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unnamedParticipation by parents, teachers, grandparents, alumni, and alumni parents in many aspects of the school enhances each student’s sense of being part of a larger framework of life and the community. SJA parent and Patrons’ Association President, Stef O’Polka and her committee of volunteers, have been spending countless hours to ensure the success of many unique events and programs held at the school.

This week, we would like to spotlight Stef O’ Polka.

How long have you been a parent at St. James Academy?
I have been a parent at St. James Academy since 2006 when my oldest child started in kindergarten. He is now in 8th grade, and I also have a 5th grader and a 3rd grader.

Why did you join the Patrons’ Association?
I have always been involved with my children’s school, but when I volunteered for the gala in 2011, I realized how much work the Patrons’ do and how much money they raise for the Academy, it inspired me to get involved at a greater level.

What do you enjoy most about being Patrons’ President?
There are two things that give me the most pleasure being the Patrons’ President. The first is knowing that every dollar of the funds raised from our efforts go back to the Academy and our children. Last year we raised $140,000, and it went toward such things as the fabulous trips the middle school children take, new soccer uniforms, wireless microphones for the theater department, and new laptops and iPads. Seeing the students experiencing and benefiting from the fruits of our labor is very rewarding. The second is witnessing firsthand the level of volunteerism that makes St. James such a special community. Whether it’s a group of dad’s in the kitchen for days making soups for the Christmas Shoppe Cafe, a grandparent assisting in the art room, or a mom serving pizza lunch every Wednesday, I am continually amazed at how much time and energy our families dedicate to giving back.

What has been your favorite memory at St. James Academy?
I have so many great memories after being at SJA for 10 years, but probably one of my best memories also involves one of my most painful memories. When my oldest child was in Mrs. Warner’s fourth grade class, he was so paralyzed with fear that he couldn’t get up on stage and present his character for her Character Parade that was a special annual tradition that she had established many years before. It was so hard seeing him so scared and upset, and I had written off the possibility of any stage performances in his future. In his seventh grade year, with the coaching and encouragement of Ms. Bradley, he secured a speaking and singing part in the middle school production of Fiddler on the Roof. When he walked onto the stage for the first time, I was overcome with emotion to see the personal growth and confidence that had developed in him over those three years. I am thankful to his teachers for recognizing and bringing that out in him.

Do you have any advice for new parents that want to be involved in the community?

It seems like only yesterday I was a new parent at SJA, and I remember how overwhelming it was at times. My best advice for new parents is to sign up to volunteer for something – anything. It allows you to meet other parents, both new and seasoned, see the teachers at work, and familiarize yourself with the Academy. Plus, your children love seeing you at school!

Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Something most people don’t know about me is that one of my favorite hobbies is riding my motorcycle. I love to jump on it, take a drive, relax and recharge. I got my first motorcycle when I was eight years old and have been riding ever since.