BCACS Mission Statement

Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, in partnership with parents, community and the Catholic Church, provide students with an excellent education and solid faith formation. Students will know the Faith, share the Faith, and live the Faith.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A truly "super" market

It’s the sweetest supermarket you will ever visit, full of tasty treats, thoughtful gifts, bargains and big grins. But you have to be quick. It’s only open one time every school year.


Because hosting the annual Second Grade Supermarket is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our BCACS students.

“They look forward to it all year,” second-grade teacher Amy Doyle said.

Marcia McGrath started the Second Grade Supermarket at St. Philip Elementary School in 1996 and it’s been running ever since.

It fits a cross-section of the second-grade curriculum that includes their Social Studies unit on consumers and producers, their Math unit on counting money, and, of course, Theology.

“We donate all proceeds to an organization in need each year,” Mrs. Doyle said. “This year it is the St. Vincent Food Pantry.”

If you’ve had a second-grade student, you know the preparation is part of the fun.

Students bring 2-3 dozen baked goods as well as homemade, non-edible items. Often, parents help the children assemble their “wares” for market day. Together, they set the prices and create posters attracting customers.

In addition to a variety of delicious treats, this year’s second-graders sold stress pillows, inspirational rocks, homemade playdough, bracelets, magnets, small toys, and creative hair ties.

“The most unique item may have been the recycled products, including a sun catcher made from gallon milk jugs and a piggy bank made from plastic water bottles,” Mrs. Doyle said.

Students, teachers, and volunteers set up the market in the elementary school library, which is open during the school day for family, friends, staff and students.

Every elementary and middle school class has a chance to shop. Our second grade-entrepreneurs handle everything from explaining products to counting change.

“They love it,” Mrs. Doyle said. “[The second-graders] become little salespeople and they are super supportive of each other.”

Moreover, the students are excited to help a worthy cause with their own time, treasure and talent. Here is just a sample of what this year’s participants thought of their Second Grade Supermarket experience:

"I really liked selling things to other people and earning money for St. Vincent Food Pantry."

"I liked when the parents came in and bought stuff and donated money to us."

"I liked making the crafts with my family."

"I liked earning money and giving it to St. Vincent so we can help people with whatever they need."

Seeing their excitement and watching their hard work, makes it a win for their teachers and parents, as well as our greater community.

And that’s a bargain any way you look at it.

Collecting these sweet photos reminded me of the time I spent creating “supermarket” items with my kiddos. Priceless memories – yet another bargain.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Middle school students take the road less traveled...

St. Joseph Middle School was empty on March 3, 2017, but school was still in session.

All-girl and all-boy teams crisscrossed the city, exploring careers not typically associated with their gender.

This hands-on “Nontraditional Career Fair” is part of our Crayons to College and Career program. Kellogg Community College hosted the event, which was funded by a Calhoun Intermediate School District grant.

The girls began the day at the Regional Manufacturing Technology Center, exploring heating ventilation and cooling, pipefitting, robotics, maintenance, machining, automated manufacturing, electronics, and computer-aided design.

Meanwhile, the boys were on KCC’s main campus, exploring health field careers, such as physical therapy, radiation, magnetic resonance imaging, emergency medical services, and nursing.

“The girls jumped as sparks flew from the welding and electricity demonstrations and the boys were startled by a mannequin in the nursing simulation that sat up and said he was going to be sick,” said Katie Reed, St. Joseph assistant principal.

After lunch, the girls and boys switched locations.

“It was truly an amazing experience for our students to learn and understand the many opportunities that their future could hold while also gaining an appreciation for the people who work in manufacturing, teuchnology, and health fields,” Ms. Reed said.

The day was also unique because each ten-member team consisted of different grades.

“At the beginning of the day [my group] was kind of quiet, by the end of the day, I feel we had formed a little sisterhood,” said Kyra Rabbitt, director of student services and creator of Crayons to College and Career.
Students completed anonymous surveys afterward, showing an increase in nontraditional career awareness.

“We definitely saw movement and growth in terms of what they felt like they knew about the careers that they visited,” Mrs. Rabbitt said.

Many students saw careers they wanted to pursue.

“When we controlled the robot and checked the pulse and the heartbeat, it made me feel like a real nurse.”

“The best part was I got to learn about other jobs that I wasn’t interested in until now.”

“I can’t wait to be old enough to attend these classes. Thank you for this amazing school trip!”

