NDA In The News

Education: Return of middle school aimed at helping girls thrive - Worcester Magazine

by Walter Bird Jr. May 10,2018

Above, Notre Dame Academy Head of School Kathryn Woodson Barr/Elizabeth Brooks photo

Notre Dame Academy in Worcester opened its doors to middle school students last year, adding a seventh-grade class. Those seventh-graders will enter eighth-grade in the fall, marking the first time since the 1960s the school will serve students in grades 7-12.

“At some point in the ’60s we dropped grades seven and eight, and became just a high school,” Head of School Kathryn Woodson Barr said. “It’s nice to go back to our roots.”

There were 16 students in last year’s seventh-grade class. The hope, said Barr, is to have 20 students each in grades seven and eight, and 40 each in grades 9-12, for a total of 200. There are currently 175 students attending Notre Dame, a private, all-girls Catholic School established in 1951.

Re-establishing seventh and eighth grades at Notre Dame is all about creating as many opportunities as possible for young women, said Barr, who joined the school in July last year.

“It’s really a philosophical sort of decision,” she said. “If you look, research shows girls in the seventh- and eighth-grade years often have reduced confidence. They stop raising their hands to answer or ask questions. They get worried about math and science, in particular. They have body image issues.

“In an all-girl environment, those things are minimized. Girls from all-girl schools tend to go into math and science at almost twice the national rate, and have increased confidence.”

Whereas in traditional co-ed school settings girls have to share day-to-day routines with their male counterparts, in an all-girl setting they rely on themselves.

“If you are at an all-girl school,” said Barr, “all the girls do everything. They’re in all the leadership roles. They’re the ones who have to carry the heavy boxes, or build the sets, or sing. If anything’s going to get done, it’s going to be a girl. If anyone’s going to answer a question, or be the first one to introduce themselves, it’s going to be a girl.” In mixed-sex settings, Barr said, that is often not the case.

“If you go to a conference or workshop, even if you have mostly women in a workshop, if you say who wants to introduce him or herself first, it’s often a man,” she said. “That doesn’t happen here.”

Bringing back seventh and eighth grades, Barr said is a way for Notre Dame Academy to stay true to its mission, not just develop a pipeline into high school.

“Certainly,” she conceded, “that was part of it. More than that, how can we make the biggest difference in the lives of girls? Research backs us up. If you really want to make a difference in the lives of girls, put them in an all-girl environment earlier than ninth grade, when they’re already distracted. We want to get them earlier and make a bigger difference.”

While there was some adjustment, Barr said blending seventh grade in with the upper grades went smoothly.

“I think we were a little nervous,” she said. “Are we prepared? Do we know enough about 12- and 13-year-old girls, or will we find out our specialty is really 15-18-year-olds? It’s amazing how well they’ve blended in, and how our teachers have personalized classes to make sure they’re learning not only the content they need, but the skills, and in the ways that are age-appropriate. They fit right in.”

Twelve-year-old Alysanne Buckley was one of the new seventh-graders. The former May Street School student said she felt right at home at Notre Dame Academy.

“The teachers really understand us,” she said recently as she sat with her backpack in front of her school locker. “I also like how you can be able to say what you mean, and in the classes you understand [them]. They aren’t too hard, but they aren’t too easy. The homework isn’t too much, but it’s not too little. It’s the right amount.”

Barr said the school wants to make sure “everything we do is as top-notch as it can be” for all its students, including the newest additions in seventh grade.

To that end, Notre Dame Academy added classes through Virtual High School, and is adding advanced placement, or AP, classes next year.

Although a Catholic school, Notre Dame Academy is open to all students, Barr said. The key is to instill in them a sense of belonging and preparedness, particular at a time in their lives where change may well be the only constant.

“We feel like the faith and the service, the mindfulness, all of that can really help them out,” Barr said. “This is a stressful time for teenagers. Being in a place like Notre Dame Academy gives them confidence, that peace and security they can’t get in other places.

Students Plant Tree to Honor The Memory of Holly Piirainen

On May 7th, Mrs. Ott’s Environmental Science class planted a tree in remembrance of Holly Piirainen.

Holly was the daughter of Tina Harrington. Tina attended Notre Dame Academy in the late 1970s.  Tragically, her 10 year old daughter Holly disappeared in the summer of 1993, and her body was found a few months later.  Several years ago, members of the class of 1980 planted a tree on the grounds of Notre Dame Academy, and organized a liturgy for Holly.  The original tree that was a gift from the Class of 1980 unfortunately did not survive, but the memory of Holly did.

