Surprised, humbled and grateful were the responses Principal Martha Eadie described on receiving awards for her work at Our Lady of Black Rock School in Buffalo. She was recently honored with the "Lighting the Way for Catholic Education" award by the Catholic School Administration of Western New York.
"I feel grateful, and I think that there are so many people who are well-deserving as well, that I don't feel that what I do should be recognized in a different way," Eadie said. "But I'm very grateful for that. And God gives me the strength to keep me on my feet, and I just keep going forward, and that's what I do."
Eadie grew up in and around Assumption Church in Black Rock, where her mother was an organist and father was active in the Holy Name Society. While working and raising her children, one particular calling persisted. She answered that call by going back to school, first for teaching, then for administration.
Eadie has always worked in Catholic schools.
"That's by choice," she said. "I say that proudly, because I am a product of Catholic education myself, in grammar school through high school. My husband as well, and my young children. I say that I'm not here because I can't find a job somewhere else. I am here by choice.
"There isn't any other place that I could go, and talk about God, and pray, and, you know, do what I do. So I'm doing what I'm happy with, what I think I'm called to be doing. And I'm very happy to be able to do that. I'm very blessed to be able to do that. I always say I have too much fun at my job. I don't know if that's good or bad, but if you're not happy at what you're doing, you shouldn't be doing it."
Eadie believes a happy and caring attitude helps attract families to the school. She said the class sizes of 12-15 students provides a very nurturing environment.
"The kids don't ever want to go home. It's kind of a funny thing in a way; it's like, 'Please, go home,'" Eadie laughs. "They come in with smiles on their faces. They love it here. And my biggest marketing tool, I think, are the parents. Because they're happy, and they know their kids are safe, and they know their kids are loved. Their kids are getting everything they need. And it's hard to do, to try to meet the needs of everyone, but we try really hard to do that. Being in a small environment, we can do that. It's a win-win for us so, we've got a good thing going on."
Word about Our Lady of Black Rock School is getting out. Over the four years Eadie has been at the school, enrollment has gone up 10 percent every year.
"Which goes against all the studies and demographics," Eadie said. "But we have here a growing population of refugee immigrant families, so we have quite a diverse community, which makes us unique in the faith of a Catholic school."
English is not the first language for 28 percent of the current student body. Tuition for about 70 of the families comes from the BISON fund, a non-profit organization which provides income-based scholarships to non-public schools across Western New York. The Kremer Foundation and other sources also provide support. About 40 percent of the children come from non-Catholic homes. Diversity is welcomed, while Catholicism is universal.
"We're all about Catholic," Eadie said. "We are a Catholic school, first and foremost. We invite our families to participate in what we do, and the children as well. They learn religion like they learn math, and social studies. A lot of them come with a good background, if they're Baptist or Lutheran or Methodist, Protestant. Some are Muslim, actually, and they have some different beliefs. And it's okay. God loves all of us. If someone has something really interesting to share, we'll celebrate those things too, but in the context of a Catholic school."
Students at the school are actively working in every classroom. Emergent technologies including interactive projection boards and iPads are in use. The foundational curriculum is supported and expanded into the community with arts and performance.
"All our kids have their work in the art show," Eadie said. "The school choir has six gigs already, the Hyatt, the NFTA (subway station). Like the Partridge Family, we go on a bus. The kids sing their hearts out."
Connections with the local and international community expand in lifestyle initiatives as well. In 2012, Eadie won the Healthy School Hero Award from Action for Healthy Kids in the Grassroots Volunteer category.
"As part of that, we were able to get a lot of little grants," Eadie said. "A thousand dollars here, $1,500 there. There were a lot of different things, and I'd say, 'Let's apply for that.'"
With the grant funding, creative healthy eating and exercise were explored in the cafeteria, classroom and family activities. The "Taste of OLBR" was a celebration of cultural pride.
"Parents dress up in native costumes, and are so happy to bring in food," Eadie said. "The kids love it. We started a walking club, three miles on the walking path. And the really cool thing is that we get grandparents, babies in strollers."
Our Lady of Black Rock School exemplifies a world model. A wall map shows smiling class photos placed across continents. Homemade meals are available for breakfast and lunch. In one room, a partnership with Baker Victory Dental is in place, and a student is receiving a fluoride treatment. The Boys and Girls Club provides a busy afterschool program in the building, incorporating neighborhood and public school children.
All this happens with much support. Eadie acknowledges Father Richard Jedrzejewski, administrator of Our Lady of Black Rock School, for much of the school's accomplishments. Eadie also said she could not do so much without the support and understanding of her husband, who is also an educator.
Eadie speaks with enthusiasm about OLBR and evangelization.
"I love Pope Francis," she said. "He encourages us to be a Church of the poor and for the poor. I have him right here, on my desk," she said pointing to a photograph. "I think he is quite something. It's just exciting to me. He's not changing things, but he's making people look at things in a different way. And say that, 'You know what, we can open our hearts a little more. We just can't be like this. I mean, Jesus loved everybody, didn't He? He accepted everyone, didn't He?' I think he's just fantastic."