Marist’s beginnings as a smaller high school on 8th Street in 1954, and all the time in between, will be commemorated at a major gala on Oct. 18 at Casino in the Park in Jersey City. Alumni, former teachers, current Marist brothers, and all the brothers who have served are among those invited. Two men will be honored at the special event, including a brother and former religion teacher associated with the school for nearly 50 years.
But the year will really kick off with the students and families back-to-school barbecue Mass on the evening of Friday, Sept. 26. The ticketed dinner celebration is held specifically for school attendees and their loved ones.
“We wanted to make sure we had an in-family celebration; not everyone’s going to go to the gala,” Miesnik said.
And then the fun really begins.
In her new post as head of school, Miesnik said she has been rejuvenated, learning more about the business end of management, and she believes the ripple effect on administration and other staffers will be felt in a stronger energy for this school year.
One of the initiatives that has the school talking is its Project Leap, a dual-credit program with Hudson County Community College that allows seniors to earn college credits while still in high school.
Not only can qualified students (must take placement test) start with up to 15 to 20 credits under their belts; they also save the money they would have spent on the college courses.
Marist has 21 students taking two semesters of English through Hudson County Community College professors in their building, according to Miesnik. Those credits are transferrable to virtually any school to which students then apply.
“We’re proud to say that our students who want to are ready before their senior year,” Miesnik said. “If you go to Marist and really work hard during your senior year, you may qualify for dual credit.”
Project Leap ensures that Marist students still have a high school experience and that the school will still have Advanced Placement courses to take, if they prefer those instead.
“But the idea of having the actual college class taught by the professor is something students are really excited about,” Miesnik said.
Another initiative making a buzz at Marist is the school’s new leadership council, an expanded leadership program.
While the high school has always had leadership programs, this one will be much more extensive, and include a broader range of students, including those from sports, retreats, the National Honor Society, student council, and peer counselors.
“There are a lot of students who show leadership, but we want to build a more cohesive program,
more formalized,” Miesnik said. “So from all your major groups from the school, you’d have representation at the council.”
Three other efforts under way this year at Marist include enhancing the school’s performing arts program, engaging students more in the classroom, and using Miesnik’s September participation in an international Marist conclave in Nairobi, Kenya, to further educate the school and community about the order’s mission.
While the school already offers dance, chorus, band (rock music), drama, production, crew, and videography in its current performing arts program, the school wants to continue to build it.
“Those are opportunities and activities for students who don’t fit in the sports arena,” Miesnik said.
She will no longer oversee the program herself, as a drama coach; Bea Esteban will take over the reins.
To further involve students in the classroom, Marist will use the Archdiocese “TeachScape” program.
“TeachScape will really beef up the way we support our teachers to engage the students,” Miesnik said. “We’ll be looking for key behaviors in classroom. Teachers can tweak methodology to increase engagement. When you increase engagement, you increase achievement.”
That program will be starting immediately, with the first full day of school for all students on Friday, Sept. 5.
“So that’s a growing program, leadership is a growing program, and the dual credit is, of course, a pilot,” Miesnik said. “And, of course, we’re excited about our sports teams.”
Last year the baseball team excelled, and the school is hoping to see similar achievements from both the basketball and football squads, also growing programs.
Miesnik’s work at the Marist event in Nairobi from Sept. 10 to 28 will trickle down to the local community.
“Nairobi has a huge effect,” she said. “It’s about working in partnerships with the brothers, including two who teach in our school here.”
It’s also about the lay people who teach at Marist.
“There are many lay people who understand the Marist mission. And I’m so proud of them,” Miesnik said. “The trip is emblematic for lay people to become as mission-driven as the brothers are.”
“When they say, 'We are Marist,’ the teachers and students understand what it means,” she said. “It’s not just Marist High School. It means a way of life. It means we’re influenced by the Marist brothers and founder.”