San Xavier Mission School honored as national model
July 5, 2003
By Carmen Duarte

San Xavier Mission School was one of 10 schools honored as a national model by Catholic educators at a conference at Boston College in Massachusetts.

The parochial school was honored Sunday during the National Catholic Educational Association conference. It was noted for its fund raising to improve educational programs, and for a $2.8 million renovation completed in 2001, said Principal Jackie Koenig.

"With Catholic inner-city schools closing around the country, never has it been as important to provide models of education programs that can be sustained in the midst of economic scarcity and church crisis," the Rev. Joseph O'Keefe, associate dean of Boston College Lynch School of Education, stated in a news release.

"The only way for children to get out of the poverty cycle is through quality education," Koenig said of the school in the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation. "We were the only school representing Native Americans."

Koenig said the other winners were mostly inner-city schools working with black and Hispanic students and immigrant groups.

San Xavier Mission School has a fall enrollment of 186 kindergarten through eighth graders. The ethnic breakdown is 85 percent American Indian, 13 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Anglo.

"At the conference, we shared how we did the fund raising for the renovations and the improvements that resulted," said Koenig.

The expansion included a school courtyard with a handicapped-accessible stage, classrooms, an art and science room, a computer lab, a conference room and a counselor's office.

"We hired a full-time counselor, and have been able to bring in community elders and Tohono O'odham staff to teach culture and the O'odham language, which builds self-esteem and makes learning much more fun," Koenig said.

Margie Butler, who had two children graduate from the school, said the  community is fortunate to have a school that allows the meshing of O'odham and  Christian beliefs.

"This is the only Catholic school on the reservation, and children are learning the importance of faith in their lives," she said.