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placeholder  January 21, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
A dream goes up at St. Jarlath

Rodney Pierre-Antoine

When the parish and school community gathers for Mass on Jan. 27, there will be an important stop between the end of Mass and the open house at the school.

Weather permitting, a long-awaited play structure will be dedicated. "The kids are really excited," principal Rodney Pierre-Antoine said. "They can't wait to see it."

The structure features three large slides, two paired platform areas to climb, a pull-up bar, and "a lot of room for creative play," the principal said.

The schoolyard currently is an expanse of asphalt, with little shade, water, seating and natural environment for the students to learn from and enjoy.

"We're all really excited," Pierre-Antoine said. "I kind of surprised everyone at the Christmas concert."

It was at the concert that Pierre-Antoine, who is in his second year as principal, told the students and their families that the play structure would be a reality this school year.

He recalled a conversation with the father of a first-grader. "His only wish was that it wouldn't be installed when she was in eighth grade."

Pierre-Antoine spotted the girl at the concert after the announcement. "She was smiling from ear to ear," he said.

"It was a real pick-me-up for the community," he said. I told them, "God has blessed us with each other," he told them, "Every now and then you open up a gift."

"Many different angels" is how Pierre-Antoine described the effort that brings the play structure to the campus. It's part of a series of improvements to the Fruitvale District campus, just below Highway 580 in Oakland.

Two grants from foundations were among the sources of the estimated $30,000 for the structure and its installation. Equally important were donations from St. Jarlath School alumna Marilyn Heers, and from the seventh-grade boys basketball team at St. Felicitas School in San Leandro, where Pierre-Antoine previously served as principal.

The basketball team raised $1,600 in a free-throw fundraiser, and presented the check to Pierre-Antoine earlier this month. "It was great to see all my former students," he said.

The play structure is one part of the physical improvement of the school. Next on the drawing board is a garden, which will be placed on the opposite side of the yard from the play structure.

The garden will feature raised flowerbeds. Katie Dunne, a student at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland who is a Girl Scout working on her Gold award, is working on the design of the garden.

Pierre-Antoine has asked that the Stations of the Cross be intertwined in the garden. Students will design the tiles depicting each station. The principal said he seeks to provide a "nice, prayerful space" for his students.

The school continues to seek grants and donations for the garden, which is expected to cost $5,000.
St. Jarlath School continues to grow in numbers. The 101st student is expected to enroll soon. The school began the 2011-12 school year with 72.

With the addition of the play structure and the garden, the school hopes to improve the school's environment.

"These visible signs of hope are keeping us excited about what the future holds," the principal said.

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