SINCE ITS FOUNDING IN 1954, PADUA ACADEMY IN WILMINGTON has seen countless teenaged girls blossom into confident young women, equipped to make a difference in college and beyond thanks to their transformative high school years.
To be sure, the high academic standards to which every Padua student is held play an important role in their progress, along with their spiritual development rooted in the Catholic faith, the emphasis on becoming service-oriented members of society and the tight-knit community of the all-girls school, which has only been strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But yet another reason why so many South Jersey families have discovered Padua as the right place for their children to thrive is the profound learning opportunities available, many of which cannot be found at other schools. Whether their daughters aspire to be doctors, engineers, business owners or broadcast journalists, parents can trust that they will have a chance to pursue those passions at Padua.
“When people are comparing high schools, certainly each one offers the standard basics of Algebra 2 and American Literature,” says Vice Principal Leslie Fundakowski, now in her 35th year as an educator at Padua. “It’s those extra things that set us apart and make us unique. We like our students to have a breadth of knowledge.”
To further this goal, Padua has created an environment where experiential learning is not only encouraged but provided in both academic courses and extracurricular activities.
One example that falls under the extracurricular heading is the medical shadowing program. Through a collaboration with Christiana Care Health System, St. Francis Hospital and Limestone Medical Center, students are able to visit these facilities and ac- company physicians and nurses as they conduct their daily responsibilities. They may sit in on meetings, go on hospital rounds or even observe surgeries in the operating room.
“One of our students was recently paired with the director of cardiac surgery at Christiana Care and she was able to attend an open-heart surgery,” Fundakowski says. “Once the doctor had everything prepped he invited her over and showed her how the operation was going to work. That’s pretty amazing for a high school student.”
A Padua alumna who is now attending medical school first had her interest piqued in the medical shadowing program. Padua also has a HOSA chapter for future medical leaders, along with courses in biomedical engineering and sports medicine.
There are multiple examples of special programs offered in concert with classes, including a multi-course engineering program. With oversight from professors at the University of Delaware, students design products that are then fabricated and presented at the university.
Padua’s robust technology department includes a cyber security program that has won the state championship seven years running and has placed in the top 10 nationally. The robotics team gives students an opportunity to build and program robots and lead the way in competitions often dominated by male students. “There are not a lot of women in these fields, so it’s great that we are able to promote them,” Fundakowski says.
Padua’s business leadership program allows students to run a fully operational retail and online store on behalf of the school, as they develop leadership skills and learn what it’s like to own a business. They make important decisions on retail, operations, e-commerce, inventory management, product development, pricing and marketing.
The award-winning communications program under the direction of Dennis Leizear begins with an introductory course in which students are taught the basics of photography, news reporting and video editing. They move on to become the leaders of the online student newspaper or PATV—Padua Academy Television.
The latter puts on a daily program out of the school’s production studio, featuring school announcements, news stories and segments on sports and weather. There is also a longer weekly program consisting of stu- dents going out into the community and reporting on stories.
“I have oversight but they make the editorial decisions and I never tell the girls what news packages they have to do,” Leizear says. “They go by what they’re interested in, so it makes for a very diverse show.
“During our live production, everybody rotates between anchoring, working the teleprompter or working in the control room. Everybody becomes well versed with all of the equipment and all of the positions.”
The communications department uses professional-grade equipment such as Adobe Premiere editing software, GoPro cameras and wireless microphones. Those who major in broadcast or print journalism in college are well prepared, but even if they do not have interest in becoming a television anchor or newspaper reporter, Leizear believes they get a lot out of this program.
“If our students can write well they can get a job in anything; it doesn’t have to be journalism,” he says. “These are important skills that extend well beyond my class.”
No matter which career they ultimately decide on, Padua students often have a leg up on their peers because of the experiences they received in high school, and Fundakowski believes this philosophy will continue to attract young girls eager for a hands-on education.
“We offer experiences beyond the classroom and we’re not just focused on one area,” she says. “When you’re 14 you don’t necessarily know which field you might want to go into. The fact that we have such diversity in our offerings helps our students find what they are passionate about.”
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Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 9 (November 2020).
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