Parochial school enrollment climbs, public schools see decline


While enrollment in public schools has decreased over the last year, the same cannot be said for Catholic schools.

Despite Rhode Island’s high unemployment rates and the cost of tuitions, Catholic schools in Warwick have seen a steady increase in students.

The numbers show an increased interest in sending children to Catholic schools. At St. Peter School, enrollment has gone up from 170 to 202 over a six-year period. At Bishop Hendricken, enrollment has increased from 908 to 958 in the last two years. This year alone, 265 out of about 400 applicants were admitted as freshmen to the school.

Many parents value the pluses that a Catholic school education offers to their children.

“Parents may not be keen on public schools because they value their faith-based educations,” said Roger Parent, principal of St. Kevin School.

Administrators at other Warwick parochial schools touched upon that thought as well.

Paul Danesi, vice principal of business operations at Bishop Hendricken High School, said that “parents feel obligated to ensure the best future for their children and faith-based education is definitely in the plus column.”

In addition to faith-based educations, Catholic schools offer an additional learning experience.

St. Kevin’s School is now enrolling kids from pre-K to grade 2 into their Early Learning Academy. The academy offers these students a more unique selection of programs, including music and world languages. Just recently, Parent noted, the school added American Sign Language and yoga programs to the academy’s selection.

Regardless, families still struggle with paying the tuition that comes with going to a Catholic school.

“With the economy the way it is, 90 percent of my families could use some money to help pay for tuition,” said Joan Sickenger, principal of St. Peter School.

As Jeannine Fuller, principal of St Rose School, said, “These families are willing to really sacrifice to get that faith-based education.”

St. Rose has an enrollment of 250, an increase of five from last year. In addition, Fuller said, there is a waiting list for grade 4.

She said tuition increased about $50 this year. Tuition for parishioners is $3,750 per child and $4,400 for the child of a non-parishioner.

According to the elementary office of the Warwick School Department, 5,130 students are enrolled in pre-K to sixth grade, a decrease of 111 from this time last year.

Dr. Richard D’Agostino, acting superintendent, attributed the growth in parochial school enrollment in part to the full-day kindergarten offered by the schools. Warwick only has a limited number of full-day kindergarten classes and D’Agostino estimates it would cost between $3 million and $4 million to convert the system’s 16 half-day sessions into full-day programs.

The families aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices for a Catholic-based education. There is a notable difference in pay between public schools and Catholic schools, and yet the teachers would not want to be anywhere else.

“It’s more than a job. It’s a calling,” said Mary Ann McKenney, a grade 2 teacher who also works at the Early Learning Academy at St. Kevin’s. She said teachers are happy to be in an environment where they don’t have to hide their religion and find themselves wanting to stay even if another opportunity comes calling.

For their part, the schools and the diocese have provided an ample opportunity for parents of students to receive the aid they need to pay tuitions for their children.

These schools will now receive funding from the Diocese of Providence as part of an effort to provide more than $1.5 million of tuition assistance to schools within the diocese. This effort was made possible with help from Anchor of Hope, Catholic Charity Appeal and Frances Ward Fund.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin called for schools, through this additional funding, to “continue to thrive as they provide a strong, faith-based education to more than 13,000 students” and noted that “through dedicated and caring pastors, administrators and teachers, Catholic Schools are helping to prepare our community’s next generation of leaders.”

This new tuition funding is designed specifically for those most in need of it. The schools and parishes are not directly involved in the decision-making process. Those who require the assistance complete an application that is turned into the Catholic Schools Office.

The applications are then reviewed by a board before, ultimately, being accepted or rejected. There are families in the local schools that have received this help from the diocese already.

At St. Rose and St. Peter, both schools provide financial assistance funded by parish donations.

Bishop Hendricken provides an ample amount of financial aid. Currently 503 students, roughly half of the students enrolled in the school, are receiving some form of financial aid from the school.

Father Robert Marciano, pastor at St. Kevin’s, has a particular hands-on approach to financial aid. He has set aside funds from the parish for those parish families that require assistance. He also personally calls those families that are thinking of leaving to convince them to stay.

Danesi was vocal about his belief that the assistance provided by the diocese and schools will almost certainly now be a factor for those who struggle to make tuition if they would like to send their children to receive this type of education. He added, “If people know that there is help available to them, then they would be more willing to give their children this education.”

With reports from John Howell


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