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Celebrating Women's History Month by Empowering Girls Together

Celebrating Women’s History Month by Empowering Girls Together

As Women's History Month comes to a close the Head of School at Notre Dame Academy and the CEO of Girls Inc. of Worcester are celebrating Women’s History Month by exploring their uniquely intertwined history and mission of empowering girls. 

Lisa Mancini (Notre Dame Academy) and Victoria Waterman (Girls Inc.) have a lot more in common than just leading two of the top gender-specific anchor institutions in the Worcester community. A quick look into their personal backstories shows a common thread of investing in girls from a young age. Lisa, herself a Girls Inc. of Worcester alum, recalls her early childhood memories making ceramic pinch pots in the same classrooms that girls are learning STEM in now. “From my mother, an Italian immigrant who became a nurse, and my father, a hard-working electrician, I learned about the importance of an education, hard work, and resilience,” said Lisa Mancini, Notre Dame Academy Head of School.   “From Girls Inc. I learned that girls can truly do anything and have fun while doing it. They inspire all girls to be strong, smart, creative, and bold. The power of being a girl became very apparent to me during my time at Girls Inc."” She proudly displays those same clay pieces in her office at Notre Dame Academy as inspiration for the next generation of girls to explore their potential. They are touchstones that remind Lisa of her full-circle journey from being inspired by a girl serving program at Girls Inc. to running an all-girl school. Notre Dame Academy (NDA) has been educating young women since 1951. With a 100% college acceptance rate, they are the only all-girl, catholic, independent school in Central MA. In addition to their strong curriculum, AP courses and dual-enrollment partnership with Assumption University, this Fall NDA will be introducing a STEM certificate program and an Arts Certificate program for students interested in pursuing either field.

Victoria, a recent recipient of Notre Dame Academy’s Knollwood Award, is similarly aware of the impact that her education at an all-girls high school has had on her career. “Whenever I’m asked to remember a teacher who made a difference in my life, I recall Sister Jackie who ignited my love of reading through discussions of female protagonists. Being in a gender-responsive environment showed me the importance of developing confidence and self-esteem through a sisterhood in which we held each other to high expectations and lifted each other up.” Girls Inc. is empowering the next generation of leaders to lift each up through gender-specific programs like Eureka!-- a 5-year STEM and Leadership program with a tremendous track record. 100% of graduates have gone on to post-secondary education and more than 65% have planned to major in STEM-related careers. That is double the national average- a success made possible by the investment of partners like Notre Dame Academy. Recently, young women from both organizations participated in a clean-up service project at Camp Kinneywood, a property owned by Girls Inc. Girls had the opportunity to share their own stories and work collaboratively to give back to the Worcester community.

With over 175 years of empowering girls between these two institutions, Notre Dame Academy and Girls Inc. of Worcester know the value of celebrating history. This month, they celebrate the women leaders of yesterday just as strongly as they celebrate the women leaders of tomorrow.




Worcester, MA- January 13, 2021- On January 8, 2021 Notre Dame Academy received a gift of two automated external defibrillators (AEDs) from the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation. The Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness in preventing sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in children and adolescents and providing charitable assistance to individuals, families, and organizations. The organization was founded in 2011 in memory of twelve-year-old Josh Thibodeau who died of cardiac arrest while enjoying his favorite sport and past-time, soccer.

“We are truly thankful to the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation for the donation of these AEDs,” said Lisa Mancini, Notre Dame Academy Head of School. “These devices are crucially important in ensuring that NDA is fully equipped and prepared in the event of a cardiac arrest event. The NDA community continues to be focused on the academic, social-emotional, and physical health of our students and the health and safety of those who visit our campus.”

“I am so grateful to The Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation for the donation of an AED and alarm box,” said Rosanna Burke, RN, Notre Dame Academy school nurse. “This donation now allows each educational building on campus to house an AED which is important because they strengthen the chance of survival in victims of cardiac arrest. This donation, along with the continued training of students and staff will improve the chances for survival if God forbid an event like that should occur.”

“The NDA Athletic Department is thrilled to receive an additional AED that can be utilized during our athletic events,” said co-Athletic Director Caitlyn Germain. “This life-saving piece of equipment is truly a necessity for a school like ours that has multiple fields and multiple teams playing simultaneously on and off-campus.”

In addition, to show their commitment to safety, the athletic department partnered with the Worcester Fire Department to provide CPR/AED training to their coaching staff and interested NDA faculty members. Students in Mrs. Burke’s grade 10 health class also learn hands-free CPR and all are trained on the use of the AEDs.


