An All Girl, Catholic, Independent School for Grades 7-12


NDA In The News

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.

Update On NDA COVID-19 Precautions

Update on NDA COVID-19 Precautions
(an excerpt from "A View From My Home Office" July 15, 2020)

COVID-19 has contributed to the permanent closure of 130 Catholic schools across 23 states, many in our own community. Additionally, surveys show ten percent of Catholic schools are now uncertain if they can open their doors this fall. For those schools that are fortunate to remain open, we will have additional unbudgeted but necessary expenses related to COVID precautions this year. At NDA, we will continue to spend funds prudently and we will also be looking at a number of new fundraising activities this fall to help defray the significant costs associated with the needs that have arisen due to this pandemic.

In order to determine the scope of these needs, which span building supplies, PPE, and technology, the Academic and Student Experience and Safety and Wellness Task Forces have met many times and are making significant progress in the planning of our specific return to school plans. Below please find some highlights shared by Mrs. Susan Butler, Principal, and Ms. Emily Haley, Dean of Students, who are leading the Academic and Safety and Wellness Task Forces, respectively.

The Academic Task Force is:

  • Preparing for three types of classroom engagement- on campus, hybrid, and online - for this coming Fall
  • Utilizing feedback from family/student/faculty survey results to expand and improve all aspects of distance learning
  • Setting up physical classrooms with technology (cameras, microphones) to offer synchronous in class and distance learning while ensuring the capability of our wireless bandwidth
  • Preparing faculty to create clear, content-rich lesson plans that may be shared both in-person and via distance learning. Faculty will attend one of two three-day professional development workshops offered in July and August
  • Enhancing our G-Suite for Education platform by upgrading it with Enterprise
  • Preparing family tutorials for accessing Google Classroom materials, resources, and assignments
  • Working in collaboration with the Safety and Wellness Task Force to create classroom space that follows DESE return to school guidelines, including desks 3 feet apart

The Safety and Wellness Task Force is:

  • Ordering appropriate PPE for students and staff
  • Preparing signage centered on new protocols
  • Establishing an increased cleaning schedule and checklist
  • Determining space usage (e.g. no lockers this fall, entrance/exit doors to classrooms, staggered dismissals)
  • Creating resources and wellness plans (to aid in coping with stress and anxiety)
  •  Exploring options for foodservice provided by The Rebel Cafe
  • Utilizing outdoor space and additional seating for class use and free periods to encourage students to be outside whenever possible

With all of this in mind, NDA is moving forward with the primary goal to be back on campus this Fall. Of course, if at any time, the environment or government guidelines change, NDA will also be ready to alter our plan as necessary. Faculty, staff, and student safety is paramount, and we will not return to 425 Salisbury Street unless we are confident that we have completed all of the necessary planning to make it safe to do so.

As a small independent school, Notre Dame Academy has the unique ability and physical space to deliver a strong academic education while still being able to adhere to the current safety guidelines. Also, we continue to enhance our ability to address the social-emotional health of our students and families amidst a very stressful situation.


Notre Dame Academy Eight New Faculty and Staff Members

Notre Dame Academy Welcomes New Faculty and Staff Members

Notre Dame Academy is excited to announce our newest Faculty and staff Members joining our team in the Fall of 2020. Please join us in welcoming Ms. Baker, Mr. Bennett, Mrs. Cook, Mrs. Coulson, Miss Daigle, Ms. Goyette, Miss Inman, Mrs. Shipp, and Mrs. Isakson. We are welcoming quite a few more faculty and staff members to our school, so please stay tuned for those announcements later this summer!

Lindsay Baker
Office Manager

Lindsay Baker graduated from Notre Dame Academy in 2013 and went on to attend Nichols College to study Hospitality Management and Sport Management. While at Nichols she participated and co headed the establishment of the first ever Dance Team. She was involved in the Hospitality Club and participated in a three-day Leadership Program with Walt Disney World. Lindsay graduated Nichols College in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and in 2018 with a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Her roles since college have focused on customer service and event planning. She has had the opportunity to work for such organizations as Fenway, Lou & Grey (Ann Taylor Inc.), Mohegan Sun, and National Grid. She is an avid traveler having already traveled to 9 countries and 31 states. Because of this passion she was able to study abroad in London, England where she attended Regents University for a semester. Her all-time favorite place to travel to is Walt Disney World.

Jonathan Bennett
Humanities Academic Lead/Lead English Teacher

Jonathan Bennett was born and raised in Cincinnati. He graduated from St. Xavier High School and attended Miami University (Ohio). His undergraduate was in Creative Writing and Literature, and he earned his Master’s degree in Adolescent Language Arts Education. He has taught for six years in Chicago public schools and for four years at a Christian high school in southern California. He is excited to move to Massachusetts with his wife, Nicole, and two children, Charlotte (4 years old) and Henry (born in March).

