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Local Catholic schools provide more than just academics

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003

This week was a special observance in Catholic schools across the nation. Catholic Schools Week was celebrated.

It was a week when schools and officials at the schools looked forward to the future as well as back into their past.

Tuition in the Catholic schools system has long been a topic of conversation. And recently, the Diocese of Greensburg has started a new tuition model that, out of the 20 Catholic elementary schools in the counties of Fayette, Westmoreland, Armstrong and Indiana, 10 schools have adopted and the other 10 are expected to have by next fall.

Angela Burrows, executive director of infomedia services for the Diocese of Greensburg, says the new tuition was created because of the declining enrollment numbers in the Catholic schools.

Currently, the number of students from kindergarten to 12th grade in the 22 schools in the region came close to about 5,000 students, which the diocese would like to see increased.

The new tuition acts like a financial aid payment plan that's offered by colleges and universities where tuition is based on education and the given aid is based on need.

Although the tuition varies from school to school, the average annual cost for an individual elementary school student is about $3,150 and about $5,500 for every individual high school student.

Despite the lower numbers, Burrows says Catholic school students do well as the students' IOWA test scores have continuously been above the national norm, and the SAT scores from Catholic schools in Fayette County and Westmoreland County are among the highest as well.

Not only does Burrows credit the Catholic schools' value-based education, but says that Catholic schools can stand next to public schools when it comes to technology in the classroom. Schools have greatly increased in technology support since a major information technology initiative was put into play in the 1990s.

Sister Catherine Meinert, S.C., principal of Conn-Area Catholic School in Connellsville, says the elementary school's computer lab is "excellent," and her students have been doing well academically and "extremely well" in state competitions.

Meinert agrees technology has changed in the schools while the religious and academic aspects of the schools remain the same.

When Meinert was a student in a Catholic school, her first grade class consisted of 60 other baby boomers where today's classrooms now hold an average of 25 students.

Meinert sees fewer religious personnel teaching in the classrooms now than she did while attending Catholic school as a child.

Catholic schools, says Meinert, holds two pillars - religion and academics.

Along with students getting an education, Meinert wants to see students graduate from school and grow up to become good, moral citizens as the Catholic schools continue developing students on a Christian foundation rather than a solely humanitarian foundation used in the public schools.

Catholic schools are a "beacon" for the religious in the area, says Meinert, who loves working in the area and has faced problems when she worked as a principal and supervisor for other schools.

She finds that the students at the Conn-Area Catholic School are well-mannered and the school is safe.

Meinert also admires the parents that choose Catholic schools because they are the pillars of learning and praying, and they do whatever they can to help out.

"Parents want to be involved, and they're here," says Meinert, who says the family-friendly environment makes the people working at the school feel like an extended family.

Meinert says the parents involve themselves with the school "in every which way" as they volunteer on the playground, as teachers' aids and office workers.

Out of the 207 students attending Conn-Area Catholic School, 60 percent of the 165 parents of those students are involved with volunteer work at the school on a weekly basis.

All the coaches at the school are volunteers and there are six to seven mothers volunteering in the cafeteria every day. The parents are also active in school programs like the parent-based newsletter, the public relations committee and the development committee.

"That's the number one priority," Christine Roskovensky, principal at St. John's Roman Catholic grade school in Uniontown, says of the importance of parents taking time out of their day to take care of the 246 children in a day and age where families spend less and less time at home and together.

Along with volunteer work in the cafeteria, the parents help out at St. John's by passing out treats for the kids, becoming homeroom aides and also taking part in the Ident-A-Kid program where they help take photos and fingerprints for ID cards that parents can carry for fast, accurate information to hand to authorities in case their child turns up missing.

"I see a good future for Catholic schools," Meinert says. She says most people find a spiritual origin to the basis of life, and finding education for both the mind and spirit is not just a right, but a responsibility.

For her school, in the physical sense, she wants to have a gymnasium for the school. Currently, the school rents out other gyms for use.

A principal for four years and a teacher for about 20, Roskovensky would like to see her school continue their prosperity and academic excellence and prepare the students for this life and the life ahead.

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