Under One Roof
Aquin Catholic schools come together
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
August 26, 2021
FREEPORT—A sign out front welcomed Big Dawgs and Little Dawgs to the first day of classes, Aug. 23, at Aquin Catholic School’s campus on South Galena Avenue.
Evidence of its bulldog mascot could be found throughout the building along with inspirational messages like “Doing What is Right Isn’t Always Easy, But It’s Always Right!” Backpacks for the youngest grades hung outside their classrooms while tall lockers flanked the junior and high school halls.
This marks the first year where all grades (aside from preschool) are in one place, although Superintendent/Principal Elizabeth Heitkamp suspects that by the end of the year it will feel like it’s “always been this way.”
She notes that the move of the elementary grades to the junior/high school campus farther east happened as the result of safety concerns in the neighborhood, which “became very pronounced last year.” 
Although the pandemic may have played a role in the area’s deterioration, moving the school “had been talked about for a long time,” she says.
The “where” of such a move dawned when someone noted that the high school used to hold hundreds more students. 
The more that idea was pondered and examined, the more sense it made. And now, Heitkamp says, “we have plenty of space to make it work.” 
Indeed, “it very much feels like two separate buildings,” the principal says, describing a summer of painting and new flooring and some shifting around of offices and classrooms to locate the elementary school in the two-floor building that fronts Galena Avenue and concentrate the older students in the lower-level areas in back. 
A tall staircase clearly delineates those two areas. The principal’s office in the elementary section is at the top of those stairs, providing direct access by older students also.
“A lot of space was under-used,” Heitkamp says, describing one staffer’s office as being the size of a regular classroom, which was what it used to be and now is again.
Elementary grade teachers “packed through June,” says Heitkamp, and the one-day move placed everything in the auditorium on the first floor of the elementary area. The work then revolved around putting everything in place. 
Evidence of the teachers’ work could be found in the decorated classrooms that welcomed students with doors filled with colorful cutouts.
It is of course an adjustment, including for families. The week prior to the new school year, families were welcome to drop off supplies and wander around. A corn boil was held that Friday before to familiarize parents and kids with the changes.
Much has changed, but a lot remains the same. 
Heitkamp spent part of the first hour of school talking to the older students in the gym, encouraging them to go to their teachers if they start to fall behind in class, to keep up with homework, and to come to her with any questions. 
Back at her office, a student came asking for a print out of his schedule since his device wasn’t connecting into the internet. 
And the usual, daily, nuts-and-bolts of the school year was underway.
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