Friday, August 30, 2013

St. Bernard students tour Europe with Alabama Ambassadors of Music

Two St. Bernard Prep School students accepted the invitation from the Alabama Ambassadors of Music to join other students from around the state for a musical tour of Europe.

The Alabama Ambassadors is a group of staff and students from Alabama high school/college bands and choirs.  Every other summer students are invited to make a wonderful 16 day trip to Europe to represent the State of Alabama as Ambassadors of Music.  On June 6-21, 2013, eighty students from the state joined Band Director Harry McAfee of Birmingham and Choral Director Laura Doss of Cullman for a life-changing experience abroad.

St. Bernard students Daniel  Coccia and Kimie Garcia joined the Alabama Ambassadors and performed at various locations: parks, churches and other venues throughout England, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

Dan, tenor sax in hand, and Kimie with her alto voice prepared for their journey by spending several days in rehearsal at Bumpus Middle School in Birmingham.  Music for the tour included classic band tunes, Sousa, Spanish and Austrian March tunes, medleys of the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, American River Songs based on American folk tunes, Dixieland Jazz  and a Dixieland Concerto.

Tour director Harry McAfee said he has conducted three European trips and was pleased to have St. Bernard represented.

Both Dan and Kimie described the experience as a trip of a lifetime, as well as their first time to travel internationally.  Although each admitted to being a bit frightened at London’s Heathrow Airport by the sound of so many unfamiliar languages, both managed to overcome the anxiety once custom officials made them feel welcomed.

Travelling on a bus from the airport to the hotel, Dan admitted to having his first culture shock encounter.  Grinning, he said, “The first thing I noticed that was different from the states was,  “The bathrooms.”  “They shower differently,” he chuckled.  “The hot water lasts only a short time.  I found out quickly; get yourself wet, turn off the water, lather yourself up, and rinse.”

Kimie was mesmerized by the beauty of the country, and found charm in London accents, culture and hospitality; while at the same time sharing Dan’s fascination  with the  classic London taxis. 

“We were fed well on the trip,” Kimie said.  From their favorite fish and chips in London to gelato in Italy, the St. Bernard students enjoyed four course meals three times a day!

McAfee said, “We had three days to learn the music, then travel; and after that three days off, so I got a bit nervous, but was proud of  the group’s performance.“

A total of five concerts were held and they were very well received.  Europeans like spiritual folk songs and Jazz tunes that are strictly American, and tend to follow the summer schedule of musicians from the states.  Just before Alabama performed, there was Oklahoma. 

Kimie and Dan described singing and playing on the tour as an amazing experience.  Each complimented tour directors McAfee and Doss by stating the band was very skilled and the program of music well thought out.

 Spending time abroad allowed students to experience art museums in London, visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, and tour many historic places often studied in school. 

“Seeing the actual ‘Mona Lisa’ was something I will never forget, and having our photo taken with her is a memory that will last a lifetime,” said Kimie.  “It was much smaller than I thought it would be, but more beautiful than I could have imagined.”

Now back in school, students have expressed their appreciation to their St. Bernard director Mr. Lester Harris for his recommendation to tour with the Alabama Ambassadors, and to their parents for affording them the educational opportunity.  When asked if they would like to do it again; without hesitation both replied, “YES.”

Dan and Kimie are juniors at St. Bernard Prep School.  Dan is the son of Dr. & Mrs. Chris Coccia; and Kimie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Luis Garcia of Cullman.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Presto earns Eagle Scout

Johnathon Presto, son of Philip and Karen Presto, was recognized at a Court of Honor on August 3, 2013 for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.  Johnathon is a member of Troop 321 at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Cullman.  Johnathon’s Eagle Project included the removal of an old, wooden stairwell to the basement of the Church, and erecting a metal framed stairwell with a full sized door.  Johnathon is a 2013 graduate of St. Bernard Prep School.  He is the grandson of Herbert and Jo Schaffer and Jo and the late Paul Presto, all of Cullman.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Saint Bernard Prep begins new school year

Students from across the globe became residents or commuting students at St. Bernard Preparatory School in Cullman this past weekend.
President, Fr. Joel Martin said the school enrollment for 2013-14 remained basically the same with an increase of only one student over the ending enrollment of the previous year.  Twenty six of those students are international from six different countries.

Having travelled to four different countries in the past nine months, Fr. Joel said that his trips have been successful in recruiting students to Alabama and especially St. Bernard.  “There is a great deal of interest on the part of students to study here.  The students understand English is the language of the world for business, and they see American Universities as the best in the world and want to be well prepared for this experience.”
In the resident program at St. Bernard, there are 49 students enrolled, 21 girls and 28 boys.   There are seven boarding students in the Middle School and 42 in the high school.
Middle School principal, William Calvert was pleased with the numbers but added he has four spaces open for additional students.  “All of our Middle School students came to class in uniforms and were ready for the first day of school,” Calvert said.  “It’s a great indication of their willingness to get started on the right track. 

