What does it take to increase a school’s enrollment by 50 percent in one year?
An additional $200,000 in money for scholarships is a good start.
That’s the amount St. Clement Parish, 642 W. Deming Place, gave St. Margaret of Scotland School, 9833 S. Throop St., this year, and it has pledged the same amount for the next two years.
That money helped St. Margaret of Scotland tap into the demand for Catholic education in its neighborhood, offering 25 percent scholarships and making the enrollment grow from 150 to 225.
At the same time, the schools and parishes have found ways to work together on professional development and volunteer projects, fostering relationships between teachers and staff, parents and students.
It started with an informal give and take between Melissa Dan, principal at St. Clement since 2010, and Kevin Powers, who took the reins at St. Margaret of Scotland last year. The two knew each other through the Catholic education community; while Powers never worked directly with Dan,, he had friends who did.
Powers said he would occasionally call or meet with Dan just to talk things over, using her as a sounding board. Dan, who remembers the feeling of being overwhelmed during her first year as a Catholic school principal, was happy to help.
Then, when St. Clement prepared to kick off its To Teach Who Christ Is capital campaign, with a three-year goal of $6 million, parish leaders decided to extend the already existing Clement Commits program, in which the parish gives 10 percent of its annual collection income to charitable causes inside and outside the archdiocese every year. The money going to St. Margaret of Scotland represents 10 percent of the parish’s To Teach Who Christ Is goal.
Father Ken Simpson, pastor of St. Clement, said the gift is a real sacrifice for his parish. While St. Clement is affluent, it still has more needs than money to pay for them, he said, including maintenance and capital improvements for a 100-year-old church.
But when parish leaders approached parishioners with the campaign, he said, many thought the help for St. Margaret of Scotland “was the most exciting part of it.”
Now some parishioners and school parents from St. Clement are helping in more practical ways, such as, for example, volunteering for lunch supervision duty at St. Margaret, so St. Margaret teachers get a lunch break away from their students about once a week.
Young adults from St. Clement have helped paint and organize the library at St. Margaret as well.
In September, St. Margaret teachers came to St. Clement for a day to watch their grade-level counterparts teach, providing valuable ideas and insights for teachers at a school that has only one class section at each grade level.
Later in the autumn, the St. Clement student council raised money for, bought and delivered playground equipment such as balls and jump ropes to St. Margaret, and in December, the eighth-graders from St. Clement visited St. Margaret for a basketball game and cheerleading.
The two principals said the students from the two schools had no trouble finding common ground.
“Their cheerleaders were teaching ours cheers,” Dan said.
Eighth-graders from St. Margaret of Scotland said they enjoyed the day with their peers from St. Clement, finding common ground in many, if not all, areas. The first thing that surprised them, they said, was that St. Clement had so many eighth-graders.
“There was a kid named Justin, and we have the same grades and we like the same subjects and the same video game,” said Giantte Chambers, 13. “He was a lot like me.”
Diamond Hill, 13, said she liked the two basketball scrimmages and game of knockout. The St. Clement students seemed similar to those from St. Margaret in that they were different from each other. Some liked basketball and some didn’t, she said, and both groups could find sympathetic listeners among the St. Margaret students.
Anthony Parker, 14, said the students got to know one another the way kids do: they talked about their schools, what their favorite subjects were, the teachers they liked and maybe didn’t like so much. Parker said he’d like to visit St. Clement to see what it’s like. He said it seems like the curriculum might be different, because the students from St. Clement seemed to speak very articulately for eighthgraders.
“They spoke very clearly and very thoroughly,” he said.
Both schools are hoping for a return visit, Dan said. The younger students at St. Margaret especially want to see St. Clement’s rooftop playground.
“I had to show them pictures,” she said. “They didn’t believe me when I told them about it.”
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DePaul College Prep will move to a new 17-acre campus about a quarter-mile southeast of its current home for the 2020-2021 school year. DePaul Prep announced the purchase of the new campus Aug. 1.
Students at St. Ethelreda School, 8734 S. Paulina St., performed “The Lion King” as part of their summer camp on July 25, 2019.