School Year Wrap-up: Students Excel in Sports, Science Fair and Essay Contest


St. Bonaventure Basketball Team Receives Grant for Brand-New Uniforms

When thinking of needs for a mission school, “new basketball uniforms” is probably not an item that will make the list.

At St. Bonaventure School in Thoreau, nearly every middle school student joins the basketball team. On game nights, the gym is usually filled to capacity. But the school gym is in a building originally built as a roller-skating rink, then used as a cafeteria. Even after a remodel, most visiting schools are reluctant to play at the gym because it doesn’t meet regulation standards.

Despite these setbacks, something as simple as a good uniform can make all the difference to a young player, and that’s where Sr. Natalie Bussiere decided to start.

“When I was principal there I bought them for the kids through a donor, and they’re probably ten years old,” said Sr. Natalie, who now works at the St. Bonaventure Mission Office. “So yeah, they were worn out.”

One day, a friend suggested that Sr. Natalie should apply to the JJ Watt Foundation. Named after NFL athlete Justin J. Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans, the foundation supports after-school athletic programs in middle schools around the United States.

Connie Watt, Justin Watt’s mother, serves as the Vice President of the foundation. She recalls how important after-school athletic programs were to the personal and professional development of her son.

“You know, you go to some games and some schools are all decked out in the most expensive uniforms, and glitz and glamour, and it’s definitely not about that at all. We try to make sure that we’re giving them basic needs and basic uniforms,” she said. “[Watt] was an athlete when he was young, and he said that he looked forward to every Friday – being able to wear his football jersey to school. It was a pride thing, like you were proud to show that you were part of a team, you’re proud of your school. It’s just something that the kids had to feel good about, to look forward to.”

Watt refers to athletic programs as “incentives” – for students who love to play basketball, maintaining a certain grade point average usually goes hand-in-hand with a place on a team’s roster.

“Our main mission is to keep the kids in a safe and supervised environment after school, but also teaching them those different skills,” she said. “We understand that parents and teachers can teach them things, but the things that you learn from a team and being part of a team are a little bit different: learning how to lose, how to lose gracefully, the leadership qualities.”

St. Bonaventure students (blue and yellow) in their new uniforms

And on a team where nearly every student participates in basketball, opportunities to teach life lessons pop up every day. For the team’s coach, Andrew Yazzie, winning comes second.

“My number one goal is for the students to learn how to be satisfied with their best effort. If they know they did their best, to me it’s a win, every time,” he said. “So that’s my goal is to not make winning the most important thing, and to love each other, on the basketball court, not to yell at your teammates when they make mistakes but to encourage them.”

Yazzie grew up in New Mexico, as a cross-country runner and basketball player, before moving to Michigan for 10 years. But he calls New Mexico his “home”, and always wanted to come back. An opening for a PE teacher at St. Bonaventure proved to be the perfect opportunity. In particular, the school attracted him because it allowed him to incorporate his faith into his teaching.

“Every class is kind of like a little family. I love being able to talk about Christ and share Scripture with the students,” he said. “When I came Mrs. Griffin was the principal, she said ‘my number one goal is character development’. I love that because I really feel like that should be the number one goal in these students, especially from a Christian standpoint. I really believe the academics will follow if that student has good character – the academics will fall in place.”

Yazzie carries it a step further, molding faith and character on the court.

“I just got done talking with one of the classes about how God is glorified when we play our best for Him and are satisfied with the result, whether we win or lose. We don’t make winning the most important thing.”

This progression is natural in an environment where families turn out in droves to watch their children play. On a typical game night, the bleachers will be filled with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings. The spirit and pride in the game is palpable, and now that spirit can shine through the new uniforms worn by students.

Sr. Natalie believes the uniforms will carry the students through many victories, on and off the court.

“They’ll be using them year after year after year…and for the youngsters themselves, those qualities that I just mentioned that they’ll carry with them even when they graduate from our school and go on to high school, hopefully some of them will join the basketball team in high school and they’ll find some fulfillment in that.”


Diocesan-Wide Essay Contest Prompts Students to Examine Theme of Love, Self-Sacrifice in Literature


“Okay,” says Bishop Wall, pointing you a statue of St. Anthony. “Who can tell me where Padua is?”

The group of twelve middle schoolers think over the question while their teachers watch.

“I’ll give you a hint,” the bishop says. “It’s a place that has been in the news a lot lately.”

“Syria?” asks one boy.

“No, but that’s a good guess! Guesses are always welcome.”

Seeing an opportunity for a joke, another boy calls out, “North Korea!”

Some of the students giggle. “You guys like dangerous places!” Bishop Wall answers, before leading the students in a discussion of Italy and the recent canonizations of two of the Fatima children by Pope Francis.

It’s early afternoon, and the group has traveled to Gallup for lunch and a personalized tour of the Cathedral with Bishop Wall. This is their prize for winning the second annual essay contest sponsored by the Office of Catholic Schools. The twelve winners from each middle school grade from four schools are here with their English teachers.

Student essay contest winners receiving a personal tour of Sacred Heart Cathedral from Bishop Wall.

