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Holy Family serves generations

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DECATUR – Holy Family School is well-named.

On Grandparents' Day on Thursday, the parking lot and the classrooms were jammed with grandparents and, in one case, a stand-in grandparent, most of whom are alumni of the school. Many of the families at Holy Family are in their third generation, and most of the rest are in their second.

“It really is a 'holy family,'” said alumna Keely Boaz Peters, whose sons Michael, David and Adam all attended the school, and Michael's son Drew is in first grade there now.

All five of the Boaz siblings attended Holy Family, and Peters' sister Karen Barding came to grandparents' day to stand in for a child's grandma who couldn't be there.

“(The child) called me and said, 'Will you be my grandma?'” Barding said with a fond chuckle. “Of course I said I would.”

The school opened in 1961, and its first batch of eighth-grade graduates was in 1964. Along the main hallway, the “wall of fame” shows every graduating class, and when alumni come back to visit, they always have to stop to find their own photos.

Because it's a Catholic school, said Principal Debbie Alexander, their faith is uppermost, but family comes right behind that, and she thinks that atmosphere of faith and family is what draws the generations to keep the connection strong.

Along with the traditions, though, is a commitment to keep up with the times, and though the halls look much the same as they did when Peters was a child, the kids are using iPads and Chromebooks, and the school uses current best practices in instruction, she said. Still, the main reason people choose Holy Family, she said, is the sense of belonging.

“You walk in here and you can just feel it,” she said.

Peters, Barding and Julie Hargrove, who was visiting with her grandson Colton, who's in first grade, said it's not unusual for students to go to school with the same group from kindergarten through high school, if they attend St. Teresa High School, and even beyond that. Barding went to the Catholic Springfield College in Illinois, and estimated at least 15 of her Holy Family classmates did, too.

Catholic schools are usually connected to a parish church, and when a family has attended the church and the school for years, it becomes extended family, Hargrove said. The kids grow up together and develop close relationships that last their whole lives.

Sisters Holly Layton and Jenny Douglass both attended Holy Family, their kids attend Holy Family, and the sisters co-teach kindergarten there. Both have daughters in kindergarten there, so they're teaching their own family.

“It's awesome,” Douglass said of teaching with her sister, and teaching their own children isn't a problem. “Education is so important to me,” she added, “and they know that.”

Both women taught in the public schools previously, Layton said, and when positions opened up at Holy Family, it was just serendipity that both ended up teaching and teaching the same grade to boot.

Lisa Roddis not only went to Holy Family, she's the school secretary, her son, Jacob, went to school there and her granddaughter, Isabella Roddis, is a student.

Though young people often move away from their hometown after graduation, Roddis said, her son never wanted to do that.

“He wanted to make Decatur his home,” she said. “He wanted to help support the community, and his wife did, too.”

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