By Malie Hudson
TEMECULA—A 25-year dream for many Catholic families in the Temecula Valley is finally coming true.
Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac High School in Temecula welcomed its first group of students to a retreat on August 11 and 12 to kick off the first year of its new high school. Students commemorated the occasion with a prayer and etching their names on a concrete stone in the high school quad garden.
“My youngest son, Tommy, is very excited to stay here and continue here,” said Christina Kavanagh. Her son completed eighth grade at Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac elementary school last year and he will be among the first freshmen students to attend the new high school. “My oldest daughter is 27. I was looking for a Catholic high school anywhere close enough to drive when she was 7. I ran around the whole north county and was involved on a committee trying to make that happen. I would’ve really loved that to have happened for my daughter, but I am very excited that my son gets to have this.”
The nearest Catholic high school options for families in the area are over an hour away in Riverside, San Bernardino or Orange County.
“This is the fulfillment of a 25 year old dream for Temecula to have its own Catholic high school,” said School President Sister Ernestine Velarde, ODN. The school began as a preschool founded by the Sisters of the Company of Mary in 1993 and expanded to include grades kindergarten to eighth grade. As eighth grade students graduated, parents asked the sisters to expand even further with a high school. The new high school opened during St. Jeanne de Lestonnac’s 25th anniversary year with 23 freshmen and 12 sophomore students.
“Along the way, there’s been different groups of lay people who have tried to get it off the ground and I think everything is within God’s time,” said Sr. Velarde. “It’s a very special moment. Our parishes are 100 percent behind us. We have a great relationship with our parish, St. Catherine in Temecula, and pastor Father Anthony Dao. I cannot say enough about the support we get from them because we are not a parish school, we are a private school. They are extremely supportive in every way. It’s been a process of seeing a miracle unfold.”
Rob Linsalato, a parent with children entering grades six, nine and ten, is a member of the steering and curriculum committees that met once a week to create the curriculum for the new school.
“We had a really good steering committee,” he said. “It was weekly work so we would meet an hour or two or three depending on what was needed at that time. It was worth it and it was fun.”
Principal Annette Zaleski and the curriculum committee has built a competitive program.
“Parents know that they can get a quality education throughout the valley so they’re here in addition to the Catholic faith component,” she said. “Service is another component that we are very committed to. We also have a fabulous technology program and something we didn’t initially plan for, but the students asked for is our Future Farmers of America program. We will be the fourth Catholic school in the nation to offer it and the only one in the Temecula valley to have it.”
Future Farmers of America is a program that helps students develop hands-on skills in agriculture, business and leadership. The high school is also setting up dual and concurrent enrollment for juniors and seniors that will allow them to take basic college courses and earn credit for them.
They have repurposed existing spaces to create learning environments for the 35 students. New classroom buildings are planned eventually as the new high schools adds classes in the coming years.
“It’s very exciting building the program, the curriculum, establishing something new,” Zaleski said. “These kids are really pioneers. They are establishing something, creating the foundation that is going to be for future generations.”
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.