OF ALL THE DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF OUR LADY OF MERCY ACADEMY (OLMA) that make it a truly unique choice for a child’s education, perhaps none stands out more than the spirit of sisterhood that forms the foundation for the all-girls high school.
It is felt from the moment a student becomes part of the OLMA family, as every new school year begins with a sleepover event for seniors and incoming freshmen leading up to the first day. The older girls each get paired with a “little sister” who they vow to look out for as she adjusts to high school.
“Along with the first day of school comes nervousness and uncertainty of where you will fit socially,” says Brooke Coyle, OLMA’s head of school. “This event takes that component out of the equation. The girls arrive on day one with new friends and a big sister they can turn to whenever they need help or have questions. The spirit of sisterhood is established right from the start and it’s a very import ant part of who we are.”
Sisterhood has been a constant since OLMA was founded in 1962, but another reason why the school draws from all over South Jersey—and has seen its enrollment grow by more than 50 percent in the last two years—is its commitment to developing fresh and exciting approaches to learning.
One example of this is the L2T program, which stands for Leadership, Life Skills and Technology. It was implemented last year for all incoming freshmen. The two-year program starts with a course called Bravery Training, which is designed to help students tap into their inner selves and effectively identify, address, challenge and overcome the many different obstacles an d challenges they face in their lives.
“Obstacles, often fear, can hold people back from achieving or going after what they want and this challenge is something that teenage girls, in particular, have difficulty navigating successfully,” says Jennifer Valore, dean of academics and leadership. “Bravery Training empowers our girls with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to overcome obstacles in their lives in order to reach their potential.”
In the second year of L2T, sophomores take courses in public speaking, financial literacy, digital communication and STEM/Business 101. “We’re focused in year two of the L2T program on building off of our bravery training ef forts and introducing our students to additional tools, resources and experiences that will allow them to seize every opportunity that comes their way and really shine,” Valore says.
Another new program is Mini-Mesters, which emphasizes experiential learning and has been embraced by both students and faculty. The week-long courses allow students to break out of their comfort zones and get valuable, hand s-on experience in ways that exist only when they go beyond the walls of the classroom. For example, last year girls with a love for theater went to New York City for a behind-the-scenes look at Broadway; others discovered the history of Cape May or traveled to Canada; and a brave few even hiked the Grand Canyon.
“The nine girls who hiked the Grand Canyon were faced with significant physical, emotional and m ental challenges,” Coyle says. “Some of them wanted to turn back, but they were alongside two teachers who gave them the encouragement t hey need ed to conquer it. They returned home fatigued but also with a sense of accomplishment like no other they had ever experienced. That confidence will serve them well when they are faced with other obstacles in the future.”
Athletics play a major role in the OLMA experience as well and has grown significantly along with the rest of the school over the past couple of years. OLMA currently offers 13 sports, including field hockey, added this fall, and has seen a great deal of success with its athletic teams. Last year’s highlights include the soccer team reaching the NJSIAA South Jersey finals, the softball team winning a pair of tournaments and the lacrosse team qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in school history.
“Spirit for your school comes from extracurricular activities, and we feel athletics is a huge part of that,” says Matt Lenguadoro, OLMA’s athletic director. “We have coaches who are passionate and girls who a re committed and like to compete. Our student-athletes are achieving at a very high level athletically as well as academically, several of whom have earned scholarships to attend colleges and universities. We’re thrilled to be in the position we’re in right now as an athletic program and are excited about the direction we are headed.”
Of course, academics will always be the No. 1 priority. OLMA offers a long list of honors courses, continues to add to its AP course offerings every year and has several dual-credit classes.
College guidance and preparation for the future are stressed from freshman year on, and students participate in a mock interview process as juniors and participate in a job shadow program to explore their career interests. In order to increase the support offered by OLMA’s college guidance department, the school recently welcomed a Naval Academy graduate who brings a wealth of experience including college recruitment.
“The growth of our college guidance department is an important asset for our girls,” Coyle says. “Every student will be given the tools and support they need to reach their academic goals and navigate the college selection process successfully.” Those intrigued by OL MA’s combination of distinguished academics, competitive athletics and powerful leadership through sisterhood are encouraged to visit the school and shadow a student for the day.
“We’re seeing more and more students and families choose OLMA,” Valore says. “This encouraging interest and growth signals to us that we are moving in the right direction and allows us to continue to build and strengthen all areas of the school that make OLMA a uniquely valuable and influential place to learn, prepare and grow. It’s very exciting to know th at OLMA continues to make a real difference in the lives of so many young women and that there really is no limit to the impact we are able to make as a school.”
Our Lady of Mercy Academy
1001 Main Road, Newfield
(856) 697-2008 | OLMANJ.org
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 7 (September 2018).
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