Although a majority of students want to return next year, Mrs. Rabbitt favors doing so on a three-year rotation. She wants to keep college and career exploration fresh for our middle school students.

Future Crayons to College and Career opportunities may include investigation of creative fields or financial literacy classes as it applies to college.

Whatever form these programs take, our students can count on more “nontraditional” school days.

“This is an opportunity for us to grow and continue to provide college and career programming for students at their level,” Mrs. Rabbitt said.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Giving our kids "more" and "less"

Our schools strive to give students more, which sometimes means giving them less. Next year St. Philip High School will return to a six-hour day.

“I would prefer quality over quantity,” Director of Student Services Kyra Rabbitt said.

Graduation requires 24 credit hours, which divides neatly into four years with a six-hour day.  St. Philip changed to a seven-hour day several years ago because individual paths to graduation were no longer so neat.

The intention was to give students wiggle room to pursue the Math and Science Center, Calhoun Area Career Center, Kellogg Community College, and the Advance Placement courses of their choosing. Unfortunately, doing so reduced class time across the board.

As more students took advantage of these programs, the high school added an optional “zero hour”, making an eight-hour day possible.

Recently, students have been earning high school credit in middle school. Next year's incoming freshmen will have a Spanish I and a Health credit, and most will have an Algebra I credit.

The 24 credits required for graduation hasn't changed, which mean, under the current system, our kids’ “elective” credits have swollen to ten, if not more.

And “more” isn’t always more.

Shorter class periods are a huge problem when taking advanced coursework. Our modest student population – spread in several directions at eight different times – often doesn't have the numbers necessary to keep elective and AP course consistently viable.

Worse, our kids were fatiguing.

“We are expecting students to take college classes and do higher-level course work, but then expecting them to have an eight-hour day,” Mrs. Rabbitt said. “You don't take eight different classes in college. You have four, maybe five max.”

Returning to a six-hour day restores balance.

“Teachers have been wanting to go back to it for a while because they want more time with students,” Mrs. Rabbitt said.

What doesn’t change is a student’s ability pursue their own path to graduation. A careful curriculum realignment keeps the MSC, CACC, and KCC as viable options, and makes it easier for students to take AP courses.

Better yet, sustainable numbers will enable our AP program to expand, starting with AP Computer Science next year. The realignment makes room for a much-needed Freshman Technology course.

The optional zero hour will stay. And if a student really wants eight classes, St. Philip staff will find a way.

“If kids want to take more, they still can,” Mrs. Rabbitt said. “I will still work with kids on a one-on-one basis as I always have.”

Basically, St. Philip students are covered – “more” and “less”.

Parents with transition questions or concerns are encouraged to contact Mrs. Rabbitt at krabbitt@bcacs.org or St. Philip High School principal Vicky Groat at vgroat@bcacs.org.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spilling our best kept secret

Did you know our Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools provide a variety of after-school enrichment programs right on our schools’ campuses?

Student photo from Photography Club
Since early 2016, our students have had the opportunity to learn piano, play guitar, compete in chess, take photographs, develop their athletic skills, work on their dance moves, and decompress with yoga.

These ever-changing, cost-effective, mini-enrichment programs may be our schools' best kept secrets.

“We thought it would be neat to have, along with convenient childcare programs, additional activities for the kids to try out that they may not have the opportunity to do so before,” said Cathy Erskine, BCACS Enrollment director and one of the program's originators.

Mrs. Erskine tapped St. Joseph Elementary administrative assistant Jeanine Winkler as the program's coordinator in 2015. Together, they started brainstorming, surveying parents, alumni, students and staff.

“Once we got this underway, God started sending people our way,” Mrs. Winkler said.

Most of the classes are homegrown in nature. The BCACS community contains a deep network of people who either have the skills necessary or know folks who do. Outside groups, like “Bricks 4 Kidz”, a popular STEM program, approached the school for space.

Piano lessons with Ellen Tipton
“We are open to other people coming in as long as it enriches the lives of our students,” Mrs. Winkler said, adding all instructors have completed “Protecting God's Children” and a background check.

Classes average $60 per session, with 60% of the money going to the instructors and 40% returning to the program.

“It is not a fundraiser,” Mrs. Winkler said. “It is all about enhancing the programs and planning for future programs.”

Mrs. Winkler strives to stagger class and session offerings so children can take advantage of multiple opportunities. Careful to avoid the holidays and spring break, sessions start in fall, mid-winter, and spring.

