OMAHA – A Duchesne Academy student is returning to school with a new title: National Champion. Caleigh Copenhaver, A’22, competed in six riding disciplines at the 2021 Arabian Youth Nationals in Oklahoma City – the top competition for youth in the sport. She won sidesaddle and western pleasure had six top-ten finishes in other events and qualified in another. This was the second year in a row she has won a national title in a horse-riding event.
Copenhaver’s road to Oklahoma City started in December. She spent hours in the saddle working with her horses and then more time caring for the animals all while balancing her schoolwork.
“The feeling of your number getting called for a championship is a unique feeling and there isn’t anything else I can compare it to,” Copenhaver said.
“It takes good mental stability and confidence to be able to show at a national level. It takes a lot of work to learn some of these horses and how to ride them,” Caleigh’s mother, Jenn Copenhaver said.
Her riding career began when she was 10 years old when she started competing in local competitions. When Copenhaver was 12 she added regional competitions to her schedule, and two years later was traveling the nation to compete. Copenhaver displayed her skills, experience, and endurance during this summer’s 15-day national competition in July.
“Show days are long and lots of hard work. Practice rides, show rides, getting the horses ready, doing stalls, keeping the horses healthy and sound, it takes a lot of time and effort,” her mother said.
To look her best, Copenhaver created competition outfits that included ornate tops and riding pants she wore a pristine white hat and her Sacred Heart ring.
“I wear my ring everywhere and never take it off. I am also grateful that Duchesne allows me to go to practice and compete as long as I keep up with my schoolwork. Duchesne has been supportive of this sport and I very much appreciate it,” Copenhaver said.
This was the end of Caleigh’s riding season but not the end of her career. She plans to continue competing as a youth until she turns 19 when she will transition to adult competitions.
OMAHA, Neb — Duchesne Academy’s 2021 commencement ceremony will be the first full-capacity event at Saint Cecilia Cathedral since March 2020, the school announced Tuesday. Graduation will take place on the evening of May 27.
Administrators encourage students and their guests to wear a mask to help protect vulnerable people who may attend, but will not enforce mask-wearing.
“Many of our guests will be grandparents who, even if fully vaccinated, remain our most vulnerable population and break-through infections are still possible after vaccination,” said Principal Laura Hickman, Ed.D.
St. Cecilia Pastor Father Michael Grewe made the decision to open the event to full capacity after administrators made the request to do so on behalf of seniors and their parents. Graduates will be allowed up to nine guests and will sit with their families during the ceremony.
“These students have worked hard to maintain their grades and a strong sense of community during multiple closures. We are happy that they will be able to graduate in front of their families,” said Hickman.
Duchesne’s graduation ceremony will be live-streamed on the school’s Facebook page.
Ana Zulkoski says she knew Duchesne was different the moment she walked into the building as an eighth-grade student.
“Everyone was so welcoming and I could see myself walking through the halls. I liked how the teachers taught and that they were open and honest with all the students,” Zulkoski said.
Four years later, she says her classmates and teachers have helped her learn about the world and herself in a supportive environment. Given the difficulties presented by Covid, school administrators challenged Zulkoski and her classmates in A’21 with guiding younger students and ensuring they continue to build a supportive community.
“Duchesne is a place where there is a lot of love and a lot of community and connections,” Zulkoski said.
Their efforts have paid off. Younger students say they feel empowered to be themselves when they come to school.
“I love Duchesne because the community is really close-knit and everyone is always looking out for one another,” said Ina Satpathy, A’23.
The strong sense of community bonds students to each other and to Duchesne’s alumnae.
“If you haven’t been back to Duchesne in a while, I think returning would feel the same as it did when you walked through those doors as a student,” said Sophia Harding, A’23.
“Even though students are making new memories today the Sacred Heart foundation and family that you know and love is still here,” she said.
As they build community, students share their joy, creating an environment where every student can learn and grow into the woman she is called to be.
OMAHA (Duchesne Academy) – She was nearly 20 years into her teaching career but Martha Heck felt something was now missing. She loved her students at Elkhorn High School, but the job just wasn’t the same since leaving Cathedral High two years earlier following its closure. When she saw an opening for an English teacher at Duchesne Academy in the summer of 1996, she felt called to apply.
“The minute I walked through the doors at portry, my life changed,” she said.
After 25 years of teaching and serving as Dean of Students at Duchesne, Heck will retire at the end of this school year.
Heck says she feels this is a natural time to step away and allow a new person to serve as Dean. She plans to take time for herself and spend time with family and friends.
“I will miss the hundreds of students, colleagues, and parents who have immeasurably impacted my life,” she said.
Heck says she felt a connection almost instantly with her students and the school’s mission and Sacred Heart foundation.
“I had never taught in an all-girls school, she said. “I loved the openness and confidence that the young women exhibited in this environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and eager they were to learn.”
Colleagues quickly recognized Heck’s passion for her students and her work.
“Duchesne has been fortunate to have had Martha working and teaching here for 25 years. She models our values every day and I know that I and all our colleagues have become better educators by following her example,” said Head of School Meg Brudney.
Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne’s Principal, remembers Heck’s first years at Duchesne, working as fellow teachers.
“Her gentle presence and love of literature made her an instant favorite among students,” said Principal Dr. Laura Hickman.