This year, the Environmental Science class, members of the class of 2018, asked if they could plant a new tree in memory of Holly. The dogwood tree is said to have delicate beauty, yet it is tough enough to survive in urban areas.  It is also said that it produces a heavenly array of star-like blooms. “We felt that it was an appropriate tree to honor the memory of Holly, especially when we read the quote on the plaque that was placed in front of the original tree,” said Mrs. Ott,  “The quote from the Book of Wisdom read: ‘She shall shine forever like the stars of the sky’.”

Students and faculty, as well as Miss Phillip, Sr. Ann Morrison, and Sr. Evelyn gathered around the tree to pray and reflect, and finally, everyone in attendance took turns with a shovel to plant the tree.


T&G Jay Gearan: Notre Dame Academy golf coach Cara Marrone Cullen honoring father’s memory

By Jay Gearan

Posted May 6, 2018 at 5:56 PM

When Don Marrone, the owner of Wachusett Country Club, passed away suddenly last November at the age of 67, the Central Mass. golfing community lost one of the area’s major contributors to the game.

Marrone’s daughter, Cara Marrone Cullen, is honoring her father’s memory in a special way this spring.

Cullen is the new coach of the Notre Dame Academy golf team, a program with a rich history of winning, including back-to-back state titles in 2015-16 and a runner-up finish in 2014.

Former NDA coach Dennis Streeter began the David Prouty girls’ team this season, so the Rebels needed a new coach and Cullen, a former NDA athlete, agreed to take on the role.

“My father’s big thing was getting young people involved and giving back to the game,” Cullen said. “I thought that this was the way to do that. I knew that this was something he would want me to do.”

Cullen, along with her three brothers, Matt, Mike and Nick, are now the owners of both Wachusett CC in West Boylston and Kettle Brook GC in Paxton.

“I do all the payroll and accounting for both courses,” Cullen said. “It’s been a tough transition this winter for all of us. We had our first members’ night without our father there, but he left us with the courses and business in great shape. I feel so grateful that I had my dad for 43 years.”

Last week, on a sunny afternoon, Cullen and her team arrived at Kettle Brook for a match against Holy Name. The Rebels notched their second win of the season.

Without a senior on the team, NDA is led by three juniors, team captains Annabelle Smith, Morgan Pierce and Martha McDonald.

“We’re doing okay, and trying to get four solid players in our lineup,” Smith said. “From last year’s team we lost a solid four who graduated.”

“It’s pretty cool to be on a team that has won two state championships,” said Pierce, who began playing golf as a freshman and loves playing on the high school team.

“We’re having a lot of fun with a team that includes some people who have never played golf before,” said McDonald, whose younger sister, Mabel, is one of the freshmen in the lineup. Their mother, Meghan McDonald, coaches the Worcester girls’ golf team.

The Rebels defeated Worcester in an earlier match.

“My mom was pretty good about it,” Mabel said. “She joked before the match that she was going to take away my phone if we beat her team.”

Other freshmen include, Cullen’s daughter, Elizabeth, whose late grandfather first introduced her to golf, Audrey Duclos, Kendra Barksdale and Taygan Kosky.

“We’re a young team,” Cullen said. “Some of my freshmen have not played a lot, and because of the weather at the beginning of the season we didn’t have a lot of time to practice. I told them all, it’s kind of a learning year for us, and the good thing is that everyone will be back next year.”

Cullen calls herself a “double ND,” graduating from Notre Dame Academy in 1992 and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana four years later.

At NDA she starred in field hockey and softball, and her golf handicap was once down to a 10, but she admitted that she doesn’t play nearly enough now to maintain that level.

Cullen’s son, Peter, a senior at St. John’s, was a starter on the Pioneers’ golf team that finished as the Division 1 state runners-up by a shot to Boston College High last fall at Haverhill Country Club.

What’s in the Bag?

Before the match at Kettle Brook, Holy Name junior Emma Kennedy agreed to share what she carries for clubs on the golf course.

“I use Cleveland irons from 6 through sand wedge, the Tour Action W model,” Kennedy said. “I like them a lot.” She adds a Ping Faith utility wedge and a TaylorMade Monte Carlo Rossa putter.