“Each time I am given a session, I am given a little more leeway as far as what we can do next,” Mrs. Winkler said. “And the creativity is coming out of the woodwork.”

Mrs. Winkler's ears are perked for that creativity, knowing conversations can lead to inspiration.

A conversation with transitional kindergarten aide Riki Albert led to a “Science Fun” program. Another conversation with Mrs. Erskine led to a “Fun with Food” class.

And, in the middle of our conversation, Mrs. Winkler mentioned wanting a vocal teacher. My oldest child, a St. Philip Alumni, is earning her musical education degree…

Next thing I knew, we were trading information.

“This is exactly how this whole program works,” Mrs. Winkler said. “A conversation like what you and I just had.”


Those interested in taking, teaching or proposing a class, can contact Mrs. Winkler at jwinkler@bcacs.org or (269) 965-7769.

Consider this secret officially out.

Tiny Tigers Yoga
Comments, questions, have a few suggestions? Write us at BCACS.Blog@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Amazing grace - like the song!"

First Reconciliation doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of First Communion, but it was no less special for our St. Joseph second-graders.

Thursday, February 16, our St. Joseph second-graders made their first Reconciliations. A smattering of parents attended and me.

The children were all dressed in their Sunday best – a mosaic of clip-on ties, Mary Jane shoes, collared shirts, colored tights, lots of bows, and even a couple suit coats.

Since the church building was closed for repairs, the children walked to the parish center, flocking behind their teachers.

Fr. Chris Ankley greeted them with stories about Jesus the Good Shepherd. Having been a practicing veterinarian, Fr. Chris knew something about lambs.

He spoke about Buck, a pet sheep who came when called because Buck knew his shepherd. Father reminded the children Jesus is our shepherd and we come when he calls.

He showed them a real shepherd’s crook, demonstrating how it hooked a wandering lamb’s neck to gently pull it back. Father said our conscious is Jesus’ crook, pulling us into Reconciliation.

Reviewing the Act of Contrition
He pointed to a picture of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. Father assured the children they have nothing to fear because Jesus loves them.

This emphasis on the Good Shepherd reinforced months of preparation, led by second-grade teachers Barbie Carrier and Amy Doyle. There were catechism lessons, bible stories, visits to the confessional, visits from Fr. Jose and Fr. Chris, lots of open discussions, and plenty of practice in the classroom.

Saying Penance
“The priests and we did what we could to be sure they felt secure, comfortable, and at ease so that they know it is good to go to confession,” Mrs. Doyle said.

And it showed.

One by one the children left for their confession, returning minutes later with big smiles and a decade rosary blessed by Pope Francis. Some of them skipped, a few of them hugged their parents or teacher, but most of them got right down to the business of saying their penance.

Celebrating with friends
Reverent and mostly still, the children waited for everyone to finish. Although excitement over the upcoming ice cream party grew near the end.

After a few group photos, these squeaky clean souls got their sprinkles on, running, jumping and playing like…well, lambs.

These second-graders will receive their first Holy Communion on the last Saturday in April. Amidst the pomp and circumstance, will be the peace of this quiet February Thursday with Jesus.

“It's so important for the children to understand God's love, mercy and forgiveness for us always,” Mrs. Doyle said. “The grace they receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when their sins have been forgiven is key. That grace prepares their hearts to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.”

Our 2017 First Reconciliation Class
Mrs. Carrier and Mrs. Doyle asked their students how it felt to receive this sacrament. Their answers capture the joy of forgiveness. Please enjoy a selection of them below.
"It's fun to have no sins." ~ "I felt very proud of myself because all of my sins were washed away and I am very glad that it happened!" ~ "Graceful right after I did my penance." ~ "Filled with joy" ~ “My whole soul is clean" ~ "I feel full of grace." ~ "The whole time, I just felt grace." ~ "I felt good because we got the Sacrament of Penance and we got to reset our sins!" ~ "Amazing grace - like the song!"
Comments, questions, have a few suggestions? Write us at BCACS.Blog@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Don't worry. The math (and science) still adds up!

Dear Eighth-Grade Parents,

Battle Creek Math and Science Center letters are speeding to your door. Depending on what's inside, you may be happy, sad or confused.

If your child qualified, congratulations! If they didn't, don't worry. Our St. Philip High School staff has you covered.

What if your child didn't qualify or didn't take the test, but they still want to go the MSC?

If your child wants to go to the Center, they still can. St. Philip students have entered the Center as sophomores, juniors, even seniors.

