EMMA KACZALA AND GEORGE KARAME help at the monthly Knights of Columbus breakfast.
EMMA KACZALA AND GEORGE KARAME help at the monthly Knights of Columbus breakfast.
St. Jude the Apostle School in Wynantskill is hoping to increase its enrollment with a little help from some young leaders. Last fall, the school began a student ambassador program.

Students from second to sixth grade were nominated by their teachers to be representatives of St. Jude at school, parish and community events. The student ambassadors also assist with school-wide service projects.

It's all a way to practice leadership while spreading the word about St. Jude School.

"These kids already show a lot of leadership, but here they learn about leadership with respect," said Kristine Hoffay, the school's third-grade teacher and advisor for the student ambassador program.

"I decided to accept [the nomination] because I wanted to show how great my school was, and that we laugh and we have fun," said Emma Kaczala, a fourth-grade student ambassador.

Get out there
The idea to have ambassadors sprung from a 2017 summer program organized by the Albany Diocese's Enrollment Planning Institute to discuss increasing enrollment in local Catholic schools. St. Jude faculty who attended the meeting came up with the student ambassador concept.

"This is a means for getting St. Jude out in the community, and having St. Jude be visible in the community," said Danielle Cox, principal.

Nineteen students are currently serving as ambassadors. Just a few months in, it's already "one of the better programs we have at the school," said Mrs. Cox.

Jodi Cramer, mother to student ambassador Maggie Cramer, moved her daughter to St. Jude after the closure of her previous school, St. Augustine's in Troy, due to declining enrollment. Mrs. Cramer hopes this program will raise awareness among other local families about the benefits of a Catholic education.

"I like Catholic schools for their small sizes," Mrs. Cramer told The Evangelist. "It's the community: You're not just another student; teachers know who you are. I think that it's worth it."

How it works
Students must wear their school uniform or clothing representing St. Jude School when volunteering at community events. Mrs. Cox hopes this will show potential St. Jude families what the school has to offer.

Each student ambassador must volunteer for at least five community events during the school year, as well as helping out with school-wide projects. Student ambassadors have volunteered at monthly Knights of Columbus breakfasts, greeted guests at a Veterans' Day Mass, helped the Rosary Altar Society with monthly bingo games for residents of Van Rensselaer Manor, greeted VIP ticket holders at the school's Wing Wars fundraiser and more.

Ambassador Emma said she enjoys serving at the Knights of Columbus breakfasts.

"We clean tables, and if people need help getting food we help them or throw out their garbage," she said. "I like it all. It's really good."

"It makes me feel good to help people," agreed Maggie, who's in the third grade. "My favorite thing I have done was Wing Wars. We handed out t-shirts for people who were in the VIP section."

Mrs. Hoffay said the student ambassadors attend a weekly meeting after school where they learn leadership skills and how to interact with adults when volunteering in the community. Students practiced serving food and asking guests if they were done eating; they learned how to give a proper handshake, how to introduce themselves and how to introduce a friend to an adult.

The young ambassadors took it seriously. "The kids would critique each other, saying things like, 'Your handshake was too tight,' or, 'You didn't grab my hand fully,'" Mrs. Hoffay explained.

Student ambassadors also helped lead tours at St. Jude's open house in January. Mrs. Hoffay said the students spent their weekly meetings preparing for the tour, practicing questions and learning what to say to adults.

Students as young as second grade led families around the school during the open house, answering questions and showing off the different parts of the building. One student ambassador even took the hand of a three-year-old and walked with him through the school.

Proud of you
"I could not have been more proud," said Mrs. Hoffay. "I left with tears in my eyes."

"I was a little nervous [about the tour], but I had a great time," Emma said. "We got the parents to laugh and we gave them information."

Of the 15 families that attended the tour, 12 have already agreed to enroll.

"The students are the ones who sold the school," Mrs. Cox declared.

Mrs. Hoffay hopes to expand the program next year, getting more students involved. Some upcoming events for this year's student ambassadors include serving food and selling raffle tickets at the school's annual car show, and helping out at the annual color run.

"I'm really looking forward to more bingo nights, and I really want to help new students next year in the program," said Maggie. "I want to be a student ambassador to student ambassadors."