With caution in mind, Notre Dame Academy open for classes

By George Barnes
Telegram & Gazette Staff
October 5, 2020

WORCESTER - Notre Dame Academy opened for classes just a few days later than normal this fall, as they finalized plans needed to keep students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a big step for the school, but something officials felt comfortable doing. Other than a few technology blips during the first few days, everything has gone pretty well, Head of School Lisa Mancini said. There are many changes at the school this year, but the overall academic offerings the students receive and the mission and traditions are the same.

The private Roman Catholic college preparatory day school serves girls in Grades 7 through 12. Sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the school welcomes girls of all faiths with an eye toward preparing students for their role as women in the world. With all the challenges, Mancini said the school has seen an increase in enrollment this year, reversing a dip over the past five to 10 years, a trend many schools are experiencing.

Like other private and public schools, the coronavirus pandemic has caused Notre Dame to find new ways of educating its students. Last spring that meant working online with Zoom classes and assignments given to students electronically. This summer it was decided that the school would reopen for in-person classes in the fall.

Mancini said the students now have the option of taking classes in-person or online. She said a large majority of the 197 students at the school have chosen in-person learning. A dozen students have chosen to attend remotely. Each semester they can decide if they want to change to in-person classes, but are offered both options.

Students have reacted positively to the changes, Mancini said.

“I think, honestly, they were so anxious to be back in an environment other than home,” Mancini said. “They were anxious to see their friends, even if it meant wearing a mask sitting apart.”

The students were all issued masks with the school’s logo but also are allowed to wear their own, although neck gaiters are prohibited.

To have enough room to socially distance, the school has repurposed the library as a classroom. The classrooms are set up with a microphone and a video camera. When a class has students who are attending from home, it is videotaped for them. If a student is unable to attend due to health reasons, it is also taped for later viewing.

Other things have changed as well. The dining room is now the student center with seats set apart for safe distancing. Students hang out there studying and socializing. It is still used for dining for some students, although the meals, which are ordered ahead, may also be eaten in classrooms or outside during good weather in various spaces, including a parking lot set up with table seating. The school also converted its dance room to store personal protective equipment and as a place students in the Love and Action community service program can work. The students study dance in the auditorium where there is more room.

Everyone wears a mask. It is mandatory. The hall floors are covered with stickers marking off 6-foot intervals. There are two hand sanitizer stations at the front door that students are expected to use as they enter. Some of the stairways go one direction to ensure proper spacing between students. So far all has gone well. No students have been confirmed with COVID-19, and things are going so well the school has started up its fall sports program, although there is some question whether it will have any opponents to play. It has also reinstituted school clubs and set aside time for students to attend club meetings.

The chemistry lab has not yet reopened, but a $20,000 grant the schools receive from the Office of Naval Research will allow them to set up six fully-equipped lab stations and provide resources needed for a variety of programs.

For the students, the changes have been an opportunity to learn new technology and discover skills they will take with them when they graduate and go to college.

“It was complicated at the start,” said senior Elizabeth Nompleggi, a Worcester student who is planning to attend the College of Holy Cross next year. “But we found new ways to adapt.”

Nompleggi said when the school went online in the spring, she had never used Google Classroom before. It became the school’s standard for holding classes online. The students sometimes met with their teachers for virtual classes and other times they were just given projects they worked on independently.

While attending school online, Nompleggi said she learned to love working on independent studies. It has helped her with time management, and because they were not meeting directly with the teacher, students found they needed to work hard to assert themselves if they did not understand an assignment or needed help.

Over the summer, the school put together three plans for the 2020-21 school year but decided on in-person learning with the option to Zoom in for students who had health concerns or families not yet comfortable with the closer contact with other students.

Principal Susan Butler and Dean of Students Emily Haley worked with Mancini to plan the reopening. Butler said it has so far been successful.

“I’m thrilled,” she said. “We were right up and running.”

School nurse Rosanna Burke said she has been with the school 27 years, but this year offered unique challenges.

“I’m doing my best to make sure they are all safe,” she said. “They are all adapting really well but it was an adjustment in the beginning.”

The students have 80-minute classes, but halfway through the class, they get what is called a mask break. They are allowed to go outside as a group, stay 6 feet apart and remove their masks.

“The mask breaks help give them a chance to take a minute to breathe, to step back in a safe manner,” Burke said. “It is also very important that they are able to see each other and see their faces.”

Burke said it is especially important for the new students.

“It’s difficult to make friends if all you can see is a person’s eyes,” she said.

Even the Music Department has had to adapt to the new world of learning. In the music classroom the students work on music theory, but teacher Kallin Johnson said if they decide to do some singing, they have to go outside.

Mancini said for now the plan is to remain open and give the students the best education possible. If things change and problems with the pandemic return, the school would reconsider and could go back to remote learning.