Calvert added that the seventh grade enrichment program would include a study of the seven habits of successful people in addition to study skills and current events.
On the high school level, Counselor Mary Mayo, also reported that the first day had gone very smoothly.  Mayo said she had to make a few schedule changes, and, in general the students were adjusting to the rhythm of academic life.
St. Bernard Prep is operated by the Benedictine Monks of St. Bernard Abbey.  For more information contact the school at or (256)739-6682.  Applications for the first semester will be accepted through Labor Day.

Monday, August 19, 2013

St. Bernard implements ESL Camp

Two international students from China are getting a jump start on American culture in preparation for the upcoming school year.  Kedi Mo and Travis Cai are currently enrolled in this Summer’s newly-created ESL camp at St. Bernard Prep School in Cullman.  The camp is a two-week program designed with a focus on improving English skills in speaking, listening, writing, reading and analysis.

Br. Linus Klucsarits, OSB, who teaches ESL at St. Bernard said this is the start-up of what he hopes to see continue to grow and become more popular with other nationalities around the world. 

Kedi and Travis are from China and are proficient in speaking the English language.   Their culture has prepared them well for studies in the United States as both prepare to study in the U.S.

Getting settled in was a smooth process as students found their home and got their banking completed and cell phones working.  “The people at Wells Fargo and AT&T were very patient and kind in helping students get their accounts activated in Cullman,” Br. Linus continued.

American culture is a focus of the language process.  “The students and I have enjoyed becoming familiar with the Southeast through documentaries, books and travel,” Br. Linus said. 

Student studies have included trips to the Helen Keller Museum, Space and Rocket Center, the Civil Rights Center, as well as a trip to Atlanta to watch a Braves game, explore the world of Coca Cola, and visit the Georgia Aquarium.

To conclude their final weeks, St. Bernard has partnered with the NASA Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL for the students to attend Space Camp.

“This has been a great experience for all of us,” Br. Linus continued.   “We are hoping to grow next year by adding more diversity to the camp.  It works best if they can process in their own language and then go back to work through it in English. 

St. Bernard Prep School is a private co-educational boarding and day school for students in grades 7-12.  For more information visit or like their page at



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

St. Bernard graduate finalist for AF Award

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. -- A member of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Lt. Robert Lee, has been selected as a finalist for the Air Force Association's Gill Robb Wilson Award. 

The AFA presents this award--named for Gill Robb Wilson, an American pilot, minister, military advocate, writer and the first director of the Civil Air Patrol--for the most outstanding contribution to national defense in the field of arts and letters, covering a wide range of activity such as writing, speaking and media relations.  

Lee earned his nomination because of his numerous writing and speaking accomplishments last year in the area of cyber security, but does not take full credit.  

"My nomination is not a singular achievement by me," said Lee, "but is more a representation of a lot of work by a lot of great people, starting with my chain of command and including my Wing Public Affairs Office. I'm very thankful for the team I get to serve with." 

Last year, Lee published papers on advanced cyber threats and direction of the cyberspace domain in four magazines; presented speeches at conferences in five different countries creating international alliances on battling cyber threats; and penned nine newspaper articles and six magazine stories on cyber security. Lee also devoted off-duty time to teaching free classes on cyber defense to more than 100 on-base personnel. 

"We are all extremely proud of Lt Lee for being recognized at the Air Force level for his contributions," said Lt. Col. Maurizio Calabrese, Lee's squadron commander. "His selection as a finalist is well deserved, and he is a shining example of how our newest generation  of  Airmen are the driving force in maintaining America's advantage in the cyberspace domain." 

Lee plans to continue his efforts on educating people about cyber defense in the foreseeable future.

"I will use this nomination as another piece of motivation to continue speaking and writing on the important topic of cyberspace and how we approach national security in that domain," noted Lee.

The Air Force had just three nominees for the award, putting Lee among an elite group of people.

"I'm honored to be considered for this award" said Lee, "especially with competition such as the Air Force Band and 22d Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office.

The Air Force Association is a non-profit, independent, professional military and aerospace education association promoting public understanding of aerospace power and the pivotal role it plays in the security of the nation.

Lt. Lee  is currently an Adjunct Professor at Utica College in their graduate-level Cybersecurity distance program and is publishing a book titled "SCADA and Me" in September.    He  is the son of Cullman residents James and Mary Lee.  Lee  is a  2006 graduate of Saint Bernard Prep School in Cullman.  In 2012 he obtained his Bachelor of Science  from the United States Air Force Academy , and in 2013 received his Master of Science from Utica College.