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Aquinas Academy recognized for excellence

| Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Seniors Peter McKeating, left, Peter Landau and Anastasia Wilhelm participate in a class discussion during their AP U.S. government class taught by Mary DePauw at Aquinas Academy, which just received the 2014 School of Excellence award by the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll.
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Seniors Peter McKeating, left, Peter Landau and Anastasia Wilhelm participate in a class discussion during their AP U.S. government class taught by Mary DePauw at Aquinas Academy, which just received the 2014 School of Excellence award by the Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll.

Aquinas Academy of Pittsburgh is at the top of its class.

The school in Hampton Township was named a 2014 School of Excellence by The Cardinal Newman Society's Catholic Education Honor Roll, which recognizes Catholic education through institutional identity, administration, academics and student life in Catholic high schools across the country.

“This school was founded on the mission … (of) academic strength and strong faith formation at the service of others in the community,” said Aquinas Academy Head of School Leslie Mitros. “For us, it's affirmation we're fulfilling our mission.”

Aquinas Academy is among only 71 schools in the country that received the honor of being named a School of Excellence this year. An additional nine received the distinction of honorable mention. The honorees account for less than 5 percent of the Catholic high schools in the United States.

“It shows their community that there's another organization that is recognizing them as a good school,” Bob Laird, vice president for program development at The Cardinal Newman Society, said about the honorees. “Everyone likes to brag about their school, but it's another thing for someone from the outside to look at it and say, ‘It's a good school.'”

The 2014 Schools of Excellence are located in 26 states, with the largest number located in Pennsylvania.

In addition to Aquinas Academy, Pennsylvania's eight honored high schools are Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Connellsville; Oakland Catholic High School in Pittsburgh; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Coraopolis; Quigley Catholic High School in Baden; St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights; Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport; and Seton-La Salle Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon.

The Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., founded the Catholic High School Honor Roll in 2004, and The Cardinal Newman Society in Manassas, Va., assumed the program in 2012. Aquinas Academy has won the School of Excellence award every year since 2005, which, Laird said, makes Aquinas Academy unique in Pennsylvania.

Only seven schools have received the award each year since 2005. Aquinas Academy is the only one in Pennsylvania to do so.

“It's amazing,” Laird said. “A lot of it has to do with the management of the school. Leslie Mitros has been there for quite a while. She does a good job.”

Students at Aquinas Academy attend religion class every day, celebrate Mass four times per week and focus on virtues throughout the school year. High school students coordinate their own service projects through the Students of Service Club, and middle school students choose one organization per year to volunteer service.

Aquinas Academy students also excel academically, and the school plans to add a second-level calculus class. The new high school building, set to open this fall, will allow staff to provide students with a more accessible media center with computers and also offer Advanced Placement chemistry.

Mitros said a lot of the credit for continuing to receive the award each year can be given to the staff, parents, students and community who continue to support Aquinas Academy in its mission.

“There is at some level an expectation because we want to do all things well, and we're consistently trying to do all things well,” Mitros said about earning the School of Excellence award. “And yet it is a cause for celebration.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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