Bay Ridge

Visitation Academy Campus Ministry to serve community

September 22, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Arlene Figaro, an alumna of Visitation Academy, has served as the school’s principal for 14 years. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

New program aimed at post-9/11 generation

A new Campus Ministry program beginning this semester at Visitation Academy is aimed at encouraging the post-9/11 generation to recognize the importance of community service, according to Arlene Figaro, principal of the Catholic school for girls located in Bay Ridge.

“These girls don’t remember Sept. 11 and the sacrifices that were made,” Figaro told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in her office Monday morning. “And these girls will be our future leaders. We want to encourage them to give back to the community.” 

Kerry Ganim, president of the Visitation Academy Mother’s Club, who sat in on the interview, pointed out that the oldest students at the school are eighth graders, 13-year-olds, who were born a year after the terrorist attack, which took place 14 years ago. “They have no memory of it,” she said.

The Campus Ministry will conduct a wide variety of activities throughout the school year, including collecting and donating blankets, diapers and baby bottles to the New York Life Center, a pro-life facility on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge that counsels pregnant women.

Visitation Academy has always supported veterans’ cause and the Campus Ministry will continue that tradition, Figaro said.

The girls will also serve Thanksgiving meals to the Sisters of the Visitation, the religious order of nuns who founded the school. The sisters live in a monastery. The school is located on the grounds of the monastery, at 8902 Ridge Boulevard.

Visitation Academy recently began a new school year with bright hopes and numerous plans.

On Monday, Figaro hosted an Open School Night to give parents of new students a chance to learn more about the school.

One point of pride is the relatively low cost of tuition, Figaro said. “Our tuition is $7,800 a year. We offer a high quality, academic education for the daughters of middle class families who can’t afford the $40,000 a year tuition that many private schools charge,” Figaro said.

Visitation Academy, which educates girls from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, offers ukulele lessons to girls in grades two, three and four as part of its music program. Girls in grades five, six, seven and eight can join a brass band.

The school’s theater program will perform the Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” this year.

The girls in the school’s lower grades are taught a reading program that was developed out of a partnership between Visitation Academy and Teachers College at Columbia University.

Visitation Academy believes in encouraging girls who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), according to Figaro. “We have been a STEM school for the last five years,” she said.

The lower school, consisting of students up to grade five, will be presenting a STEM Fair in the fall. The middle school, for girls in grades five, six, seven and eight, will host its STEM Fair in the spring semester.

“All of the projects are done in the school and the girls must be able to explain their projects,” Figaro said. “I want my girls to be challenged. I want them to have confidence and to feel secure and good about themselves.”

Figaro, who is a graduate of Visitation Academy, has served as the school’s principal for 14 years.

The Visitation in Visitation Academy refers to the passage in Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament in which Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, visits her cousin, Elizabeth. Both women were pregnant; Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist.

The religious order that founded the school is officially known as the Order of the Visitation of the Holy Mary.

The school tries to take a different approach to everything it does, according to Figaro and Ganim.

What other school offers sleigh rides on its campus? “We have seven beautiful acres here and we use the land in our education,” Figaro said.

The Sisters of the Visitation religious order was founded in France in the 17th Century and in a nod to that history, French is one of the foreign languages taught at the school. To reinforce the French lessons, the teachers sometimes take the girls out onto the grounds of the campus for picnics in the warm weather. “French food is served at the picnics,” Ganim said.

Ganim, whose family owns Harbor Fitness, a Brooklyn health club, said Visitation Academy teaches nutrition along with physical education. “They learn how to read food labels and how to make smart choices when it comes to food,” she said.