jansen came across a job advertisement for the academy through an online archdiocesan newsletter. “Completely not interested in changing jobs, my eyes fell to the first posting on the list, which called for a humanities teacher for Grade 8 students,” she said. “Later that afternoon, I found myself still thinking about it.”

Students of Saint John Paul II Academy will start classes in a community centre this fall, but the hopes are in a few years their high school will look something like this.

When the nagging feeling stuck around all day and the next, she went on the school’s website, talked to her husband, and applied for the job – with reservations, but taking the leap.

“Still a bit unsure as to what this would all mean for the future and how changing jobs after nine happy years at Little Flower Academy would be, much prayer was devoted to the process of discernment,” she said.

Jansen got the job, and though she’s sad to leave the dear school she’s taught at for nearly a decade, she’s looking forward to the challenge of teaching high school in a community centre and helping a brand-new school through inevitable growing pains.

“I know this leap of faith will be guided by God as I walk with him every day into the classroom,” she said.

Parent Betty Ann Shoemay said her family also had some questions when they heard about the new school.

“I was excited there was another Catholic option in Surrey.” Her first three children attended Holy Cross Regional Secondary, but the small class sizes of the infant Saint John Paul II Academy grabbed her attention as she thought about where to send her fourth.

“What I see for the smaller school are the possibilities of passing on the faith in a personal, one-on-one, vibrant kind of manner,” she said.

When she brought up the idea with her husband, he had some reservations. “His concern initially was that she would be going to school in a construction zone.”

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, studies school plans at a recent open house.

Now, Shoemay says they’re not worried about sending their youngest to an untested new school. “It’s part of the growth,” she said. “Somebody has to be first.”

Saint John Paul II Academy is a response to the long-time need for a South Surrey high school, according to retiring superintendent Dan Moric.

“The area is growing in leaps and bounds. It’s a demographic that is most underrepresented by Catholic schools,” he told The B.C. Catholic in an interview last fall. He estimates in 10 years the school could have as many as 800 students.

The school’s funding model is also a first for the archdiocese. Moric calls it a hybrid of how CISVA schools and Catholic congregational schools like Vancouver College, St. Thomas More Collegiate, and Little Flower Academy are funded. Families commit to an enrolment deposit and higher tuition than at other CISVA schools, he said, and it won’t be strictly a “regional” school, allowing anyone interested to sign up their child.

“All of this is about creating a model that allows this to happen in 2018, and not have us still dreaming and thinking about it in 2028.”

Once built, Saint John Paul II Academy will include a full high school, a gymnasium, and an outdoor field with an eight-lane running track.

A concept drawing of the future school, with an eight-lane track and wide courtyard.