When the doors of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy officially opened in 2011, Kathleen and Kerry Kocher were among the first people eager to walk through them.
Kathleen had grown up receiving a Catholic education, as had the couple’s three daughters, Kelsey, Kaitie, and Kenzie Kocher.
All three girls had attended Our Lady of Victory Catholic School; however, when it came time for Kelsey, the eldest daughter, to go into ninth grade, there was no Catholic high school option presently available in State College, PA. Instead, Kelsey began attending public high school – at the same time that the vision of Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy was beginning to take shape, and the Kochers were soon enthusiastic about having their next two daughters continue their catholic education at SJCA.
“We wanted them to attend SJCA, partly for the continuation of the experience they had at Our Lady of Victory,” said Kathleen. “The ethics, the inclusion of religion, the level of education, and the small class size are all things I felt were important. I think Kelsey got a good education in her public high school experience. However [at SJCA], I see much more personal attention, much more care and involvement of the teachers and especially the guidance staff.”
“I can’t sing the praises enough of Mrs. Kozak who did guidance up until this year,” continued Kathleen. “She helped with guidance and gave advice to Kelsey when Kelsey was in high school even though she was at a public high school and had nothing to do with SJCA. We were having questions when Kelsey was applying to college; having someone step out of their comfort zone and help even when it wasn’t going to have any benefit to SJCA was the first exposure I had to the school – someone wanting to help out our kid.”
With such an encouraging first exposure to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy, the Kochers knew it was the right fit for their next two daughters. Kaitie attended from 2012 to 2016, and Kenzie is now in her senior year at the school, where both have enjoyed different but equally positive experiences.
“My middle daughter was involved in sports at SJCA; My youngest isn’t because she’s involved in intensive sports outside of the high school level,” said Kathleen, referring to Kenzie’s heavy involvement with competitive gymnastics. “When my middle daughter was at SJCA, she was involved in sports and musicals, and the energy and the excitement that the school had for those was great.
“For Kenzie, her experience was different,” continued Kathleen of Kenzie, who competes as part of the Nittany Gymnastics Academy. “They were very good at working with me. Kenzie experienced some injuries in gymnastics; she had one ankle reconstructed, but SJCA was flexible and worked with her to allow her to continue to achieve success despite the injuries. She didn’t get lost or left behind, so I was grateful for that!”
Above all else at the school, Kathleen is most grateful for the education and faith-based environment that Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy provides.
“It’s very important to be proud of your faith and to be in an environment where you can be comfortable expressing that as part of who you are and not feeling judged or belittled for having faith,” said Kathleen. “They are able to have that at SJCA.”
Q&A with Kenzie Kocher
Q: What do you like most about attending Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy?
Kenzie: My favorite thing about SJCA is the community vibe; everyone knows each other. I also get a lot of attention from my teachers, and I feel safe reaching out to them when I need help.
Q: What does getting a Catholic education mean to you?
Kenzie: Receiving a Catholic education means that while I am learning about all the basic necessities that I need to know in life, I am also getting closer to God and learning more about my faith every single day.
Q: What activities do you participate in?
Kenzie: At school, I participate in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and I also altar serve during some of the masses. I am currently a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. Outside of school, I do gymnastics from 4-8:30 p.m., so it pretty much takes up my free time. My freshman and junior year I did art club. My sophomore year I did service club and sophomore and junior year I was an ambassador.
Q: What are your future aspirations?
Kenzie: I want to go to college and major in some sort of health field, possibly physical therapy. Currently, my top three schools are University of Tennessee, Penn State, and Slippery Rock University.
Q: What advice do you have for future Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy students?
Kenzie: My advice for future students of SJCA is to reach out to the upperclassmen and ask for words of wisdom and encouragement.