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Aquinas Academy in Hampton ranked No. 1 Catholic School in state by Niche.com

| Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, 3:06 p.m.
Freshmen Anna Sosso and Harry Hardman getting help from teacher, Mary Dill, during an Honors Biology lab.
Freshmen Anna Sosso and Harry Hardman getting help from teacher, Mary Dill, during an Honors Biology lab.
Sophomores Leelah Ohayon and Thomas Plazek work on chemistry problems at the whiteboard. Katrina Ortiz is in the background.
Sophomores Leelah Ohayon and Thomas Plazek work on chemistry problems at the whiteboard. Katrina Ortiz is in the background.
Freshmen Ella Stewart, left, Isabella Port, and Mary Benz performing a skit in French I.
Freshmen Ella Stewart, left, Isabella Port, and Mary Benz performing a skit in French I.

Aquinas Academy in Hampton has been ranked the best Catholic high school in Pennsylvania by Niche.com for the second year in a row.

Sixty-eight Catholic high schools were listed on Niche's 2016 Best Schools rankings, and were scored based on a variety of factors.

Leslie Mitros, head of school at Aquinas Academy, called it an honor to be recognized again by Niche with the highest ranking.

“It really is a reflection on the students and the staff and the caliber of what it is that we're trying to do,” Mitros said.

The rankings are based on students' scores on SAT/ACT tests, student-teacher ratio, the quality of colleges that students consider, and reviews from students and parents, according to niche.com. The company's team of data scientists analyzed data from thousands of schools across the country to create the rankings.

Niche was founded in 2002 by Carnegie Mellon University students as CollegeProwler.com and since has grown as a content startup. Niche offers rankings and statistics on neighborhoods, and insights into colleges and K-12 schools.

Based on a 13-acre campus in Hampton, Aquinas Academy, founded in 1996, has 331 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades. There are 106 students enrolled in the high school, where tuition is $9,957 according to the school's website.

One of those students is Delaney McCarthy, a sophomore, who began her high school career at Aquinas after shadowing for a day as an eighth-grader.

“It was the shadowing that sealed the deal for our daughter and both my husband and myself,” said Trish McCarthy of Mars. “Everyone was kind. That's really the bottom line. I think Aquinas Academy shows their Christian principles…When I picked up my daughter later that day, I asked ‘how'd it go?' and she said, ‘you know I just felt right there.'”

McCarthy said her daughter has excelled at the high school and her other daughter, a seventh-grader, also is destined to attend Aquinas. McCarthy said the school is small and there is a wonderful chemistry in the halls. She has watched teachers interact with students, and the level or ability of a student does not matter.

“There is so much help and assistance. If a student wants it, they will be able to succeed,” she said. “I almost feel that if any potential student went to that shadow day, they're in. It's not a stuffy place. There's no airs. It's a comfortable place. I'm so happy that we found it.”

Mitros said the efforts of students, the quality of educational programming and alumni success merited the recognition. She also pointed out that the data doesn't come directly from schools, which means school officials have no direct influence on the outcome of the ranking.

“Our kids work hard. They also have fun, but they work hard and they know they're here to go to school and our staff supports them in that,” Mitros said.

“It's our goal that every student be as successful as they can be so that No. 1 ranking, I think it just really reflects their hard work — the students' hard work — and our efforts to help them be successful.”

Other local Catholic schools included on the Niche.com list were Vincentian Academy (eighth), Oakland Catholic (11th) and Central Catholic (17th).

Larissa Dudkiewicz is a contributing writer for the Tribune-Review.

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