Warwick Catholic schools thriving amidst state downtrend
St. Kevin School had a total of 251 students enrolled at the beginning of this school year, 103 more than there were seven years ago.
The Superintendent of the Catholic Schools Diocese of Providence, Dan Ferris, provided those numbers and said that Warwick Catholic schools, unlike the other Catholic schools around the state, have had very stable enrollment.
In the case of St. Kevin, enrollment has almost doubled in recent years. Ferris said that the other schools around the state have been more in line with the 10 percent decline in both public and private school enrollment that has happened in the past 10 years.
Ferris offered the following reason for the success of Warwick’s three parochial schools. He said that the Warwick schools are unique because, unlike the other Catholic schools around the state, “all three schools work together to support each other.”
“When they market their schools, they market together,” Ferris said. “They’re collaborating to support a Catholic education. And they also have really strong academic programs at all three schools.”
Father Robert Marciano, pastor for St. Kevin points to the safety improvements that they’ve made in the past five years – spending $1 million on keeping the grounds updated on a yearly basis – as one of the main reasons parents want to spend the $4,700 yearly tuition to go there.
Assistant Principal Deryth Dwyer added that the expansion of the lower grades, including the kindergarten program that now has three classes, has led to an increase in the numbers across all the grades. This doesn’t yet impact the current 8th grade class, which sits at eight boys and one girl, but will in the future, she said.
The St. Kevin tuition is lower than the $6,432 per-year average that Catholic schools around the state charge, according to Ferris. He said that tuition is the top reason why parents don’t send their children to parochial schools.
He said the reason parents do choose to pay the tuition and send their kids to schools like St. Kevin is because Catholic schools provide a safe place – both morally and physically – for students to learn in. He also said that discipline is strong, there are high behavioral and academic expectations of students, faith formation is done on a daily basis, and Catholic schools have a strong academic program for students.
“You tend to have small classrooms, personalized instruction, principals knowing their students, including their strengths and areas they need to grow in,” Ferris said about why parents want to send their children to Catholic schools.
Despite a strong desire, paying for tuition stills holds many families back from going to these schools, he said. According to Ferris, the calculated financial need for families who do send their children to Catholic schools around Rhode Island is $25,000,000 for the coming year, yet the Diocese itself only gives out near $2,000,000 in financial aid each year.
Father Marciano said that at St. Kevin he is the only person who handles the finances and that he does everything he can to aid families who can’t pay. This includes members of the parish donating money and ‘adopting’ families to provide financial support. Ferris added that Marciano “has really tried to meet parents’ financial need.”
Kindergarten teacher Heather DeCiccio, who is in her seventh year as a teacher at St. Kevin and attended the school from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, pointed to the family-like community that has been built as the reason St. Kevin is doing so well.
“From the teacher’s side,” she said, “the best thing about Catholic schools is the community involvement from the whole family. Families are very involved with their student’s education.”
DeCiccio recognized that the salary of a Catholic school teacher is often less than public school, but she said that she’s “very happy” working there and “when you’re happy, you don’t think so much about that.”
Dwyer said she sees grandparents getting involved at the school constantly as well to create this family-like community.
This week the school is celebrating Catholic Schools Week, which is being celebrated across the state. This included teacher appreciation day on Monday, alumni day on Tuesday, in which alumni including Representative Joseph Solomon came in to speak, and Mayor’s day on Wednesday.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, speaking to Darlene Caruolo’s eighth grade class Wednesday, said that the students should “listen to the guidance” they’re going to get from school and choose the best path for them (college-wise), understanding too that things may change.
“Dreams are great, but be open to change,” he said. “If you had told me in high school I would be Mayor, I’d say you were crazy.”
When asked what he majored in, Avedisian went through his numerous degrees and called himself a “lifelong learner,” pointing to the value of education. He said that he also wouldn’t have learned anything that day if he had just stayed in his office, telling them that “when you listen to what kids tell you, there is so much you can change.”
Mayor Allan Fung, a graduate of the now-closed St. Matthew K-8 School in Cranston, told the seventh grade class about his background growing up and how he got to where he was today. He talked about his career after student Grace Iannuccilli asked if he had always been into politics, saying that he’d wanted to be a lawyer but found through his experiences that public service was his path.
Fung told the students that the sense of community they get at a school like St. Kevin “is so important” and opportunities for them are limitless, added to “never forget the education you received at St. Kevin’s.”
Wednesday was also career day, and kindergarteners in DiCiccio’s class could be seen dressed in costumes from doctors to firemen to teachers.
Additional activities for the celebratory week at the school includes heroes’ day on Thursday, when policemen and fireman will come in to meet with the students, and “soup for the super bowl” day Friday, when students will bring in soup cans to donate to the Parish’s food pantry, according to Dwyer.
Father Marciano said that the school is always trying to improve, and a potential next step would be creating a six through eighth grade schools between the three Warwick Catholic schools – St. Kevin, St. Peter, and St. Rose of Lima.
Father Marciano suggested the now closed St. Benedict School would be an ideal building for a middle school. He said the idea for the school is still alive although nothing is likely to happen soon.