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<B>Second grader Isabella Thurber gets her nails painted on Wednesday afternoon by sixth grader Elizabeth Malinowski during Buddy Day held at Sacred Heart school in Bennington. The Buddy program encourages responsibility and friendship and partners up seventh and eighth graders up with the younger classes./ Holly Pelczynski</B>
Second grader Isabella Thurber gets her nails painted on Wednesday afternoon by sixth grader Elizabeth Malinowski during Buddy Day held at Sacred Heart
Second grader Isabella Thurber gets her nails painted on Wednesday afternoon by sixth grader Elizabeth Malinowski during Buddy Day held at Sacred Heart school in Bennington. The Buddy program encourages responsibility and friendship and partners up seventh and eighth graders up with the younger classes./ Holly Pelczynski
BENNINGTON - Across the country, Catholic schools are celebrating National Catholic Schools Week, and the School of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington is joining in on the festivities.

One of the more popular events that the school runs during the annual week, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is Buddy Day, which sees students of different age levels paired up to participate in an activity of the pair's choosing. "We actually didn't have it on the agenda this year," said Principal David Estes, "But the kids really wanted to see it come back."

At around 1:50 p.m., Estes got on the intercom system and announced to students that they should pair up with the buddies, which was met with a cheer that reverberated around the school. Then, with the help of teachers, eighth-graders teamed with third graders, sixth-graders teamed with first graders, and board games and activities of every variety began to materialize.

In one classroom, a sixth grader patiently explained the rules of "Guess Who?" to a first grader. In another, a group of students of varying ages hunched over "Jumanji," although, unlike in the 1995 movie, no animals leapt out of the board. In one corner, an older student showed a younger student how to play "Minecraft" on his tablet. Around the school pairs of students shared Play-Doh, matchbox cars, markers, and coloring books.

"It teaches the older kids responsibility," said Estes, who also praised National Catholic Schools Week, saying, "It's a way for us to tell our story."

National Catholic Schools Week began in 1974, and always runs starting on the last Sunday in January. The National Catholic Education Association organizes the week. St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., is also participating, as well as schools in Brattleboro and Rutland. According to NCEA's website, school's typically celebrate the week with Masses, open houses, and other activities. The theme of this year is "Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service."

Sacred Heart students also participated in service projects throughout the community. Pre-schoolers through second graders collected mittens and gloves for local children in need, and currently have them on display on a "mitten tree" in the school's gym. Students in grades three through eight filled food boxes, which will be donated to His Panty, a food shelf run out of the Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales parish center on Main Street. They collected and wrapped 13 birthday boxes that will contain everything necessary for a birthday party, which will be donated to children who otherwise wouldn't have had the means to celebrate their birthdays, said Estes.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Catholic schools across the state rang their bells in honor of the week. The students also wore red, white, and blue outfits on Wednesday, which Estes described as a nice break from their typical uniforms. Thursday the teachers will participate in a "teacher swap," where teachers will spend part of the day with grades other than what they usually teach. Students also decorated the doors of their classrooms.

These events, of course, accompanied several faith and community based events, including a "living rosary," a bring-your-parents-to-lunch-day, a open house for families interested in sending their children to the school, and, the culmination of it all, a pizza party Friday evening.

The Sacred Heart School has 154 students in pre-school through eighth grade. "We combine academics with faith development," said Estes, "not only do we have an education system that improves academics, but it also nurtures their faith." Estes said the school's emphasis on academic success had attracted many non-Catholic families to the school. "They're looking for something different for their children, a safe environment," said Estes, "We always want our kids to be the best that they can be."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB