St. Joseph School’s principal Jeff Van Rixel has a framed photo in his office — he’s standing next to Archbishop Jerome Listecki, decked out in all blue, with a huge grin and a trophy raised above his head.

He brought that trophy back to St. Joseph’s in Big Bend the day after the Soles for Catholic Education Walk last year. The participation trophy was given to the school after it was determined it had the highest percentage of registered walkers compared to its student enrollment, a total of 230 participants from the Big Bend area.

“The trophy means a lot,” Van Rixel said. “We’re a small school and we were able to attain it.”

The K-4 through eighth-grade school has an enrollment of 112 students. Van Rixel said the school has a strong community with staff, parents, students and Fr. Kevin McManaman, the pastor of St. Joseph Parish, all supportive of the school’s success.

“We’re a small school, but we have some of the biggest hearts,” Van Rixel said.

With big hearts come big goals. Van Rixel has three goals for the school during the Soles season. The first is to raise money for the walk, which will then go toward the Angel Fund, the school’s tuition assistance fund.

If the school raises more money than the past year, Van Rixel allows at least one lucky student to smash an angel food cake in his face. For every $25 a child raises, his or her name is put into a bucket to be the student who gets to “cake” the principal. As an added incentive this year, a lucky student will be able to “cake” Fr. Kevin.

The second goal for the school is to collect shoes for St. Vincent de Paul, a goal which is asked of all schools who participate in the walk. For every pair of shoes a child brings in, he or she gets to color a paper shoe and tape it onto the hallway wall. Thus far, the line of shoes on a wall at St. Joseph’s is about halfway to the “finish line.” If the students reach the finish line, the whole school gets an out-of-uniform day, where students get to wear their Soles for Catholic Education Walk t-shirts.

The third and final goal is to be excited and proud of Catholic education, and to show that through participating in the walk. Van Rixel said the school has promoted the walk and encouraged community members to attend by placing an announcement in the parish bulletin and selling paper angels to parish members to support the Angel Fund. In addition, the different incentives the students can achieve, such as the opportunity to “cake” the principal or pastor and the out of uniform days, excite the students.

While raising money is the main goal of the walk, Van Rixel feels it’s important to be present at the walk, to interact with the different schools as one big family. Because the walk is located at Mount Mary University, families see the opportunity for not only Catholic elementary education but also Catholic high school education and Catholic higher education.

“To see the amount of people there is fulfilling,” Van Rixel said. “It’s a true testament of what we and all the other schools are trying to do.”

In addition to bringing home the participation trophy at the walk last year, St. Joseph’s raised more than $4,000 and collected 310 pairs of shoes.

While receiving the trophy is an accomplishment, Van Rixel said the school has goals that align with the walk to financially support kids who want to attend a Catholic school, like St. Joseph School.

“The kids are what we are here for,” he said. “It doesn’t matter the amount of kids (we serve), they all deserve a good Catholic education.”