Diocesan News

Talented Queens Academy Students Embrace Another Gift: Catholicism

Koey plays the flute and piano, while Keo plays the violin and the piano. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

FLUSHING — Between piano, taekwondo, and academics, siblings Koey and Keo Ma have devoted themselves to their passions. Even though they are young, the St. Mel Catholic Academy students have spent hours at the ivories learning new songs or in the dojo becoming black belts. 

Koey, 11, and Keo, 9, took the initiative a few years ago to devote themselves to something deeper — a relationship with God. About three years ago, the students went to their parents and told them they wanted to become Catholic, a first in their family. 

They were baptized that school year, and since then have maintained their commitment to their faith. They attend Mass every Sunday at St. Mel’s, have received their first Communion, and are altar servers.

“It’s a good environment. It’s good to teach them values. … I was very proud of them. They told us what they wanted and they decided,” Leo Ma, their father, said.

Keo was in second grade when he told his parents he wanted to become Catholic. He wanted a relationship with God, he maturely explained to them. 

“I do believe in Christianity and I wanted to be with Jesus,” he said. 

Now, his favorite part of being Catholic is attending Mass and hearing the readings. He and his sister are both dropped off for Mass every Sunday. 

When he converted, Koey knew she wanted the same, and they were baptized on the same day.

“I want to be closer with God because then I can go to heaven,” she said. “We won’t have to suffer pain and stuff — and it’s happy.”

At the same time he was preparing to convert, the pandemic forced St. Mel’s to combine his class and the third grade, and the arrangement benefited him. When the school year ended, it was clear he was far advanced for his age level academically, and skipped third grade entirely. Last year, Koey was in the same position, succeeding beyond her grade level, especially in math, and skipped fourth grade.

Only 1% of students skip grades at some point in their K-12 education. In the past five years, three students — including Keo and Koey — have grade-skipped at St. Mel’s Catholic Academy.

“We want to make sure that we can meet all of our student’s needs, those that are struggling but also those that are advanced. By doing this for [them] and putting [them] in the upper-grade level, it provides that challenge that they need,” explained the school’s principal, Amy Barron.

Koey and Keo Ma have played the piano for around seven years. Through St. Mel’s, they take a class that allows them to play during school hours, which their father says has kept their interest in music alive. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

There hasn’t been a better place for the Ma siblings than St. Mel, their parents said, because of the school’s individualized lesson planning. Notably, the school offers a piano class, an instrument both children have played for five years. 

This opportunity has helped keep their passion for playing alive, their father said. As well as piano, Keo plays the violin, and Koey plays the flute. On top of everything else, they are also on the swim team.

On April 25, Koey and Keo came together in song for a duet at the St. Mel’s piano concert. With Keo at the violin and Koey at the piano, they performed the modern composition “River Flows In You.” Koey selected the song, which is a newer song, and they performed in tandem for the school, their family, and friends.

Their parents couldn’t be prouder of them, or any more appreciative of St. Mel’s for the opportunities it has given their children, both academically and spiritually. While they are not Catholic, Hung is Christian, and they see the way the values of the faith have been manifested  in their children. 

“This is like a second home to them here,” she said.

For example, their mother explained, it is typical in Chinese culture for people to receive hóngbāo, a red envelope filled with money, for the Lunar New Year, which symbolizes good wishes and luck. Her children wanted to donate their money to charity. 

Through the school, they have been part of several service projects, recently visiting St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital to distribute activity packets the students made for its residents. 

“I don’t think they would get this amount of individual attention in the public school. It’s very important that St. Mel’s provides them with a steady environment where they can grow,” their father said.