- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Sister Joyce Volpini strolled through classrooms at Hyattsville’s St. Jerome School last week, the way she has nearly every day for the past 29 years.

On this day, the principal’s daily routine took her to the kindergarten class, where children were trying to incorporate the word ‘tree’ into sentences they made up on their own.

‘A tree went to fight zombies,’ one boy was writing in his notebook.

‘No, trees do not fight zombies,’ Sister Joyce assured the smiling boy, who was still missing a front tooth.

Other children wrote, ‘A bird is on a tree,’ and, ‘The tree is mving,’ or ‘moving’ if it were spelled correctly.

Sister Joyce is the driving force behind what some members of the Archdiocese of Washington consider to be one of the most successful Catholic elementary schools in Prince George’s County.

She oversees a staff of 32 teachers, librarians, administrative workers and custodians on a budget that depends completely on tuition, donations and fundraisers such as raffles. The school has about 480 children enrolled from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Her fundraising efforts bring in about $200,000 a year. Parents of Catholic children from St. Jerome’s parish pay $3,900 a year for tuition. Catholics from other parishes pay about $4,700 a year. Non-Catholics pay $5,700.

Among her many challenges, ‘one of the biggest is the whole aspect of financial stability,’ Sister Joyce said.

However, she considers herself lucky to have a loyal following among alumni who still live in the Hyattsville area. Six of them, including the vice principal, are now on the school’s faculty.

When a boiler broke down in November 2003 and threatened to shut down the school’s heating system, the school’s alumni association, parents of the students and the parish came to the rescue with donations to replace the $105,000 piece of equipment.

On this day, three alumni were visiting Sister Joyce and former teachers.

One wanted to say goodbye before moving to California. The other two still live in the community but wanted to say hello.

‘I’m selling real estate and taking care of two kids,’ one former student tells Sister Joyce as she holds a toddler in her arms.

‘This is my softball coach,’ she tells the little girl.

‘That was a long time ago,’ Sister Joyce says.

She came to St. Jerome’s in 1976 after joining the religious order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1968 and teaching at St. Martin’s Elementary School in Washington. The Catholic school system offered her the job as principal.

Sister Joyce is a Baltimore native who holds a doctoral degree in education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

She used to be the school’s softball coach while teaching English literature and composition. Now, at 60, “Most of my time is spent on being the principal of the school,” she said.

Other times, she works on special projects, such as “peace bridges,” which consist of paper cutouts the children put together in the shape of a bridge taped to a wall. Each piece of paper describes a good deed they did, or offers words of wisdom.

Sister Joyce arrives about 7:40 a.m. each day to greet students and parents.

Before classes, she leads the students in prayer and makes daily announcements over the public-address system.

After attending to any immediate administrative issues that might arise, she walks around the school to speak with teachers and students.

Much of the rest of the day involves attending to financial matters, meeting with parents, returning phone calls and working on special projects.

When she’s not working, Sister Joyce enjoys sports, television, reading, music and going to the beach.

The best part of her job is “the kids,” she said. “They are great to work with and they keep you energized.”

The worst part, she said, is “having to deal with adults that act like children.”

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