Enrollment jumps at local Catholic schools

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Area Catholic schools are fuller than last year, with more families choosing Catholic education for their children across the Anchorage Archdiocese.

Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School in Wasilla experienced a 50 percent jump this year, growing from 40 to 60 students. Some of that growth is attributed to the new preschool program that currently enrolls 12 students. The preschool is held in a remodeled classroom with teacher Verna Giani — a former educator at Immaculate Conception School in Fairbanks.

Over at St. Mary’s School in Kodiak, which educates students from preschool through eighth grade, the school saw a similar spike in enrollment, growing from 54 students last year to 84 this year. That is a 55 percent jump and nothing short of “a miracle, and tons of work,” said Brian Cleary, a co-principal at the school.

Also experiencing enrollment growth is Holy Rosary Academy in Anchorage where total student population grew from 132 to 151 students, a number that takes into account the school’s openness to enroll part time students.

“This was a very strong recruiting year,” observed Principal Catherine Neumayr. She noted that the largest increase was among grades 7-9. But the primary school enrollment grew to the point where elementary classes are no longer combined. Holy Rosary also welcomes four new full-time faculty, and two part-time instructors, including David Terwilliger, who teaches philosophy, and Stacey Reiman, who leads computer programming classes.

Lumen Christi High School also saw enrollment numbers rise. Principal John Harmon attributes this partly to the school’s certification as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Student Exchange Visitor Program school, which has attracted students from foreign countries like Korea, Germany, China and Guatemala.

“These students bring international diversity to our school,” Harmon said.

The school also recently renewed its academic accreditation, which is recognized by the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

With new students on board Lumen Christi added a campus youth minister, Elizabeth Loeffler, a former campus minister from Cardinal Newman High School in South Carolina.

“I will be working with students to plan liturgies, prayer services, retreats, small prayer groups, and new student welcome activities, as well as outside activities such as family retreats and workshops,” she noted.

At the archdiocese’s largest elementary school, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in South Anchorage, enrollment remains at 155, a number that has held fairly constant over recent years. Among the biggest changes at St. Elizabeth’s is the primary school’s new principal, Kathy Gustafson.

Gustafson replaces Jim Bailey, who retired earlier this year after seven years of service to the school. Gustafson worked in public education in Alaska for 25 years. A longtime parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, she decided the opportunity to lead the parish’s school was too attractive to pass up. Among the changes she plans is a new, school-wide assessment program to provide educators with standards for gauging the progress of all students.

“Students will be assessed in the fall, winter and spring by classroom teachers, with results being shared with students and parents,” Gustafson explained.

 

CURRICULUM UPGRADES

All local Catholic schools integrate faith into their curriculums. At Our Lady of the Valley, students now use St. Jerome’s classical curriculum in all grades. This means elementary-age children will learn from “My Catholic Speller,” “Catholic Heritage Handwriting Series,” and “Faith and Life.” School wide, students are utilizing “Virtues in Practice,” a program that instructs students in how to grow closer to Jesus by imitating his virtues.

Lumen Christi updated its theology textbooks to follow more closely the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ theology curriculum.

“Lumen is not a Common Core school, and, as such, works to improve its curriculum based on our school board and parent recommendations,” Principal Harmon said of the changes.

At St. Mary’s, curriculum remains the same, but more time is being dedicated to art, music, and physical education.

“We have offered them in the past, but students are getting 20 percent more time in each subject,” Co-principal Cleary said. “In addition, we have started a Spanish fluency program.”

 

TUITION COSTS

Tuition varies at each school, though all offer discounts for multi-child families. Most often, tuition alone does not cover the entire cost of educating each student. Fundraising activities and donations are needed to make up the difference.

At Lumen Christi, for example, the true cost per student is approximately $12,100. By the time donations from St. Benedict Church, the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and the Lumen community are applied against the total, tuition falls to $5,950 per student for junior high, and $6,350 for high school.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton follows a similar model by promoting its annual school fundraiser, a gala auction, and other events to bridge the gap between the actual cost per student of $7,000 and assessed tuition of $5,200.

At Our Lady of the Valley, tuition costs $4,330, and St. Mary’s prices its tuition at $1,000 per student for three-year-old preschoolers, $1,500 for four-year-old preschoolers, and $3,750 for grades K-8. Holy Rosary Academy assesses tuition at $6,200 for grades 7-12, and $5,000 for grades K-6.

All of the local Catholic schools offer some form of financial aid, though some are better positioned to offer support than others. The same is true for part-time students; some, like Holy Rosary, continually welcome part-time students, while others, like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.

School websites

  • Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton:

www.akseas.com

  • Lumen Christi:

www.lumenchristi.com

  • Our Lady of the Valley:

www.olvwasilla.com

  • Saint Mary’s:

www.stmaryskodiak.org

  • Holy Rosary Academy:

www.hraak.com


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