On October 2, Catholic Academy of Bridgeport Board Chair Brad Evans welcomed 60 guests to the schools’ 10th Annual Fall Dinner celebration at Polpo Restaurant in Greenwich.
Sixty guests dined on Polpo’s upscale Italian fare. Those in attendance included eight of the Academy’s 12 Board members, all of the principals from the Academy’s four Bridgeport campuses, and many longtime and faithful supporters of the school.
Angela Pohlen, who took over as the Academy’s Executive Director in July when Sr. Joan Magnetti retired, thanked Ron and Dominque Rosa, owners of Polpo, for once again underwriting the food for this annual event. Past Board Chair Jim Bailey, who emceed the event, recognized Sr. Magnetti for her role in the Annual Fall Dinner since its inception in 2010 as well as for her committed and innovative leadership during the 10 years she served as the schools ED, a period during which the Academy transitioned from six schools to four and the budget went from seeing a deficit of $2.4 million to being completely balanced every year for the past six years.
Bailey also recognized alumnus Sergio Lara, who 10 years ago was a recent graduate of the Academy working toward a BA in Marketing at Fairfield University and the speaker at the initial Fall Dinner fundraiser. “Since then, Sergio has gone on to spend six incredible years at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today is a Corporate Strategy Consultant at BDO. Sergio recently told me that it was only through financial assistance that he was able to attend our school, and that none of this would have been possible were it not for generous people like you sitting here tonight.”
Bailey said that the choice of dates for tonight’s dinner was intentional, for in the Catholic Church, October 2 is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. “One of the roles of Guardian Angels is to protect those entrusted to their care, and that certainly is true of all of you. Through the years we have asked you to partner with us so that we can educate those children entrusted to us in a safe, nurturing, Christ-centered environment; one where personal and moral character is being shaped, mutual respect and kindness are being taught, and students graduate with the confidence and ability to succeed in life; an environment that, in many instances, is not available in the public sector.”
Each guest received a crystal angel as a small token of the school’s gratitude for their kindness and generosity through the years. “When you hang it, I hope you will remember what a tremendous and powerful difference you have made in the lives of our students,” said Bailey.
A secondary theme of the evening was “unwritten,” and Jasmine Fuller, an alumna of the Academy’s St. Ann campus and a current junior at Kolbe, wowed the crowd with her singing of Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield. Afterwards, Pohlen said,“If you read the statistics from the city of Bridgeport, they’re usually written with a period – as if it’s a foregone conclusion that the children of this city will continue in the perpetual cycle of underachievement because of their own deficits and not those of the system of which they are a part. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions. Our students are not statistics – they are individuals with the power and ability to overcome the obstacles that others have already deemed insurmountable. They will write their own stories, and it is our privilege to have a part in that authorship.”
Silver frames with personal quotes from many of the Academy’s 7th and 8th grade students donned each table throughout the room. These quotes were written by the students after they reflected on the song Unwritten and the following statistics: Only 23% of students in the Bridgeport Public School system are performing at grade level compared to more than 80% of Catholic Academy of Bridgeport students, and barely 60% of Bridgeport Public School students graduate high school compared to 100% of the Academy students.
To these statistics 8th grader, Mikita, wrote, “Why is that? Is it because we only take in smart students and throw out the rest? Of course not. We get these results because all of us know we aren’t statistics and can go above and beyond what the graphs say. We realize we can change our lives for the better and believe we can fulfill the mission God gave us. I dream of becoming a police detective because I want to help rid Bridgeport of crime and violence. This school is paving the way for me to achieve that dream.”
After the entrée course, guests had the opportunity to hear from Roseangel Zayas, an 8th grader on the Academy’s St. Augustine campus, whose favorite subject is English and who writes for the school’s newspaper and is a member of the yearbook staff. “Going to school here has given me a great education and the teachers always have the best interest of me in mind; they don’t just teach for the paycheck,” she said. “When I was in 5th grade, my family experienced an unexpected fire. My father got 3rd-degree burns and my mother 2nd-degree burns. All of our possessions were destroyed. The school worked to get my family a $1,200 security deposit for a new house plus threw me a housewarming party. I’m so grateful that God put such kind-hearted people in my path. They are like family to me,” Zayas said.
Although she does not come from a family of graduates, Zayas said she wants to be the first one “to go on to a good high school where I will continue to become the me God planned me to be.” She dreams of becoming a social worker or working n the criminal justice field so she can give back to others who need it most. “I believe the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport has put me on the right path to do so, and I appreciate all of the kindness, support, donations and acceptance from people like you.”
Later in the night, “Hands Up for Scholarship” pushed proceeds of the fundraiser above $300,000. All money will go to support students in the Academy, which educates nearly 900 children on four campuses in grades preschool through 8th in the city of Bridgeport, 85% of whom cannot afford the annual tuition of $5,000 and most of whom live below the poverty level.
Pohlen thanked the guests for their tremendous support, noting, “You are well aware that our students outshine and outperform their public school and many of their charter school counterparts by leaps and bounds. However, it’s important to recognize we don’t cherry-pick our students. These are the same kids who would otherwise go to those schools – the difference is we believe they can achieve, so we give them the tools to do so. It’s a difference in the mission.”
The Catholic Academy of Bridgeport must raise more than $2 million each year for scholarship. For more information, visit www.catholicacademybridgeport.org or call 203-362-2990.