More space, more kids, more faculty this year at St. Josaphat

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, September 11, 2011

More space, more kids, more faculty this year at St. Josaphat

Children work in a new media center at St. Josaphat School, 2245 N Southport Ave., on Sept. 2. New space at the school includes five new early childhood classrooms. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)
Students listen to a story in one of the new classrooms in the new addition at St. Josaphat School on Sept. 2. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Old is new again at St. Josaphat School. The Lincoln Park grade school located at 2245 N. Southport Ave. begins its 2011-2012 academic year with more space, more students, more faculty and more families thanks to an addition and renovation project that includes the construction of five new early childhood classrooms, a media center, additional administration office space, and a skylight- covered modern lobby that provides the transition point between the school’s century-old gymnasium and new addition.

“The amount of excitement here is over the moon,” St. Josaphat School principal Colleen Cannon said.

For St. Josaphat parishioners, school students and families, the completed project is a welcome sight.

With burgeoning enrollment over the last five years, St. Josaphat school and parish leaders evaluated parish-wide needs, soon identifying the school as a vital priority.

“Our enrollment had doubled in five years,” said Father Rich Prendergast, St. Josaphat’s pastor. “We saw families coming to pre-school with a mom holding another child or pregnant. That told us all that we had to do something.”

Setting off on a $5 million capital campaign in 2009, to date, the parish has raised $4 million, $2.3 million of which has been utilized for the school renovation and addition project.

“To raise this kind of money in any economy is a bold endeavor, let alone this economy,” Cannon said. “Our parents have been unbelievably generous and supportive.”

Cannon points to Prendergast as the key player in the construction project.

“[Prendergast] got the campaign going and you need that type of leadership from the top,” he said.

Five years ago, St. Josaphat’s enrollment sat at a solid 240. Today, the enrollment tops 400 for students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Interest is only expected to escalate in the coming years.

Recognized as a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education, Cannon said the school needed facilities to match the level of its programming. The renovation and addition project accomplishes just that, placing the academic environment and classroom experience in the same high-quality category.

“This brings us into the 21st century and creates a space that matches our commitment to education,” Cannon said, noting that the media center with 24 desktop Apple computers underscores the school’s commitment to education in the modern era.

Though the school’s addition largely caters to the youngest en rollment demographic, the preschool and kindergarten levels where demand remains highest, Prendergast holds high hopes that students will remain in the system.

“One thing we’re seeing is students coming in at the pre-school or kindergarten level and the parents being committed to Catholic education,” Prendergast said. “This helps create the next generation of Catholics.”

The current renovation and expansion project follows on the heels of a now two-year-old project that saw physical improvements to bathrooms, the science lab and the school’s historic 1902 gymnasium.