To longtime residents of South Jersey, it is no secret that Paul VI High School has been one of the leading academic institutions in the area since opening its doors in 1966. Combining a commitment to Catholic values with a focus on developing young women and men intellectually, spiritually and socially, it has had a tremendous impact on the community for generations.
Whereas other schools might rest on that tradition and reputation, however, Paul VI is always looking for new ways to improve its students’ experiences. Two programs in particular are clear examples of the school’s effort to enrich children’s lives by offering opportunities that might not be available elsewhere.
The AP Capstone program was started by the College Board in 2015 as a way to develop skills in research, analysis and problem-solving. Endorsed by many of the premier universities in the country—including Harvard, Yale and Georgetown—it is based on two year-long courses: AP Seminar and AP Research.
Paul VI was one of the first schools in South Jersey to offer AP Capstone in 2016 and continues to be the only private school with the program.
“We’ve had a lot of success with it,” says Nick Markellos, who teaches both courses. “For Seminar, we have a 100 percent rate of passing with a three or better on the AP scale. For Research, our first year we were finding our way and last year went very, very well. In fact, we were well above the state and global average for average score.”
Seminar involves a team project in which students solve a global, national, local or academic issue; an individual essay; and a final exam.
In Research, they choose a topic and develop a new understanding on the issue through an academic paper, presentation and oral defense. This past school year, Markellos was especially proud of a student who identified an issue with a lack of women working in STEM fields. She developed a program for girls in elementary school to meet women doctors and scientists.
“After the program she interviewed the students and determined that if girls were exposed to these careers at a younger age, they might be interested in being in STEM-related fields as women,” Markellos says. “She received the highest score in the class.”
Students who pass both classes, along with four other AP courses, receive a diploma from the College Board. Not only does it help with college admissions, but it also teaches critical skills like collaboration and presentation that can be used at the next level and beyond.
“I tell the kids all the time that I don’t really teach content; I teach skills,” Markellos says. “My hope is that they are transferable skills, not only to other academic pursuits, but to life. These are things they should be able to take into the working world.”
Paul VI is also committed to learning outside of the classroom, as evidenced by its international travel program. Opportunities include a trip to Paris every other year for French students, as well as a general trip every year during Easter break.
“Travel helps students experience the world around them, the world we will be sending them out into following graduation,” says Matt Screnci, an English teacher at Paul VI. “Being able to have hands-on learning experiences definitely sets Paul VI apart from other schools.
“Our French language teacher, Giovina Hans Da Cruz, took her students to Paris in June. They hit the ground running to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Versailles and much more. It was an unforgettable experience for the students and chaperones alike.”
One example of a general trip was a visit to Rome for the canonization of Pope Paul VI in 2018.
“Paul VI was the pope when the school was named for him, so our whole school community was extremely proud and happy to see our namesake elevated to sainthood for his miracles,” Screnci says. “It was especially meaningful to be able to send a group of 14 people to represent us.”
This spring, Screnci is excited to be running a trip to London. “The students will get an overview of the city, including the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey,” he says. “There will be side trips to Stratford, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge. In addition, students will see three West End plays and experience many cultural highlights of the city.”
Along with these two programs, Paul VI also has a diverse student body, 18 AP courses, a focus on STEM classes and technology, a long list of clubs and a successful athletic program. Being able to develop students in a variety of ways is why Markellos returned to teach at his alma mater.
“I loved the experience I had at Paul VI as a student,” he says, “and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else as a teacher.”
Paul VI High School
901 Hopkins Road, Suite B | Haddonfield
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 7 (September 2019).
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