In 2016, St. Teresa School in Grants was the sole school that participated in the contest, when students were asked to discuss themes of the 19th century novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Jeanette Suter, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Gallup, selected the winners from a total of 72 submitted essays. Her chosen theme for this year’s contest was “love of neighbor”.

Students had a choice of four books to read and analyze for their essays: Number the Stars, a novel about a Jews fleeing the Holocaust; Farewell to Manzanar, a firsthand account of Japanese internment camps; The Day of the Pelican, a fictional story of a Muslim refugee family fleeing war in Kosovo; and The View from Saturday, a Newbery winner about a team of middle schoolers in an Academic Bowl competition.

“All of the stories kind of focused on ‘how do we treat other people’, ‘how do we treat people who are different’, times in history when that wasn’t done well,” Suter said. “The questions were about what motivates people to do evil in the world, what motivates others to do good, examples of the different kinds of love. You know, friendship, familial love, or self-sacrificing. So those were the things I really wanted to focus on, especially with everything that’s been in the news about the refugees and the immigration issues. We know how mainstream media can be – I wanted them to look at these kinds of issues from a Catholic social justice perspective.”

Suter was especially impressed with the dedication of the teachers, who used the books to talk about both literature and faith.

“One of the essays even pulled out a quote from the book of Ezekiel, which was just so spot on. The other thing they worked at really hard was techniques of writing, good grammar, good syntax, good organization, how to cite the works. I was impressed by this year and how well they did.”

Suter said she eventually hopes to have all Diocesan schools participate in an academic decathlon.

The following students wrote winning essays:

6th grade:

Kaylie James, Sacred Heart in Gallup, Bethany Mariano, St. Teresa in Grants, Adryanna Leatherwood, St. Anthony in Show Low, and Naomi Wagoner, Sacred Heart in Farmington

7th grade:

Elizabeth Silva, Sacred Heart in Gallup, Domonic Brunson, St. Teresa in Grants, Emily Fogle, St. Anthony in Show Low, and Natalia Sawyer, Sacred Heart in Farmington

8th grade:

Anthony Yazzie, Sacred Heart in Gallup, Sebastian Noriega, St. Teresa in Grants, Josh Kittle, St. Anthony in Show Low, and Renee Donaldson, Sacred Heart in Farmington



St. Francis School in Lumberton Scores High at Regional Science Fair

From St. Francis School staff:

A Regional Science Fair was held on March 11, 2017, in Farmington, NM. St. Francis School had eleven entries from grades 5-8.

Manuel Gomez, Jr., placed 2nd in his division and will go on to the State Science Fair on April 1, 2017, in Socorro, NM.

Marcus Blackbird, grade 5, received a 3rd place in his division, Earth and Space Science.

Asia Rivas, grade 8, also earned a third place in Medicine and Health Science.

Estella Gomez, grade 8; Ryder Crow, grade 7; Kaylie Vicenti, grade 7; and Audriana Talamante, grade 6 all earned honorable mentions.

Alaina Vigil, grade 5; Keanu TeCube, grade 6; and Rossi Cooke, Grade 8 received participation awards.

Anton Rivas, grade 5, received a special recognition certificate from ASM Materials Foundation: the 2017 Most Outstanding Exhibit in Materials Science.

St. Francis would like to thank Manuel and Valerie Gomez who organized the school Science Fair and who prepared these very talented students for the Regional Fair.

Teacher Manuel Gomez, Sr., Estella Gomez, Keanu TeCube, Rossi Cooke, Manuel Gomez, Jr., Asia Rivas, Ryder Crow, Kaylie Vicenti


St. Michaels Volleyball team ranked #1 in Arizona; Robotics team takes high honors

From St. Michaels School Staff:

Student athletes at St. Michaels School put in a top effort for the 2016-2017 school year. The High School volleyball team finished the season at the #1 rank for the state of Arizona under Coach Andrea Ashkie and the following players: Sierra Badonie, Delila Nakaidinae, Jalynn Smith, Paige Laughing, Julianne Billiman, and Summer Terry. The girls’ basketball team finished the season as 1A champions and the boys’ team finished as NAIC champions.

Kaitlyn Muring, 6th grade, and Colby Begay, 7th grade, were Fort Defiance Agency Spelling Bee Champions for the respective grades. Rebecca Nez placed as the alternate for the Navajo Nation Spelling Bee.

Aaliyah Bob, 5th grade, was recommended by Miss Navajo to sing the National Anthem in Navajo at the Wild Horse Pow Wow in California. She sang the National Anthem in Navajo. In addition, Aaliyah brought in the flag and did a dance for the flag.

The St. Michaels Robotics Teams won a trophy at First Tech Challenge. One student, Jeanette Bitsie, place third and was placed on Dean’s List – she then competed at the world games in Houston in April. The SMIS Robotics Team is considered #3 in NM and AZ.

Jessica Davis and Deanna Wilson competed in Poetry Out Loud at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.

Tyree Dalgai and Malik Scott represented SMIS as the Rotary Students of the Month.




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