Immigrant Students Find Faith, Family at Diocesan Schools

| January 20, 2012

Omobolade Ademoyo picks up her daughter, Imisioluwa, after school. The family chose St. James School for its academics, as well as faith and family values, after arriving in the U.S. from Nigeria.

By Claudia Mathis

Adeolu Ademoyo arrived in the United States from Nigeria in 2003 to study philosophy at Binghamton University. His wife, Omobolade, and their four children, Akiirayi, Itunu, Iderase and Imisioluwa, joined him in 2008. Upon the family’s arrival, the Ademoyos set out to find a school for their children. At each school, they asked if the day started with a prayer. They eliminated the schools that didn’t offer this. Adeolu said he was looking for a setting that offered quality education but also valued faith and
family. In the end, the family chose St. James School in Johnson City, NY.

The Ademoyos are very involved in their children’s education, and they believe that St. James and Seton Catholic Central Jr./Sr. High School in Binghamton, NY, where their older children now attend, play a crucial role in the building of their children’s character. “St. James is a model of the Catholic mission,” said Adeolu. “The mission is consistently articulated and,
as a result, the students excel.

St. James Principal George Clancy is pleased that the Ademoyos and other immigrant families have found a comfortable place at the school. “The wonderful thing that happens is that it opens up all of our children’s eyes to the world,” said Clancy, who also has students from Russia and Vietnam. “It gives our students a chance to learn about other cultures.”

The three oldest Ademoyo children have since made a smooth transition from St. James to Seton Catholic Central Jr./Sr. High School, which has also embraced them. “They are enthused, engaged and considered to be strong students by their teachers,” said Seton Principal Richard Bucci. “The Ademoyo children diversify and enrich our student body.”

The Ademoyos are a prime example of immigrant families seeking the opportunities this country has to offer in the form of Catholic education. Many of the Catholic schools in the Syracuse Diocese have seen an increase in interest from this diverse population, which traditionally considers academic success a top priority but also seeks a safe and disciplined environment along with a welcoming student body.

Seeking out a Catholic Education

Jordanie and Joe Hakizimana were born in Congo and are now flourishing students at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse, NY. Jordanie, a senior, attended several schools in the area before coming to Grimes. “The kids at the other schools weren’t focused on getting an education, and the teachers didn’t care,” he said. “I knew I needed a way to find a Catholic education.”

When Jordanie was 14 he asked for an application to enroll at Grimes, according to Alicia Sovik-Socia, who has played a vital role in Jordanie’s life, including taking the young man in to live with her. “It’s wonderful to see what Bishop Grimes has done for him,” Sovik-Socia said. “It is the most loving, caring school. It provides stability for him, which is what he needed. He now has a lot of confidence.”

“I visited Bishop Grimes and felt comfortable and safe, and I felt that I could focus on my education,” said Jordanie.

Immigrant students like brothers Joe and Jordanie Hakizimana, who were born in Congo, are welcomed into our Catholic schools. They are pictured with Marc Crouse, principal at Bishop Grimes Prep.

Once he arrived at Grimes, however, the young man found the courses to be much more difficult than at his previous school. He attributes much of his success to his resource teacher, Susan Boone, and Susan Nedza, director of guidance, who helped him catch up. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Jordanie worked a job in landscaping and at the New York State Fair to help pay his tuition. He also is a forward on the varsity soccer team and hopes to pursue a career in landscape architecture. Last year, Jordanie won the Most Improved Student of the Year Award, and he believes that the caring staff brings out the best in him. “Before I never really knew who I was,” he said. “Now, I know that I am a fun-loving person, and I’m empathetic toward other people.”

His brother, Joe, a ninth grader, decided to attend Bishop Grimes Prep this fall after witnessing the change in his brother. “He became more responsible,” said Joe. “I look up to him as a role model.”

Joe, too, knows he made a wise choice. “I love it here,” he said. There are a lot of kind-hearted people here. I feel loved. The school I came from was horrible. The teachers didn’t care, and the kids didn’t care. I care about education. I want to be a lawyer.”

Principal Marc Crouse believes the brothers’ presence at the school has enriched the lives of all Bishop Grimes students, who have had the opportunity to learn about the traditions and customs of Africa, as well as important lessons in the tolerance and understanding of people from different cultural backgrounds.

“Our staff is happy to have different cultures represented because it creates opportunities in classes, such as social studies and religion, to talk about different perspectives,” Crouse said. “We’re lucky to have them here. They are shining examples of what we stand for, what we believe in and who we are.” n

Claudia Mathis is a freelance writer with the Catholic Sun.

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Category: Bold Initiatives, Featured

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