MODESTO — When Melissa Besseling came to Central Catholic High School in 1996 as a mid-year replacement math teacher, she did not anticipate that she would become principal.
“I thought I would be leaving at the end of the school year and here I am 17 years later,” said Besseling.
After several years of teaching at Central Catholic, Besseling’s job became integrated with administration before she eventually became the school’s principal. Originally from Modesto and with two brothers who attended Central Catholic, Besseling herself has strong family ties to the school which prides itself on a family-type environment.
“We have a philosophy at the school that you place others above yourself and it really leads to a family atmosphere. We’re all in this together and we’re a team,” said Besseling.
Times have changed since Besseling began at Central Catholic, especially for staff who now take attendance online instead of on paper and pencil and enjoy the invention of cell phones and email. However, despite the vast technological changes that have happened in the past 17 years, Besseling states that the central focus of the college preparatory school has remained constant.
“I think more things have stayed the same than have changed overall at Central Catholic. It’s a safe school and it always has been. It’s a physically and emotionally safe place for students,” said Besseling.
The Catholic faith based education at Central Catholic has served as the backbone of education for over 40 years and is embedded into the school’s academic programs, athletics and activities. Students pray before each class, worship collectively, attend spiritual retreats and enroll in a theology course each year.
“We don’t only teach the Catholic faith, but we also educate our students about social justice, morality and world religions so that they understand a variety of perspectives,” said Besseling.
While Besseling realizes that high school years can propose their own set of hurdles as students straddle personal growth and collegiate preparation, she has one main goal in mind for the students of Central Catholic: happiness.
“My hope is that they are happy. I want students to be happy because when they’re happy they can be successful,” said Besseling.