Notre Dame Academy Awarded $20,000 Chemistry Grant

Worcester, MA- September 29, 2020- Notre Dame Academy recently received the Office of Naval Research, Physics 360A Natural Approach to Chemistry (NAC) grant for $20,000. This grant includes online resources, virtual labs, and simulations for up to 125 students for 5 years. In addition to the online resources, the school will receive six fully equipped hands-on lab stations with a portable Lab-Master, a classroom set of 35 hard-bound texts and lab-manuals, molecular model simulations and quantum level atom building simulation games, a chemical package for each of six lab stations, and more.

“Notre Dame Academy (NDA) has a rich history of innovative science and math programs, and the resources and dollars provided with this grant will certainly be a significant addition to our program,” said Lisa Mancini, Notre Dame Academy Head of School. “As evidenced by many of our 10 under 10 honorees of 2019, many of our graduates continue to explore futures in science and math after their experiences at NDA. We are currently developing a formal STEM certificate program for our students and this grant will be a tremendous addition to the state-of-the-art programs in our classrooms.”

“As an all-girls school, our goal in the science department is to instill confidence in our student's mastery and understanding of science content to ensure they know that pursuing STEM careers is just as much a possibility for them as it for the boys,” said Monique Coulson, STEM Department Lead. “We are thankful to have received this grant as it allows our students to focus on exploration and engagement into the world of chemistry through the connections to the natural world around them.”

“The East Bay Educational Collaborative is thrilled to include young women from Notre Dame Academy among our recipients of the Office of Naval Research Physics 360 Chemistry Grant. Providing 20K worth of resources and professional development that emphasizes connecting chemistry with real-world applications will ignite student curiosity and interest in chemistry and STEM,” said Kathryn Jessen-Eller Ph.D., Director of Client Services and Science Specialist at the East Bay Educational Collaborative of Rhode Island. “We hope these chemistry foundations will encourage young women to pursue careers in the STEM workforce and Navy where their unique perspectives and ingenuity will enrich our future.”

The school was also awarded additional funding for virtual labs from an anonymous foundation in the amount of $2500.

Notre Dame Academy Board of Trustees Elects Three New Members to Board: Mary Beth Burke, Patricia Peterleitner, and Sean Rose

Worcester, MA- Thursday, August 7, 2020- Notre Dame Academy is pleased to announce three new appointees to their Board of Directors: Mary Beth Burke, Patricia Peterleitner, and Sean Rose.

Mary Beth Burke

Mary Beth is a well-educated, energetic, well-respected member of the Worcester Community with experience in the public and private sector. Mary Beth most recently worked at the Worcester Regional Research Bureau as Research Associate and Director of Internships. She also has extensive teaching experience at the collegiate level. She co-founded The Abby Kelly Foster Charter School and is also involved in the Diocese of Worcester, most recently being asked to serve on the curriculum committee

for a newly merged Catholic school. Mary Beth views having a faith-based, all-girls school in Central MA as a necessity. As the mother of nine, she feels strongly about the importance of children and parents having a choice in their education, and sees how NDA plays a very important role in giving young women a choice when matriculating to a middle school or high school. One of her daughters is an Notre Dame Academy graduate and one is presently a student.

Patricia Nelligan Peterleitner

“Patti” is a Notre Dame Academy alum and an accomplished career educator.  Currently, as an Independent Educational Consultant, Assessment Strategist, Pathways Coach, and Academic Mentor, Patti founded Journey, a high impact program offering students complete educational, explorational, and personal development guidance. Prior, as the Head of Worcester Academy’s Upper School, the Director of Worcester Academy’s Center for Learning, an Assessment Specialist in Worcester Public Schools,  a member of the Massachusetts Mathematics Assessment Development Committee,  the MCAS Appeals Board, and as a Portfolio Competency Reviewer,  Patti also held multiple faculty positions in Mathematics and Science at area public and private high schools.  Patti’s leadership, cultural competence, and strategic planning experience will support the alignment of NDA’s mission and vision as it continues to expand as a multi-cultural global community. Patti is enthusiastic for the opportunity to further support NDA by contributing her understanding of quality high impact academics through authentic purposeful community-based learning.   She believes through fostering relationships within the alumni community, further establishing opportunities for community partnerships, and being visible and accessible will help catapult NDA’s rich growth potential. 

Sean Rose 

Sean Rose is currently the President & CEO of Thrive Support and Advocacy. Sean has 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health and education. Sean is a passionate leader who has creatively partnered with others to maximize their potential. Sean is the founder and co-owner of Point School, an exclusive Gap Year program in Puerto Rico that promotes wellness through an adventure-based and experiential learning curriculum. He is also the founder and owner of Worcester Union Athletics, an organization dedicated to empowering young women through sports and community service. Sean's wife is a graduate of Notre Dame Academy. As a father of four daughters, Sean has dedicated himself to women's leadership initiatives.