When it comes to considering a child's education, parents search for the best value that will teach their children to be well rounded citizens as well as academic achievers. Our local public schools are great, without a doubt, but in some ways, private schools are able to offer more.
Catholic Schools Week begins nationally on Sunday, so it is appropriate to draw attention to the goodness offered by our local Catholic schools: St. Bernard's in Saranac Lake and St. Agnes in Lake Placid.
These schools are excellent - we say that with knowledge and conviction - but then why is enrollment down to unsustainable levels: about 45 students in kindergarten through grade five at St. Bernard's, and about 35 in St. Agnes?
One reason is a recession of faith. National surveys have made it undeniably clear that Americans don't go to church as much as they used to. This is true for all Christian denominations, but Catholics especially have to downsize a gigantic network of schools, nursing homes and hospitals. Catholic schools are being closed all over the country, including 27 in the Archdiocese of New York at the end of this school year. But many survive and thrive, too. The fate of ours is up to local parents.
Another reason for the enrollment slide, as we see it, is that both St. Bernard's and St. Agnes underwent a great deal of turnover in principals and teachers in recent years, which led to some instability - although both schools seem to have remedied that and gotten back on track this year.
A third reason is that too few of the current generation of parents know how good these schools are. Many parents do not realize that you don't have to be Catholic to go there, although the religion is taught and its values lived out. Many don't know how happy, wholesome and self-disciplined students become in these nurturing environments. Many don't realize that tuition is free for some first-time students, that tuition assistance is available and that, even if you pay full price, it's not that much: $1,750 for tithing Catholics and $2,250 for others this year at St. Bernard's.
If that piques your interest as a parent, now is a good time to learn more. Public schools here are having to lay off teachers, cut electives and close schools; the Saranac Lake district will close Lake Colby School next year, two years after shuttering Lake Clear School. Class sizes are rising, and although that's not a problem for many students and parents, those who are concerned about it might want to consider at a Catholic school. Their small classes provide much more individual attention, which helps students of all ability levels excel.
St. Agnes and St. Bernard's are in the process of rising up to reach out to these parents. St. Agnes did a great job of this two years ago, when it was threatened with closure the last time enrollment dipped to 35, but for St. Bernard's, serious marketing is pretty new. Until now the school was able to safely assume that parish families would support it, and it quietly turned out an unduly large proportion of the smartest and most wholesome students who ever went through local schools. Now, however, it's either recruit or go the way of Tupper Lake's Holy Ghost Academy, which was closed nine years ago.
These schools have played a huge role in raising great people in their communities, as longtime locals know well, and we can attest that they continue to do this. If the Enterprise can play any role in helping save them, we will. We're happy to help spread the "Good News in Education," to quote the sign in front of St. Bernard's. At these schools, the focus is "Educating the Whole Child," as per St. Agnes' motto.
See it for yourself. St. Bernard's and its new principal, Ray Dora, are inviting the community to numerous events this week, starting this Sunday at 10 a.m. Mass and afterward at 11 a.m. for a reception and information session which, like any good church gathering, involves food: muffins, doughnuts, hot chocolate and coffee. Monday they have a talent show, Tuesday a sing-along, ice skating Wednesday, outdoor winter games Thursday and more. Check these events out in the Enterprise calendar in print (page B2 today) or online.
Later this week we'll run follow-up editorials that look a little deeper at what each school has to offer.