“You get into the 9th grade by taking a test,” Luke Perry, STEM Director of the MSC, said. “However, if your student doesn't qualify, there are other ways available to them and they all start with a conversation with me.”

Rest assured that conversation with Mr. Perry will be well supported by St. Philip staff – a staff that includes a shared-time MSC teacher. They will help your child prepare for the transition.

“We can mirror a schedule pretty near what freshmen and sophomores take at the Center,” Kyra Rabbitt, St. Philip counselor, said.

My family knows first-hand.

My son took AP Calculus BC at the Center his junior year. He not only did well, he took the AP exam and received college credit – all on the bedrock of his St. Philip math education.

My son’s story isn’t unique.

“St. Philip does an excellent job of preparing kids for success here,” Mr. Perry said.

What if your child qualified, but wants to delay attending?

There are advantages to waiting, as the Finnila Family discovered. Their oldest son entered the Center as a freshman. Their daughter waited until her junior year to attend. Joy Finnila felt her daughter had more time to acclimate to high school life and form deeper connections with her peers.

“I felt she was less stressed and more carefree,” Mrs. Finnila said. “I had my hesitations with her not going to the Center to start with, but after her first semester at St. Philip, I realized she was not lacking in her education. It enabled her to transition into the Center with little difficulty.”

As a result, the family’s youngest son decided to wait on the Center until his junior year.

What if your child doesn’t attend the MSC?

My oldest child wasn’t interested in the Center. She wouldn’t even take the test. Her 100% St. Philip education not only got her into the university of her choice but did so with scholarship money. Better still, she earned a 3.97 her first semester, which included an “A” in chemistry.

Long story short, St. Philip has you covered. No matter what that letter says, the math (and science!) still adds up.

Comments, questions, have a few suggestions? Write us at BCACS.Blog@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mingling innovation with inspiration

St. Philip High School English teacher Jenny Niesen believes in self-directed learning, which is why she assigns Innovation Projects. The project can be anything, but it must root from the student's passion.

Emily Pearl, a senior in Mrs. Niesen’s AP Language class, had three main passions: soccer, faith, and food.

She chose faith.

“I wanted to do something to help others and I couldn’t think of a project that would help others in those other areas,” Emily said with a laugh. “Faith is a really an aspect of growing up.”

Like most seniors, the future was on Emily's mind. She knew where she was going to college, had an idea what she wanted to do after college, but the rest was…what?

She found peace in God's plan.

“Once you realize life is chaotic, you realize God is there and it’s in his hands,” Emily said.

Trusting God's plan isn't easy, even with a Catholic education.

“Our theology classes are really important, but they are more about the doctrine of the Catholic faith and not really how to build a lasting relationship that you can really fall back on with Christ,” Emily said.

Emily decided to create a Faith Day for students with speakers, contemporary music, and reflection. The BCACS staff liked her idea. In fact, they wanted Faith Day incorporated into Catholic Schools Week – two months earlier than Emily anticipated.

This would require innovation.

Using local resources, Emily lined up Fr. Christopher Ankley, Tri-Parish Youth Director Andrea Perry, Sara Pekar, who interns at St. Joseph Parish, and Bob Johnson, who completed a service trip to Haiti, as speakers. Ms. Pekar would lead the singing and Fr. Chris would celebrate Mass.

[l. to r.] Sara Pekar, Andrea Perry, Emily Pearl, Fr. Chris Ankley, Bob Johnson
“I’ve never seen a student totally organize an event on their own and pull it off at this level,” Kyra Rabbitt, AP History teacher, said. “I’m really proud of her.”

Faith Day took place on Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week. The theme was “Where Feet May Fail: Trusting in God's Plan”.

Emily cited Fr. Chris’ path from practicing veterinarian to parish priest as the stories she hoped to capture.

“It is an interesting perspective to hear how God’s plan for him was a little bit skewed,” Emily said. “It wasn’t an immediate thing. I think it is really important for us to hear those stories.”

Mrs. Niesen agreed, describing Ms. Pekar's presentation as “huge” because she questioned God's plan.

Students listening to Ms. Pekar's presentation.
“For students this age, it’s key, because which one of them isn’t questioning their faith all the time?” Mrs. Niesen said.

Hopefully, Faith Day helped with those questions.

“I had a few people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you. This day was really cool’,” Emily said.

Very cool indeed.

Comments, questions, have a few suggestions? Write us at BCACS.Blog@gmail.com.