Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Eighty former Holy Angels students who were shocked by the sudden closure of their school began the year at Mount St. Mary Academy this week.
Although the change has been understandably difficult, the girls said they were warmly welcomed into their new school.
”They have given us nothing but support,” Carolyn Sicurella, now a sophomore at the school, said. “Everyone was just so understanding.”
Holy Angels informed the students of the impending closure in late April. At the time of the announcement, President Joan Thomas said the decision was made as the result of declining enrollment, problems with funding and the impact from the recession.
”Nobody was ready for it. The day before, we were making plans for next year, registering for classes and ordering uniforms. There was no sign,” Carolyn Sicurella, now a sophomore at the Mount, said.
Not long after the announcement was made, the Mount began reaching out to Holy Angels girls.
”We started in the spring, just extending our sympathy,” Mount St. Mary Principal Dawn Riggie said. “It was a shocking thing for those young ladies, and we understand it is a difficult time.”
Before the start of school, each class year held a special event to welcome the Holy Angels students and other transfers. The sophomores hosted a drive-in movie on the front lawn, the juniors held a Christmas in July party and the seniors hula danced at luau.
Mount students also volunteered to be mentors to new transfers by welcoming them and helping them find their classes.
”Our message has been that we embrace everyone’s past history of how they came here, and we go forward together as one,” Riggie said.
The girls said they are comforted by the large contingency of Holy Angels girls that chose Mount. One student compared it to a “safety blanket.”
”When I see someone from Holy Angels in the halls, it’s like oh, everything’s OK,” Maeve Christ, another sophomore said.
The school’s enrollment increased significantly this year as a result of the transfer students and a larger freshman class — up to 360 students from 280 last year.
Riggie said the school reclaimed unused classroom space to accommodate more students, and also hired additional teachers, including one from Holy Angels.
A handful of Holy Angels girls chose to go to another local institution, Cardinal O’Hara. They, too, said the change has been a challenge.
”I miss it, it is different here,” sophomore Roni Joy Laudan said. “But I just want to make the most of this now.”
A senior, Jontay Walton, joked that she feels like a freshman in a senior’s body — looking for her classes, finding friends to sit with in lunch. She said she chose O’Hara because of the opportunities the school will provide.
”For me, I wanted somewhere that was good both athletically and academically,” Jontay Walton said, noting that she plays basketball and hopes to continue in college. “This was the place that was best for both aspects.”
The girls also said they are excited to attend events that only coed schools offer — homecoming, pep rallies and football games.
”In a way, we’re getting to experience what we couldn’t at Holy Angels,” Jontay said.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley