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Geibel continues to strive for excellence

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 8:10 a.m.
Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School offers several WPIAL sports programs and also has an equally strong arts program. Here, teacher and director Nick Bell (seated center) leads students in a rehearsal for the spring musical “Les Miserables.” Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier -- january 2013
Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School English teacher Elizabeth Spinelli teaches the Communications and Publications class in the school’s media center, which features among many other things, comfortable seating, a smart TV and 18 laptops with wireless Internet access. Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier -- january 2013
Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School features a beautifully refurbished chapel on campus where students and faculty celebrate Masses and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as prayer and rosary services. Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier -- january 2013

Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School has a lot to celebrate during this year's Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. The school is not only celebrating nearly 50 years of serving the community, but in September, it was named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America.

“I think America needs Catholic schools and Christian schools now more than ever. Just look at what is going on out there today,” Principal Don Favero said. “It's not for everybody, but it's what we do, and it's good for those who want that type of education.”

Favero said there are three main reasons for Geibel's success: instruction on core values, excellence in educational programs and community service.

The school's religious curriculum has been approved by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. The school has a chapel on campus where students and faculty celebrate Masses and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as prayer and rosary services. School chaplain, the Rev. Bob Lubic, acts as a mentor for students and staff.

John Wagner, a 2005 Geibel graduate, said he found the ability to develop not only spiritual values, but moral values very beneficial.

“I think many people in the world today could benefit from having these values,” he said.

Elizabeth Spinelli has taught English at Geibel for the past three years. Spinelli, who had a Catholic education through eighth grade, said she chose to teach at the school over public schools.

“I like the teacher-student ratio we have here and the fact that I can incorporate religion into my teaching,” she said. “It is just a really good atmosphere and when I came for my interview I liked the fact that faith is so embraced here and that I can share that with my students is something that is really uplifting to me.”

While the Catholic faith is a strong part of the school, 8 percent of the students are of other Christian denominations.

Geibel, located on East Crawford Avenue in Connellsville, has 99 to 100 percent of its seniors go on to a college or university. Favero said the Geibel instructional philosophy is an important part of why the students have such academic success.

“Every teacher knows that their first responsibility is to address the learning distinctions of each student, because each student learns differently,” he said. “Our teachers design lessons to reach each — not just seven kids in a room, but all 14. Our kids soar here academically because we design lessons that reach them.”

Favero said the teachers also take time to explain how the lessons they teach will relate to their students' careers.

“We have low discipline issues here, so we don't spend a lot of time on that and can put that energy toward other positive things for the kids,” he said.

Wagner said the smaller class sizes at the school also made a big impact on him.

“One of my favorite things about Geibel was the sense of community you feel while attending the school. I think this has a lot to with the smaller class sizes. No one flies under the radar or is left in the dust. Everyone is able to get as much or as little individualized attention that they need to succeed in school,” he said. “I always felt challenged in school and felt that my education was growing each day. Also, for me, after graduation I was not left feeling like I never wanted to see that building again. I still go back each year to help out with their spring musical. It's nice to know that I can give back to the Geibel community.”

The school also offers opportunities for students to earn college credits during the regular school day by featuring courses from Seton Hill University, St. Vincent College, Mt. Aloysius College and La Roche College.

Favero said last year a student graduated with 34 college credits which allowed her to enter college as a sophomore, saving the cost of one full year of college.

“The synergy here between faith formation and academic excellence, that is what makes us work,” Favero said.

The third piece of Geibel's success is community service. Each student is responsible for completing 24 hours of community service, 12 hours within their own church or community and 12 hours with the school.

“This way students learn as teenagers that they have a responsibility to the community,” Favero said.

Favero said the biggest challenge is to maintain the high academics and keep the school affordable.

“We are under $7,000 (per school year), which is very low, and we are able to keep it low due to funding, tuition assistance and diocesan subsidies from local parishes,” he said.

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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