For the longer shots Kennedy uses a Nike 4 hybrid and King Cobra 3 and 5 woods. Off the tee, Kennedy rips her Callaway Big Bertha Titanium driver 454 with a 13 degree loft.

Kennedy, the granddaughter of the late, legendary T&G sports columnist Nick Manzello, said that she recently posted one of her best rounds at Dunroamin Country Club in Gilbertville in a match against Quabbin.

“I would say it wasn’t that great, but it was definitely promising. I had really good drives and putts,” she said.

Nash close at USGA event

Lunenburg junior Emily Nash and Allison Paik from Providence nearly made it through stroke play and into match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, California, last week. The duo carded an even-par in round one, and were in good position to make the match-play bracket.

In the second round, though, Nash and Paik were 3-over after two holes, but rallied over the next 11, carding 7 pars and four birdies to get to 1 under. Unfortunately they found trouble down the stretch and finished 2 over for a 36-hole total, missing the cut by a couple of shots.

Still, Nash, 17, and Paik, 15, hope to qualify again for next year’s event.

The U.S. Women’s Amateur has no age restriction and is open to women with a handicap of 14.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA.

A reel for the Rangers

Inclement weather doesn’t stop the Westboro High girls’ golf team from still learning about the game. Recently, off the course and in the classroom, the Rangers viewed “The Founders,” a documentary film which tells the inspiring story of the 13 women who founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950.

The film focuses on how the original founders of the LPGA, traveling in their automobiles, rode across the country in search of courses to play in tournaments, while battling prejudice, backlash from society and financial struggles to set the groundwork for what the LPGA is today. Golfing legends such as Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Alice Bauer, among others, are featured in rare film footage of the early years of women’s professional golf.

  • Athletics
  • golf
Mrs. Valentine's U.S. History Class: Fallout Can Be Fun

Mrs. Valentine’s U.S. History class has been studying the 1950s and the Cold War, and recently participated in a hands-on project to understand how Americans dealt with the great fear of communism and the fear of the nuclear bomb.

Mrs. Valentine’s U.S. History class has been studying the 1950s and the Cold War, and recently participated in a hands-on project to understand how Americans dealt with the great fear of communism and the fear of the nuclear bomb. At the urging of state and local government officials, thousands of Americans constructed bomb shelters in their homes to protect themselves from a possible nuclear attack.

The class read the article “Fallout Can Be Fun: How the Cold War civil-defense programs became farce,’ by David Greenberg, and took note of the purpose and design of bomb shelters. They then used the information that they learned to design and build a model bomb shelter that they and their families would use during a nuclear attack of the 1950s.

“I wanted the students to be able to identify the fears and anxiety that people had during the cold war with the potential of an atomic bomb hitting the United States,” said Mrs. Valentine, “This project allowed students to experience and understand what it was like to live in the late 1950s.”

Students drew an aerial drawing and labeled the contents of their shelter. These drawings included home amenities including furniture and other decorations including anything that might be needed in the event of nuclear fallout. Finally,  working together in groups, they built a model of their bomb shelter. As you can see by the photos, the girls used many different types of materials to create these shelters and the end results were some very creative structures.


  • Group Projects
  • History
Notre Dame Academy Announces Addition of AP Classes for 2018/2019 School Year

We are excited to announce the addition of three Advanced Placement classes at Notre Dame Academy. Beginning this fall, in addition to our AP Calculus class, we will be offering AP United States History, AP Physics, and AP English Language and Composition. We understand the importance of investing in high quality classes that are recognized throughout the country for their excellence. Our students will now be able to achieve hard earned college credits that will count towards their degrees and prepare them for college coursework. Also of note is the school’s 100% college acceptance rate.

In addition to the AP classes, Notre Dame Academy offers classes through Virtual High School. The online classes through VHS, allow upperclassmen to choose from over 300 courses including many Advanced Placement courses. For 22 years, VHS has provided superior online and blended education to more than 600 schools across the U.S. and around the world. The nationally recognized non-profit organization offers over 200 online courses including 23 Advanced Placement courses. VHS is fully accredited and courses are NCAA approved.

During the last eight months, the NDA administration has sought input from current, former, and prospective students and parents.  The addition of Advanced Placement and VHS classes is in keeping with our continual goal of improving in every area as well our commitment to listening to the feedback we have received. We hope that the addition of AP classes will not only benefit our current parent and student population, but that it will also attract new students and families who are interested in a more rigorous college preparatory curriculum.


  • Academics
  • Advanced Placement
  • AP