Christian Curriculum

The people behind the success of the OLM school in Los Banos


Our Lady of Fatima School in Los Banos

Our Lady of Fatima School in Los Banos

The school that led by example during the year of COVID came out even stronger.

Our Lady of Fatima School in Los Banos was among the first schools in Merced County to reopen in person (in early fall 2020).

The OLF went through the 2020-21 school year without a single case of a student testing positive for COVID, allowing the school to remain open at all times. And enrollments for this upcoming school year have increased compared to last year.

As opening day approaches on August 16, Kindergarten to Grade 8 continues to enroll new and old students for 2021-2022. Parents interested in learning more about the OLF can call the school anytime at (209) 826-2709.

Credit for the recent success of the OLF must go to the entire team of staff, students and parents who followed all the protocols and persevered. Special credit should be given to Director Karen Forte.

Karen, who had been a parent, volunteer and teacher at the OLF for many years, agreed to take over when the previous administrator suddenly and unexpectedly left school in 2019.

Shortly after being appointed director, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately began a long series of treatments.

Somehow, she and the school survived – and thrived. Karen is now in remission and she and the school are healthy. What contributed to the success of the school was Karen’s aptitude for administration.

Not everyone can be a principal, even the best teachers. To be an effective administrator, a person must experience personal and professional satisfaction in seeing others succeed, especially teachers. A school principal does not get the immediate and ongoing feedback from students that teachers receive.

A manager must also be willing and able to work with numbers, regulations, budgets, grants and the ultimate ‘the money stops here’ responsibility. Many otherwise talented people have collapsed under these obligations and burdens. Karen did not collapse; instead, she enthusiastically accepted this challenge.

A good principal should also be a team leader developing cooperation and collaboration, especially between his staff and teachers. She needs to encourage and support; at the same time, it must hold students and teachers accountable.

Karen was able to do all of this. Plus, she likes to do it. Most admins I’ve known tell me that they enjoy about 50% of their work and take the other 50%. Karen loves everything.

Forte, of course, doesn’t want to take credit for OLF’s accomplishments. She always designates her staff and teachers, starting with her office manager, Caroline Cota. When the OLF accountant had to leave, for example, Caroline stepped in and worked with Karen to take on the accounting duties, in addition to continuing with other responsibilities.

Karen gives credit, first, to “the grace of God” and then to her teachers, including those who return this year: Kim Silva, Whitley Smith and Cheyenne Pinheiro (Pre-K), Briana Bertao (Kindergarten), Janet Silva ( first year), Maria Garcia (second year), Karla de la Torre (fifth year), Carolyn Kalisz (seventh year) and Sheldon Laupua (eighth year).

She also looks forward to two new teachers joining her staff in the fall: Maria Parish, a Los Banos resident who will teach in grade four, and Jesse Rodriguez, a military veteran who will teach in grade six, as well as science. and PE

“These two teachers bring a great life experience to the classroom,” said Karen, “which will help students make the connection between what they are learning and real life. “

She also appreciates that Nicole Gallichio is joining the staff as a new volunteer school nurse. Gallichio will retain student medical records to ensure they comply with state requirements.

Strong hopes that the coming year will be less stressful, not only for coping with the pandemic, but also for surviving financially. “Thank goodness,” Karen said, “we were able to get some help from the government’s payroll protection plan, which allowed us to keep all of our staff and avoid layoffs.”

This support also enabled the school to purchase I-pads and other technology, which opened new doors for online learning, especially when the school had to move to all teaching. remotely from March to September.

Karen also applies for and uses all grants available to her, including Emergency Aid for Non-Public Schools (EANS). “For the school to remain financially viable,” she said, “we have to use all possible resources”.

As has been the case since the school opened in 1950, the school relies on contributions to keep tuition reasonable while meeting payroll and other expenses. Last year, they received generous contributions from the OLF Parents’ Club, the Société Notre-Dame de Fatima, the Knights of Columbus and the Young Ladies Institute (YLI), as well as donations from individuals and families.

“The school and all the people and organizations that support it are working hard to reduce tuition fees,” Karen said. “Many people are surprised to learn that tuition, spread over 12 months, does not exceed $ 400 per month, which is remarkably low for a private school. And we also have a vibrant scholarship program for families in financial need. “

“I want all parents who are considering sending their child to OLF to come talk to me,” said Karen. “I know that many families in Los Banos want to send their children to a school that is not only academically rigorous, but also incorporates Christian faith and values ​​into the curriculum.”

Karen is ready to give parents of prospective students a tour of the campus at any time and talk about the opportunities children have in study and extracurricular activities, including sports.

Anyone interested in learning more about the OLF can visit the school’s website ( “We are fortunate,” said Karen, “to have an excellent person in Kristina Vaz, to design and maintain our web page, as well as coordinate communications and write newsletters.”

Vaz is one of the many staff, besides the teachers, who make an important contribution to the success of the school. Karen also appreciates the support of the Superintendent of Schools of the Diocese of Fresno and Saint Joseph Parish, in particular Father John Schmoll, the pastor, and Father Bonaventure Okoro, the parish vicar.

“We need and appreciate all of their efforts,” Karen said. “You need a solid team to make a school like Notre-Dame de Fatima succeed. “

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos company. His email is [email protected]


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