Our School is Closing, Part 2

Well, the school is closed. Except for moving out, which is happening for the rest of the month, all the regular activities have ended. The end of school was hard, it was like one long death. As the end came we had one sad event after another. First there was the Saturday mass for the parish and school, where current faculty & staff, and those who have been involved since it’s beginning, were remembered and thanked. There were speeches, of course, and the tears.

Then there was the traditional “Pass it On” school Mass where the 8th graders essentially “pass the baton,” symbolically of course, onto the Kindergartners. Both were dressed in their graduation gowns and it was nice, but I could not help but think “Pass on what?” the whole time. There was nothing to pass on, but it was the tradition and a nice photo opportunity, especially since both of my sons were in it.

We had the 8th grader’s graduation party one night followed by a graduation Mass the next night. The party had lots of food, awards and family memories. It was a lovely celebration of what great kids this class had. Many of them have been there since they were three or four years old and the class is very close. It is amazing what fun simple pleasures are – musical chairs, laughter, dancing, cake, and watching these young people blossom.

During the party in the cafeteria I noticed pictures posted from the 53 years the school existed. I kept looking for pictures from my class years ago, but did not find any. What I did notice was a picture from what looked like a graduating class from the 80’s. 56 kids. This year’s class had 14. My son mentioned that the first row in the picture had as many kids as his whole class. That pretty much says it all about why we are closing.

When they announced the closing, after the initial shock, there was a drive to save the school, which I personally thought was a waste of time and energy, but I helped because I was asked to do so. I was not very enthusiastic, I’m afraid. The school did not get to this situation overnight and it would have to be a miracle for it to stay open. Enrollment would have to double, there would have to be a tuition increase and lots of donations. That was not going to happen. Why would parents put their kids in a school that would probably close? Parents could not pay the tuition we did have, which was the cheapest in the county, and with the economy they were not going to pay an increase. And writing to Bill Gates & Oprah Winfrey, as some were doing, was not going to save the school either.

I think the biggest question for parents is “Where do we go now?” “What school to go to?” Some parents immediately removed their children for other schools. For us, the first thing was to get into another Catholic school ASAP for the next year. I immediately called other schools to be added to their waiting lists. I asked around about the several different schools in the area. And during the registration period toured some schools. We registered at one of the schools that we thought would be excellent for our son, even though we knew the tuition and other expenses would be difficult for us to do, but we would try. We were just very grateful to get in. The Archdiocese was asking those schools to give us the same tuition as ours did for a couple of years. The school and the people there are nice and very welcoming and helpful. There is lots of discipline and I think he would be happy there.

But…then our pastor announced something unexpected. Our school could become a Charter school. It was a shock and I did not know what to think. Eventually, the details were hammered out and the charter school, which is an established organization with several successful schools in the area, is going to take over all seven of the archdiocesan schools that are closing this year, plus one that closed last year. Several of our teachers are supposed to be hired. My husband and I discussed it as more details were revealed and it became an option for us. With the economy being so bad, and our finances, it was an easy, yet difficult, choice. Our son will be going into first grade at the charter school. But it also means our son will not be educated in a Catholic school. That struggle will be my next post.

Our School is Closing, Part 1

There is a lot of truth to the saying that you don’t know what you have until you lose it. That is particularly true lately in our parish school. Our school celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago. It isn’t a grand school but it is solid. Built when lots of young middle-class families were moving into an expanding area, it and our parish has suffered a decline of resources and people of means for several years. In essence, the middle-class people moved to better and brighter territory, and working class and immigrants with less means, less involvement, and different languages, moved in.

The new people and the established parishioners did not always understand or appreciate each other but over time have gotten along. Our finances have not. Our school, which should have 250-300 children to be truly viable, only has about 120. If we picked up our school and moved it 10 miles west we would have them coming out of the rafters, but our location, while not dangerous, is not desired and therefore we are one of the few schools in our area without a waiting list.

This is the school that I went to through 5th grade. The school I did my First Communion. And when my son became old enough, it was the school we chose. Actually, it was the only Catholic school without a waiting list, so we got in. Admittedly, it was not my first choice, but public school was not something we wanted for our child if we could do it. Later, when we had another son, he joined his brother at our school for Kindergarten. That was this year.

We did not know when school opened that this would be its last year. My older son was in 8th grade after having been there 10 years. And now I thought we would be there another 9 years. Over the years I had grown to appreciate the teachers and staff who really sacrificed to be there. They could have been many places but chose our school because it was truly a family and truly Catholic. It was not until this year I realized just how lucky we were and how much a loving family it was.

I came to this realization on the first day of school. It was my youngest’s very first day of school. I had been teaching him at home all his life and did not see the need for preschool since I stay home. He, of course, was familiar with the school and had been there frequently. He knew everyone and it was a nice start. But our entrance to the school was truly amazing.

We got out of the car to walk in and were met at the gate by Mr. Marvin. Mr. Marvin is a disabled volunteer with Cerebral Palsy, among other problems, and walks with a limp. But he is there every single morning, rain or shine, to greet the kids and make sure they cross the parking lot safely. “ROBERT!! WELCOME to your 1st Day of School!!!” he said joyously. We crossed the basketball court and passed by Coach…”Robert, it’s nice of you to finally join us! Welcome.” Then as we walked into the main gate of the school and were met by Sister Beatrice. In her wonderful Irish accent she greeted us, “Welcome to school Robert!” We continued on past the 4K door and there was the 4K teacher who gave him a hug and welcomed him as well.

By the time we got to the Kindergarten door, full of busy activity, I was practically in tears. What a blessing this school was. What a blessing all these people were. We were truly lucky to be in this family of God. Over the next few months I noticed little things, the rosary the kids were saying to keep them occupied at dismissal, the way the principal, who is a sister and can be tough as nails, was loving and fair to all the children and everyone thrived. The priest who came to teach religion to the little ones. All combined to create an atmosphere where everyone was loved and encouraged to grow.

Then, of course, the news came in January. The school was to close. The archdiocese just could not prop up the school financially any longer. Our school plus five others were closing. Later, it was quietly announced another school would close as well. I was saddened but not surprised, how long could the Archdiocese bleed money to keep these schools open? The pastor was not surprised. Many parents were, though signs were huge if you looked.

Upset parents and friends of the school made an attempt at saving the school. Fundraising, enrollment drives, and groups of women walking around the school praying the rosary each morning did not work. God’s answer was still No. So here we are. As I write this, the school will close in 9 minutes. There is deep sadness. Since January it has been like a long death. Like a man told he has just months to live. First the shock, then the hope to find a cure and now the Long Goodbye.

What comes next? How did our school and Archdiocese handle this? How did we handle it and what do we do now? That comes in my next post. It’s 3:00. School is out now.