WEST PALM BEACH | For 20 years, St. Juliana Catholic School has recognized eighth-grade students who have demonstrated exemplary service to the school and community with the Faculty Sponsored Service Scholarship. The unique part about the recognition is that it isn’t based on high academic achievement — just a strong commitment to helping others.
The scholarship for students who plan to attend a Catholic high school was started by Susan Demes, who used to be a St. Juliana teacher and is currently the principal at St. Ann School in West Palm Beach. She realized that the only students who qualified for scholarships were those with top grades.
“We had a lot of students who did amazing things for their school and their community, and it was a way for us to recognize those children,” said Frances McGinn, media and technology teacher, who retires this month after 29 years at St. Juliana.
Throughout the school year, teachers collect donations and hold fundraising events, like selling baked goods and Christmas ornaments, to gather enough money to award the scholarships. “We’ve had really good buy-in from our faculty,” she said.
In the past 20 years, the teachers have raised $98,000, resulting in scholarships for 87 students. Eight scholarships were given out this year, with one student getting $500 and the rest $350, McGinn said. Past students have received as much as $2,000. The number of scholarship recipients varies each year depending on how many qualify and the amount of money raised ($3,000 this year).
To receive a scholarship, students must be headed to a Catholic high school and have a minimum grade-point average of 2.0. The students apply for the aid and are interviewed by a committee of educators. The biggest qualifier for the scholarship recipients by far is a big heart for service.
All eighth-graders at St. Juliana are required to log 25 service hours, Principal Eileen Lewis said. Those involved in the National Junior Honor Society add 10 more hours to that requirement. But what’s so impressive, she said, is how many students go above and beyond those levels of service. They serve at places like parishes, schools, elder care centers and animal rescue facilities, then keep serving even after the requirement is met, Lewis said.
“What really makes these students stand out is they keep going with the service,” McGinn said. “They have a minimum number of hours they have to meet. These two middle-school boys went to Noreen McKeen (residence for the elderly), and after their time, after they got their hours, they kept going. And they went the entire year, every week.”
She recalled another student who “went to Holy Cross Preschool three days a week. And once he met his hours, he kept going, all year long. We asked him why, and he said, ‘Because they needed me.’ That’s the kind of student we have, and we feel it’s really important to recognize that, especially if they’re going to continue on in a Catholic school.”
Lewis said that most of St. Juliana’s eighth-graders move on to Cardinal Newman High School. She has received emails from the high school about how St. Juliana’s students are well prepared and willing to serve.
“They do recognize the need to help in the community,” Lewis said. “It’s always part of a Catholic school. Maybe it’s like this at every Catholic school. I can only speak for our school, but we have very, very giving families and students.”
McGinn added that “it’s one thing to look at their scholarship application. But when you sit and talk to them, they just get it. It’s just become part of them, the importance of serving others in their community.”
The scholarships were recently awarded during St. Juliana’s graduation ceremony. Even though the amount of each award is not huge, the recipient families are grateful for the financial help. “As a parent who just put three children through Cardinal Newman, every little bit helps, even if it’s just paying the technology fee or the uniforms or the book bill. So, it does make an impact,” Lewis said.
“We have so many wonderful children, and they’re so much more than their report cards,” McGinn said.
“That’s a really important piece because kids with the good grades are getting other scholarships,” Lewis added, “but these are the kids who sometimes fly below the radar.”
To learn more about St. Juliana School, visit www.saintjuliana.org, call 561-655-1922 or follow the school on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For information on all schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach, go to www.diocesepbschools.org.