Sam Cook
Social Studies Teacher

Sam Cook has been teaching in a local private school for the last six years. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she grew up south of Boston and made her way to central Massachusetts after high school. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with an undergraduate certificate in Organizational Leadership from Thomas Edison State University. She currently teachers in the special education department where she works with students with various learning struggles. In the past she has also taught middle school social studies, math, and 8th grade Bible. Outside of school, she can be found diving into a good book, adventuring with her husband, or playing soccer on a local co-ed team. “I am so excited to be joining the team at NDA and look forward to meeting each of you in the near future!”

Monique Coulson
Science Teacher

Monique Coulson is a 20-year teaching veteran who has spent the vast majority of that time working in a public high school setting. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Biology, her Post-baccalaureate degree in Education, and is currently working on a Leadership and Administration Master’s degree. Monique brings 14 years of experience teaching AP Biology and 10 years of experience teaching AP Environmental Science. She is a college board approved presenter for both AP Biology and AP Environmental Science (APES) as well as a registered test reader for APES through the College Board. Through the years, she has overseen science departments, been a class advisor, led numerous school-based committees, in addition to being a teacher mentor and coach. Monique has spent the last several summers working with the Boston Leadership Institute, running their week-long intensive Anatomy and Physiology program as well as programs in medicinal plants, Introduction to Surgery, and World Medicine. Monique is mother to four children- 23, 19, 7, and 6. She enjoys exploring and explaining nature and all its wonder with her husband and two youngest children.

Meredith Daigle
Religious Studies Teacher

Meredith Daigle is originally from Belle Rose, Louisiana. She recently graduated from Providence College with a degree in Political Science and Theology. During her time at Providence, she worked closely with the Admission Office, where she conducted interviews for prospective students and assisted the admission counselors. She was also involved in Campus Ministry as a peer minister, retreat leader, and volunteer coordinator. One of her most memorable experiences at Providence was studying abroad in Paris, France for a semester. While at Providence College Meredith interned with an NGO called Women’s World Wide Web, which crowdfunds for women’s rights and empowerment. “I’m super excited to join the NDA family because of my passion for women’s education and the great community!” Meredith is currently getting her Master of Education degree from Providence College and is part of their PACT program.

Sharon Goyette
Lead Social Studies Teacher

Sharon Goyette is a veteran social studies teacher joining the Notre Dame Academy staff. Mrs. Goyette has more than a decade of experience teaching social studies. She has spent the majority of her career teaching ancient civilizations at the Robert E. Melican Middle School in Northborough. She has also taught in Stow and Springfield. Mrs. Goyette holds a B.A. in History from Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s degree in Education from UMass-Amherst. In addition to teaching history, Mrs. Goyette enjoys reading, cooking, spinning, and leading a Jimmy Fund Walk team. 

Lauren Inman
English Teacher/Dance Teacher

Lauren Inman, a Worcester native, graduated from Notre Dame Academy in 2016 and went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and a minor in education from the College of the Holy Cross. She discovered her love of teaching through her work as a dance and swim instructor throughout high school and is excited to be back in the classroom at her alma mater. Lauren is currently working towards her Master of Education from Providence College and is a part of their PACT program.

Paula Isakson
Religious Studies Academic Lead/Lead Religious Studies Teacher/Director, St. Julie Division and Campus Ministry

Paula Isakson is a veteran educator with more than 30 years of experience teaching English Language Arts and Religion in the Diocese of Worcester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Assumption College in language and religious studies. A Massachusetts certified teacher and a certified catechist, Mrs. Isakson has completed graduate work in education. She is currently pursuing a certification as a Sheltered Content Instruction Teacher for English language learners. According to Mrs. Isakson, teachers must be continuously learning to better teach their students. “As teachers, I believe we need to be constantly preparing ourselves to provide the best instruction for our students.” Among her pursuits are gardening, sea glass hunting, and reading. She lives in Worcester with her husband, Neil, her two children, Emily and Josh, and her beloved Shitzhu, Maggie.

Denise Shipp
Math Teacher

Denise Shipp is a certified Math Teacher and has taught at area Catholic schools for 16 years. She came to teaching after almost 20 years as a software engineer. She brings real-life experience into the classroom as a key component to education. She is a proud alum of NDA, and holds a BA in Mathematics from Assumption and a BS and MS in Computer Science from WPI.  She is looking forward to driving through “the gates” and walking the halls of NDA again in her new role!