Welcome back: Old traditions, new friends greet Catholic school students as new year dawns

Upperclassmen clap and cheer as freshmen students make their way into Divine Child High School in Dearborn on the first day of school Aug. 22. For the past decade, the Falcon marching band has welcomed freshmen and new students to the school with song, lining the entryway as students make their way inside. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Divine Child marching band welcomes freshmen to Dearborn school; in Trenton, parents and students excited for new year

DEARBORN — There's a lot to take in on the first day of school: new uniforms, new class schedules, new friends — and a tuba blast of excitement. 

Welcome back!

Freshmen at Divine Child High School got a unique — and loud — welcome on the first day of school Aug. 22, as the Falcon band and flag corps saluted the new arrivals with a burst of music and energy.

The decade-old tradition at the Dearborn school helps get students fired up for the year ahead, principal Eric Haley said. 

“It’s a nice way to get the juices flowing, getting people ready to tackle the first day,” Haley told Detroit Catholic as the marching band lined the sidewalk, greeting students as they walked in. “Most of them have been sleeping all summer, and now they are getting up early. So this is a perfect way to welcome them.”

Schools across the Archdiocese of Detroit welcomed students back to the classroom over the past two weeks — unlike public schools, Catholic schools set different start dates — as parents and students of all grade levels prepared to return to the rhythm of the school year. 

The Divine Child marching band plays as students make their way inside Aug. 22 during the first day of school. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic) 

The pomp and ceremony at Divine Child is organized by the LINK Crew, a group of upperclassmen who plan freshmen orientation for all the newest Falcons, said junior Olivia Berryman.

Berryman appreciated the star treatment when she first arrived at Divine Child, and she relishes paying it forward. 

“We help welcome the freshmen by making them feel they are part of the school community,” Berryman said. “It was incredible ... coming in and seeing this. It made me feel overwhelmed, but at the same time, very welcomed. It made me feel that the community really cared about me.”

Jennifer Montoni dropped off her son, Vincent, a sixth-grader at Divine Child Elementary School.

“It is a good day, the start of a new year,” said Montoni, herself a Divine Child alumna. “He’s been going here for seven years, since kindergarten. This is going to be a good year, because sixth-graders have a lot of new things going on.”

As Vincent made his way to the front door, Jennifer reflected on all the memories she had at Divine Child.

“Everything that has happened that is good in my life has happened here,” Montoni said. “I went here for elementary and high school; the kids had their first Communion here and were baptized here; I got married here. It’s home.”

Fr. Bob McCabe, pastor of Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, high-fives students as they enter the school for the first day. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Meanwhile, in Trenton, Scott Pisarzewski dropped off his fourth-grade son, Alexander, and kindergarten daughter, Candace, at St. Joseph School on Aug. 21. Pisarzewski said the early wake-up call to get ready for the first day was a challenge, but a good one.

“It’s exhilarating to see your child grow up and go back to school,” Pisarzewski said. “It brings back a lot of memories of when you were a kid.” 

Pisarzewski said he appreciates the faith-based Catholic education his children are afforded at St. Joseph, adding it's “very rewarding to see the friendships they make, the long-lasting bonds they are forming for the first time.”

The first day of school isn’t just a big deal for parents and students. For Colleen Crotty, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Joseph, the new school year is a chance to set a positive tone for the year ahead. 

“I look forward to meeting the new students, seeing the students from the previous year that I had,” Crotty said. “I look forward to getting to know them and what they did over the summer, helping them get back into the routine of the school year.

Crotty added the first few days are about helping students shake off some of the summer rust and get back into the school mindset. 

Penny Clifford, a kindergarten teacher at St. Joseph School in Trenton, helps students learn the sign of the cross during morning prayers on the first day of school Aug. 21. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

“I try to do some team-building activities to get students back into the swing of school,” Crotty said. “The first days of school are about setting expectations in the classroom, and how we’re going to work together as a group and respect one another.”

Down in the St. Joseph principal office, it's a new day for Teri Thomas, who enters the year as the school's new principal.

Thomas said she's looking forward to seeing the “great things” the Trenton school is doing.

“Our world is ever-changing, and parents are looking for something different about Catholic schools, especially the religious presence,” Thomas said, adding she sent her own children to Catholic schools for 12 years. 

“To be a mission-oriented school, as discussed in Unleash the Gospel, it’s about evangelizing, being able to speak about Christ,” Thomas continued. “At Catholic schools, we’re able to speak about God, and living a life with Christ. We can speak about our own struggles, our own questions and create a real connection with people. That is our difference.”

St. Joseph School principal Teri Thomas snaps a photo as Scott and Heidi Pisarzewski drop off their fourth-grade son, Alexander, and kindergarten daughter, Candace, on their first day of school Aug. 21. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

From the classroom to the gym, church and playground, those connections are happening across St. Joseph's campus. Even the lunchroom is a place of Christian fellowship, said sixth-grader Katie Bixler. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing my friends,” Katie said. “I saw a few over the summer, but I don’t see many of them over the summer. I’ve gone to St. Joe’s since first grade, and I like my friends here. The most exciting thing about the new school year is just being excited about something new.”

Back on the grounds of Divine Child, junior Nader Zahr was carrying a sign that read, “Welcome freshmen,” saying part of the Catholic school’s charism is welcoming all students and making them feel they belong.

“Not every school is like this,” Zahr said. “It’s small compared to the other schools in Dearborn. Here at Divine Child, we incorporate almost everything we do with Christ, whether it’s in theology class or Mass. Personally, I’m not Catholic, I’m Muslim, but being here, I’m closer to my faith. It brings everyone closer together; it’s good to interact with other religions, going to church every week.

“Once a Falcon, always a Falcon, and that’s why we’re excited to be back.”