By Alessandra Antonacci '20
At the beginning of this school year, the Fontbonne administration decided to make a change in the term that we use to refer to first-year high school students. As many students have noticed by now, the term “Freshmen” has been replaced with “Freshwomen” in order to promote Fontbonne’s mission of empowering women.
While there have been mixed reactions to this change, many of the comments from the student body have been either indifferent or negative. In order to get more insight on this topic, I interviewed Mrs. Spicijaric to see why this change was made in the first place.
I was surprised to learn that the usage of this term did not start at Fontbonne. According to Mrs. Spicijaric, she first discovered the term “Freshwomen” at The Mary Louis Academy. Mrs. S had thought about instituting the change for a long time, but she chose this year to do so because the administration is heavily focused on staying true to Fontbonne’s mission.
Mrs. Spicijaric says that the reason for this change is to promote equality, to show that we are proud of women and proud to be women. “It is strange to refer to women as men,” says Mrs. Spicijaric, “Being in an all-girls establishment, the student body should be addressed correctly.” In today’s society, we are starting to use more gender inclusive terms, such as police officer instead of policeman, and firefighter instead of fireman. Why not advance this into our own school environment?
I asked Mrs. Spicijaric why she thought that the initial reaction to the change was so negative, and her response was, “In time, it will become part of the vernacular eventually.” In other words, it sounds strange now, but it will start to become more normal as time goes on. “Any change in a school is initially viewed as weird or strange,” Mrs. Spicijaric added.
While the administration will use “Freshwomen” in order to identify us as women and confirm our gender, the students can choose to use either term. However, the administration hopes that the students will eventually see this as a positive change instead of a “change for change’s sake.” Mrs. Spicijaric hopes that, in time, it will teach the students that the term women is just as fine to use as men.
By Stephanie Patella '20
Adjusting to the new environment of high school is challenging, but what if you had to go through it twice?
On January 9th, 2018, the students and faculty of Saint John Villa Academy were left in utter shock by the news that the school would be closing in June 2018. Just like that, my fellow Villa Bears and I had felt like our world had been turned upside down.
Like most high school students, I spent my freshman year adjusting to new life at Villa. By the time I had reached my sophomore year, I felt that I had finally hit my stride. I had developed my group of friends, established myself in certain extracurricular activities, including softball and theater, and overall felt like Villa was my second home. Who knew that in an instant, it could all be taken away?
Deciding on which school I would have to attend my junior year completely filled me with sadness and doubt. Would I ever be able to find a new home? Would any school make me feel as warm and happy as Villa?
My Villa classmates and I attended open house after open house. We visited all girls and co-ed schools, both public and Catholic, in Staten Island. Some girls knew exactly where they wanted to go because their friends or siblings may have attended that school. For me, however, I did not quite feel that same spark that I felt during the Villa open house in freshman year.
My cousin had told me about a school that was located right over the Verrazano Bridge called Fontbonne Hall Academy. I was a little nervous about the idea of traveling over the bridge to get to school every day, but I felt that there was no harm in taking a look. My mother, father, and I attended the open house among the other Villa students and parents eager to learn about what the school had to offer. I noticed faculty members walking around with big smiles and among them was Ms. Spicijaric. She stood at the podium in the gymnasium looking out into this crowd of lost hope and sorrow. She began by sending her condolences and assuring us not to be worried about this difficult process. Before she spoke about enrollment and classes in FHA, she took the time during her presentation to show the similarities in the mission statements of both Villa and Fontbonne. In that moment, I regained that long-awaited sense of warmth and happiness. After Ms. Spicijaric had finished her speech, I leaned over to my parents and whispered, “This is a Brooklyn version of Villa and I really want to be a Bonnie.”
Another villa transferee, Alessandra Antonacci, had a similar takeaway from the open house. “When I visited the school itself it had a prominent family environment, which was something I didn’t find when I went to other open houses.”
But how would I be able to adjust to my new surroundings when I walk in on my first day? Will this be like freshmen year all over again?
I was pleased to discover that it was not. I was not going backward, but rather turning the page to a new and exciting chapter in my life.
On the first day of school, I realized that there were roughly twenty former Villa girls that were in attendance at FHA. This provided a sense of relief and comfort just knowing that I would see some familiar faces in the hallways.
Mrs. Hein, director of admissions, admits that she and Ms. S were fortunate enough to intrigue a significant amount of Villa girls to attend FHA by “reach[ing] out to Sr. Antonia, principal at Villa, to let her know that we would support Villa students and welcome them to FHA with open arms” and “then attend[ing] the HS Fair Villa held at [the] school.” There, they were able to provide students and parents with desired knowledge to learn about FHA. Similar to Ms. S’s comparison of the mission statements of the schools, Mrs. Hein explains that FHA is “similar enough that Villa students would flourish [here] which is why we were so committed to helping them out in their situation last year.”
Walking around in a completely different atmosphere on that first day made all of us a little nervous. Eventually, we were able to adjust with help from our kind classmates and faculty. Former Villa student, Gabriella Salerno, gave her opinion on the transition: “I admit I was very stressed at first, but now I’m becoming more familiar with the school.” Alessandra Antonacci, a junior Villa transfer student, adds “Everyone was even more welcoming than I had ever hoped for.”
While we now walk around as Bonnies, Ms. S and the school administration was kind enough to let us still carry around a little piece of Villa. During the very first assembly of the year, Ms. S presented each of the Villa transferees with a special pin that combined the logos of the two schools, which we can wear as part of our uniform until our graduation. As Mrs. Hein explains, “Ms. S created this pin because she really wanted the Villa students to know that FHA was welcoming them with open arms, but also realizes and respects the situation they are in and the school they are coming from which is where the embracing symbol and coordination of both schools’ colors stemmed from.” It has been the little acts of kindness like this, by faculty as well as existing students, that have given us Villa girls the comfort to now call ourselves Bonnies.
Of course, a significant transition like this will have its share of bumps in the road. For those Villa transferees that are still finding it hard to adjust, Mrs. Hein encourages patience and persistence; “Don’t give up! Stay positive and put yourself out there...It is difficult to start over especially when you were not anticipating having to do so, but we are a family and we will do all that we can to help you adjust. My door is always open!” Indeed, as we Villa girls now walk through the doors of FHA on a daily basis, we take comfort in knowing that this is now our home and perhaps everything happens for a reason.