Conn-Area — 101 years and still counting

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 8:13 a.m.

While many private religious-based schools across the country are struggling to keep their doors open, Conn-Area in Connellsville continues to provide students with a Catholic education as it has for 101 years.

“The greatest and most often heard sentiments coming from our families is that our school is very welcoming,” Principal Cecilia Solan said. “They feel a belonging. Teachers are dedicated. Staff is helpful and friendly. In addition, our school provides a program that services the whole child. Not only do the children develop a sense of spiritual belonging and receive an academic education suited to their needs, but they are offered opportunities to discover their talents and interests through our athletic programs, our performing arts programs and our outreach programs.

“Families are also aware that our school scores above average on our standardized tests,” she added. “Perhaps the combination of all these attributes contributes to the 22 new students we received this year in kindergarten through sixth grade. This number does not include our preschoolers. We believe we will continue to grow.”

The school, located on East Crawford Avenue in Connellsville, has been in the same building as Geibel Catholic Junior- Senior High School since the summer of 2011. The schools share many facilities, including a gymnasium, and several Geibel students volunteer to work with students in the grade school during the school day.

“We feel very blessed to be a part of the Geibel Catholic campus,” Solan said. “While our schools are very much separated from each other, the campus has provided us with wonderful facilities, enriching our programs.”

Conn-Area has 112 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. It is united with the parishes in the Connellsville and Dunbar areas, to assist parents in their responsibility to provide a sound Catholic education for their children.

While the majority of students are of the Catholic faith, the school welcomes children of all faiths whose parents desire to have their children receive a faith-based education.

“Our biggest challenge is misconceptions that people have about a Catholic school,” Solan said. “People feel it is only for Catholics. In reality, 42 of our 112 students are not Catholic. We do not attempt to convert other faiths to Catholicism — another misconception. In fact, families are very successful keeping their children rooted in their own faith. After all, we are all praying to the same God and teaching our children to be centered in Christ.”

McKinley Klotz, 9, of Connellsville is a third-grade student at the school. Among her favorite things about Conn-Area is the faith aspect.

“I like that I get to pray to Jesus a lot, because I like to listen to his readings and what he did for us,” Klotz said.

Solan said the main difference between a Catholic education and a public school education is the religious aspect.

“Most obvious, our students are encouraged to develop their relationship with the Lord through every aspect of their lives,” she said. “Talking freely about God is encouraged. Also, the families choose to be here. They are very supportive of the school and its programs. They're committed to partnering with the teachers in providing the best we can offer to promoting students, assured of who they are and knowing how valuable they are.

“Our school offers extra-curricular opportunities for discovering talents and interests and promoting self-esteem,” she added.

The school's curriculum includes a full spectrum of academics, fine arts, athletics, technology and enrichment opportunities that promote the development of lifelong learning skills. The school is also strong in technology. Students begin formal computer classes as early as kindergarten.

“Some feel we cannot offer the same resources as other schools, when in fact, our program provides wonderful resources such as our computer lab and laptops that have our students making brochures on Publisher, creating spreadsheets on Excel, creating robots through the Robotics Program, and much more,” Solan said.

“The school also has a notable after-school performing arts program for our third-through sixth-graders,” she added. “Through the program, students are able to develop in the arts through acting, singing, dancing, set design and stage crew.”

The school also offers athletics, including girls volleyball as well as girls and boys basketball for grades fourth through sixth, and girls cheerleading for preschool through sixth grades.

Solan said another misconception about the school is that it is not affordable.

“Our average tuition is $2,400 (per school year) after tuition assistance is awarded, which is based on need, not religious affiliation. Many families spend more than that on a one-week vacation,” she said.

Tim Knapp and his wife, Eileen Campbell Knapp, of Wharton Township, have chosen Conn-Area Catholic for their children: Amanda, 11, who is in sixth grade, and Samuel, 7, who is in first grade.

“We wanted a faith-based education for our children,” Tim Knapp said. “We wanted our kids to be able to practice our Catholic faith and be able to pray and worship in the school setting. We believe that God has a place in our schools.”

Knapp added that the family learned about Conn-Area Catholic from friends, and after doing some research and meeting with Solan, they felt the school was the best choice for their children.

“Conn-Area Catholic lived up to our expectations,” he said. “This is our second year at the school. We feel like the school is a large family committed to helping the children to succeed. Our kids are excelling academically, participating in sports, theater productions, field trips, contests and overall enjoying school. We feel blessed.”

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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