Stella Maris Academy poised for 70 years of education excellence in La Jolla

BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT:

In less than a year, Stella Maris Academy will mark 70 years of Catholic education in La Jolla. The school on Herschel Avenue, which teaches students from TK (Transitional Kindergarten) level to eighth grade, opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 1947. Stella Maris is the parochial school for adjacent Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church, which opened in 1906 and has been at its present Girard Avenue location since the 1930s. The academy’s current enrollment runs between 170 and 180 students, not just from La Jolla, but from as far away as Chula Vista to the south and Carlsbad to the north.

Patricia Lowell, previously a veteran of public school education, has been principal at Stella Maris since 2006. She is justly proud. “Our primary goal,” said Lowell, “is to make sure we share the faith with our students. But we have become much more academic in so many areas. We really provide a great variety of programs. We can step up next to the public schools in every area.”

Said Lizzet FitzCluster, the school’s director of marketing, “Stella Maris educates the whole child. Each child is treated differently and helped to develop their skills and their gifts.”

The school’s combination of academics, faith and community service continues to prepare its students for the next level. Not only have they gone on to San Diego-area Catholic high schools including St. Augustine, Our Lady of Peace and Cathedral Catholic, but to The Bishop’s School and La Jolla High. Stella Maris alumni have also graduated from the likes of Stanford, Cornell and Notre Dame.

“The high schools rave about how our students have tested,” said Katie Zack, Stella Maris’ vice-principal. “We really have set them up for success.”

Says Principal Lowell, “Here, we know each child, and the students feel the relationship with their teachers.” Stella Maris employs an all-lay faculty of between 20 and 25 teachers.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education. Said Zack, “Not only are we helping students who need help, but we’re challenging those who don’t. We offer a lot of different experiences within the community itself, and we are taking them out into the world.”

Those global experiences have included not only trips to the San Diego Symphony and San Diego Opera, but a fourth-grade train trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano, a seventh- and eighth-grade trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and a week-long sixth-grade science camp in the mountains.

“We have the opportunity (here) to differentiate for the student,” said Lowell, “and give them what they need.”

Unlike many of the budget-cutting public schools, Stella Maris still emphasizes elective classes in the arts and in foreign language. Students also get access to the technology so important in this digital age. The TK through third-grade students, Zack said, are getting iPads to use.

There’s even a cross-grade “buddy system” program that pairs lower-grade students with those of higher grades. The kids get to experience what the older kids are learning,” said FitzCluster.

They also make a new friend. “That bond,” said principal Lowell, “is so amazing.”

Looking toward Year 70 and beyond, vice-principal Zack puts it simply: “We never rest on our laurels. We want to continue to challenge ourselves and our students.”

Stella Maris Academy is at 7654 Herschel Ave. in La Jolla. (858) 454-2461. stellamarisacademy.org

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