Soon, Heck earned a reputation as a firm but loving role model.
“One time, I heard of her calling a student to apologize for them not feeling loved and respected by our community at Duchesne. She does truly care and that she wants to do her job to the best of her ability to ensure that all students feel loved and supported by not only their peers, but their whole community at Duchesne,” said Caroline Ortman, A20.
After leaving the classroom for the Dean’s office, Heck found new ways to connect with students. She serves as the Student Council moderator and often chaperones student trips.
“I have been able to go to places such as Uganda, France, Italy, New Orleans and other cities within the Network,” she said.
Of course, when Heck leaves so will Frannie, her goldendoodle who accompanies her to work. She began bringing her dog into school as a way to help students relax. Now, Frannie is as much a fixture at Duchesne as Heck. They both hope to visit often.
“I love Frannie. She’s the perfect thing when you’re having a bad day, just stop by and she’s happy to see you,” said Marissa Brown, A22.
Heck was raised in Council Bluffs and attended St. Albert High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Mary. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She says she is a product of Catholic education believes in what it provides to children beyond regular subject matter.
“Catholic education is important to me because the teachings of Jesus, St. Madeleine Sophie and Rose Philippine inform everything that we do. We can, without any reservations, teach our young women to model Jesus and these amazing women. We can teach that ‘Love is our mission,’” Heck said.
Hickman believes Heck’s commitment to being an example of living the Sacred Heart goals and teaching with a loving heart will be her legacy at Duchesne.
Heck keeps a quote of Madeleine Sophie on her desk that reminds her “to never correct the children when out of humor or impatient; soften your reprimands with kind words; win them by an appeal to their piety.”
“This, in short, has been Martha’s impact. She has taught as Sophie taught and loved as Sofie loved,” said Hickman.
Enforcing rules can sometimes make someone feel isolated and Heck acknowledged those feelings in a farewell message to teachers and staff, but she says she found strength in Duchesne’s mission.
“Some of those days also brought anxiety, frustration, sorrow, and worry, but they were all part of teaching young women about the world and their bright futures. I cannot think of anywhere else that I would want to spend my days, and I thank all of you for that.”
The COVID pandemic has forced schools to make significant changes to the way they operate. Teachers are educating students online, lecturing from behind plexiglass, and adapting lessons to enable social distancing. The pandemic has also forced the Duchesne Advancement office to modify or overhaul crucial fundraising events to accommodate the need for social distancing and other precautions.
Duchesne Academy’s Advancement Department decided in June to change Congé 2021 from the traditional gala to a collection of smaller events that will conclude with an exciting five-day bidding period January 25-30, 2021.
“We wanted to ensure our event would be as safe and responsible as possible which is why we made the difficult choice to cancel our traditional gala and work with our event chairs to create a new way to celebrate and support Duchesne,” said Vice President of Advancement Katie Risch Bakhit.
Congé is Duchesne’s largest fundraising event. In 2020, it drew 500 people to the Omaha Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District and raised $550,000 for tuition assistance and the school’s operating budget.
An event of that size requires significant underwriting to produce. Director of Special Events, Meghan Rowen, typically spends the fall working with Congé chairs to host a series of events to raise money to offset underwriting costs. When COVID precautions forced the cancelation of those events, they reimagined how to secure underwriting.
“Our goal is to host fundraising events that are fun, social, and successful. We can never fully recreate the experience of a real party but we’re excited about what we’ve created and we know our community is ready to step up and help Duchesne,” said Rowen.
The first of those reimagined events is this weekend. DASH for Congé is a self-guided walkathon participants can complete wherever and however they like. More than 100 people have signed up.
“We’ve all been couped up this year and getting our community outdoors, active, and connected seemed like a perfect way to celebrate Duchesne,” Rowen said.
The event was originally set for Sunday, but Rowen says people are welcome to complete their walkathon on Saturday because the weather in Omaha is forecasted to be nicer.
“We have participants across the country and I can’t wait to see everyone’s pictures and videos,” Rowen said.
Participants are encouraged to wear Duchesne Academy apparel and tag @duchesneacademy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share their photos with classmates.
There’s still time to sign up to participate:
Who: Duchesne students, families, alumnae, and friends
What: Self-guided walkathon
Where: Wherever participants want
When: Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18
Why: Support underwriting for Congé 2021
How: Sign up here
Duchesne Academy has unveiled its new robotics lab which will enable students to easily collaborate on projects. The new room features areas to design, build and test their robots before competitions. Alumnae and RSCJ would hardly recognize the space on the third floor – because it used to be a bathroom before it was closed years ago.
Duchesne’s maintenance team had to remove old toilets, tubs, and pipes while they renovated the room. Not only did they remove old fixtures, they removed the old cement and tile floor so they could install new flooring on the original wood subfloor.
“This was a fun project to take on this summer. Our students are bright and great competitors and we were happy to build this new lab where they can work,” said Maintenance Director Chris Hession.
The work began during the summer as was completed just in time for students to return to class in August.
“Our students are committed to being the best designers and programmers and seeing the school create a place for them to learn and work together to build robots has inspired them,” said Sarah Stratman, Robotics and Computer Science teacher.
The team previously worked in a small area behind The Fitz.