St. Joseph's kicks off Catholic School Week

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
North Grosvenordale - posted Mon., Jan. 27, 2014
(L to r) Avianna, Kate, Kylie and Antonia handed out orange juice and brownies during the St. Joseph's Open House. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L to r) Avianna, Kate, Kylie and Antonia handed out orange juice and brownies during the St. Joseph's Open House. Photos by D. Coffey.

St. Joseph’s Elementary School in North Grosvernordale was bustling with activity on Sunday, Jan. 26, the day that marked the beginning of Catholic Schools Week across the nation. Parents of students who attend the school took over the school kitchen. Together with teachers and staff, the crew put out a smorgasbord of eggs, sausages, pancakes, bacon, toast, home fries, orange juice and coffee.

The combination breakfast/open house was the first event in a week-long celebration of the school. A Scholastic Book Fair, VIP lunches for students and charity challenges were also scheduled. Community members were to be recognized at a special event. Later in the week the students planned to write letters to Pope Francis and to visit the graves of veterans in nearby St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

The activities revolve around this year’s theme: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service. And they are addressed not just toward the parents of current students. St. Joseph’s Principal Sharon Briere said she hoped they would pique the interests of others considering sending their children to Catholic school. If she can bring more of those parents in and if she can spread the word about what the school is doing for its students, she might be rewarded with increased enrollment next year. It’s something that St. Joseph’s needs.

The school currently has an enrollment of 104 students in grades pre-K through eight. Three students make up the entire seventh-grade class. The sixth grade has six students in it. While those numbers mean excellent one-on-one attention for the students, it’s hard on the budget. Naturally, Briere would like to see those numbers rise. She hopes to plug into the national marketing campaign and raise community awareness of the school, one of few in the region.

St. Joseph’s is a microcosm of a national pattern. According to the National Catholic Education Association, there was a 24-percent decline in Catholic school enrollments from 2000 to 2012. That figure was 12 percent for 2012 to 2013. If the North Grosvenordale school keeps pace with that trend, the threat of closing is very real.

“There are probably 10 to 20 things in no random order that makes me fall in love with Catholic education,” Briere said. “You can talk about God. You can say the 'Pledge of Allegiance.' You can know all the kids in your building. We have small classes and individualized attention. Kids are learning with morals and values in a small, safe atmosphere. It’s like a family. There are so many reasons why it’s a quality education. Throw Catholic in there and it’s the best of both worlds.”

Faith is the bedrock of the school, but that doesn’t mean children or their parents have to be Catholic for them to attend. Lindsay Lehmann enrolled her son in the school because it integrated faith, caring and love into its lessons. She is not Catholic. “St. Joe’s exudes love and passion,” Lehmann said. “I could take him to Sunday school, but it’s not just a Sunday thing. Faith is an everyday thing. It’s in everything you do.” 

Cherish Gould is the mother of four daughters currently enrolled. “The teachers go above and beyond,” she said. “Everyone gets along. There’s no separation between kindergarten and eighth-graders. There’s no bullying.”

“It’s a quality, faith-based education,” parent James Raftery said. “That’s important, whether you’re Catholic or not.”

St. Joseph’s uses the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to assess students annually. Briere said students have done well on them and have had no trouble acclimating to public or private high schools. The school is the only Catholic school in the state to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges as well. An open house will be held on Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. For more information, call 860-923-2090.

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