Students in graduation


July 21, 2020

No one has acclimated themselves better during these trying times, which has now stretched over four months, than the faculty and staff at St. Benedict’s Prep.

What could have been dire circumstances for the school when the state shut down on March 13 due to COVID-19 turned into a challenge that everyone accepted. The entire school community took pride in making sure St. Benedict’s was once again a national model to follow.

And the Admissions team, led by Mario Gallo, was no exception.

“We did not know what to expect,” said Gallo. “We were not certain how to get a read on the situation and, more importantly, how long it was going to last. We were just trying to keep everyone safe.”

Gallo knew they had plenty of obstacles to overcome and questions needed to be answered; How was The Hive going to have the students apply? How was the school going to show prospects the grounds and continue to build a community? And much more.

These challenges needed to be answered quickly. And like the rest of the school, Gallo flourished under pressure.

With the help of Doris Lamourt and St. Benedict’s IT expert, Dexter Lopina '98, the admissions process went from being an in-person application procedure – one that has been used for over 150 years – into a virtual, online method seemingly overnight. They were even able to bring the monastic grounds of Newark Abbey to prospective students through a variety of Virtual Tour videos created by Craig White ‘04, the school’s math department chairman and freshman level coordinator.

“Once we understood that we were in it for the long run, Ms. Lamourt, Mr. White, Mr. Lopina and I knew that we had to move fast,” explained Gallo.

He also had to adjust his busy travel schedule, one that saw him visit elementary and middle schools throughout Newark and the surrounding school districts. He now uses the phone more, holds weekly virtual meet-and-greets and was even able to set up Zoom meetings with the incoming freshman class every Thursday, inviting different members of the community to be a “special guest” each week.

“It was pretty surprising to us how well the Thursday meetings were going,” he said. “The boys really enjoyed them. We realized that many of our incoming students did not have any synchronous interaction at their current schools and were extremely excited to be engaged, even if only once a week.”

To Gallo, it all seemed like a blur, but when school reopened on July 6, his hard work and dedication paved the way for 242 new students for the 2020-’21 school year, a total that screams, “What Pandemic?” That number includes 114 in the Boys Prep Division, including 85 freshmen, 70 in the new Girls Prep Division and 58 in the Elementary Division.

“We were able to transition into the virtual distance learning without a glitch,” said Gallo. “I am humbled to work amongst a group of individuals that are always and undeniably willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Gallo admits that he is more puzzled than nervous about the future of admissions while this pandemic lags, saying, “We will need to be very creative to find ways to access the kids where they are. The old model that allowed us to visit students at their elementary schools is long gone right now. We will need to seek other methods to reach students and their families.”

He also feels that his job is just an extension of what everyone else is doing at The Hive.

“I would argue that NO ONE in America is doing what we are doing. As always, Benedict's leads by example,” said Gallo. “Most people were trying to cover their losses while we were trying to assist young ladies to have a place to go to school this year – unthinkable! But again, it’s a testament to our forevermore tradition to give up what we want for what we need – only at SBP.”

--By Ron Jandoli