The size of the first graduating class of Sisters Academy of Baltimore, Lansdowne, is the same size of some Catholic families. Although the 10 girls are not all Catholic nor are they sisters, their connection over the past four years since the school opened has been like a family, more distinctively – a sisterhood.
“Their lives will be changed forever,” said Sister Delia Dowling, S.S.N.D., president of the 57-student, non-tuition based, all-girls’ school in southwest Baltimore. The school was founded by four orders of women religious: School Sisters of Notre Dame; Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur; Sisters of Bon Secours; and Religious Sisters of Mercy.
It began in 2004 with the fifth grade, and one grade was added each year after.
“I think we’re ready,” said Sister Delia, as the first graduation ceremony since the school began approaches. “It’s a time of real joy.”
Many of the students at the school come from low-income neighborhoods and one-parent families.
“Some of our students have been directly affected by stories we read in the newspapers,” said Sister Delia.
In an effort to maintain a culture of peace and respect at the school, faculty and staff start each day with a 15-minute circle of peace in the gathering room.
With graduation will come a transition, maybe more so for the10 students who arrive with the rest of the school at 7:30 a.m. and stay until 5 p.m., in a safe environment.
Blair White, director of graduate support, is working closely with each student on the transition to high school, and will follow them into ninth grade as they attend Catholic and public schools in Baltimore.
“We’re preparing them,” said Ms. White. “We’re working on things like time management and study skills. I plan to be accessible after they leave.”
Ms. White has a Facebook profile, the girls know her cell phone number, and “I know how to ‘IM’ and text!” she said. “I love the girls.”
The graduates will be invited back for college workshops and movie nights, and assisted with college campus visits – all with the goal of keeping them connected to Sisters Academy and the loving culture they experienced in the school.
Deara Parker, 13, is “excited” to graduate and doesn’t plan on crying come graduation day.
“If I do, it won’t be out of sadness, but out of joy,” said Deara, who is
headed to St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, in the fall.
Her friends seated to her right said they are also excited to graduate. Carli Peddicord is registered at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, and said her adjustment will be walking into a class of 120 freshmen.
Lindsey Teter will attend Northeast High School and said “we’ll miss each other” yet the youngster can’t wait to attend high school. “I know during graduation we will all be sad. I know I’ll cry.”
The remainder of the class includes: Brittany Borden, Jazzmen Crafton, Danielle Hipkins, Caira Lee, Kierra McCollum, Mary Perez, and Autumn Walker.
The school has created a culture of tradition for the girls, educating them in mind, heart, spirit, and body.
“Things we’ve done have become important to them,” said Sister Debbie Liesen, S.S.N.D., principal.
She said she thinks graduation day will be “bittersweet” for her students.
“The graduation of the 10 graduates from Sisters Academy is an achievement on two levels,” said Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent for archdiocesan schools. “First we celebrate with these young ladies their excitement in being the first graduating class. They have completed their course of study and leave prepared to take this next step in their academic life. It is also a proud moment for the school, for in these 10 graduates they are seeing a dream fulfilled and a vision realized.”