Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Enrollment retention a successful priority at St. Aloysius School

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 2, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

St. Aloysius School, Spokane, came into existence in 1916. (IR photo)

St. Aloysius School is humming like a beehive, a constant drone of quiet, purposeful activity going on behind classroom doors all over the old, single-story brick school building on Mission Avenue, in Spokane’s Gonzaga University neighborhood. The smiling principal, Kerrie Row-land, is now in her sixth year at St. Aloysius. She spent nine years at Spokane’s Cataldo School, five of them as assistant principal.

As with more than a few of the diocese’s Catholic schools, St. Aloysius has done wonders when it comes to keeping aging facilities in service. The classrooms and offices are filled with life, and up-to-date computers and other technology fit right in.

St. Aloysius School came into existence in 1916, founded by the Sisters of the Holy Names and the Jesuits who staffed St. Aloysius Parish. In 1940, the school was moved, from a brick building no longer in existence, located south of the parish church, and relocated to the present site at 611 E. Mission Ave. Because the parish experienced tremendous growth during the post-World War II years, in 1950 the size of the building was doubled with the addition of a second wing.

Today, the school includes eight grades, plus a Montessori Preschool and an Educare program, both of which were started in the 1980s. The school’s current enrollment is 670, an increase of about 100 students in the last 10 years.

Principal Rowland points out that the school’s toddler through pre-K programs alone include more than 400 children. The kindergarten through grade 8 enrollment is about 270. The school has started placing an emphasis on increasing enrollment in the early childhood programs as a way eventually to increase enrollment in the upper grades. The hope is that many of the children who begin at St. Aloysius will remain as they get older.

Her first year at St. Aloysius, said Rowland, “the teachers were concerned that our class sizes were too big in first and second grades.” There were 30 students for each teacher, plus a classroom aid in each grade. “They wanted to drop those class sizes to 24. But when you drop class sizes in first and second (grades), you not only lose that enrollment, but then you have smaller classes going into the later grades. Financially, we had to come up with a way to keep the enrollment up, so we started our multi-age first and second grade class. So now we have 24 in first grade, 24 in second grade, and 24 in the multi-age classroom,” which includes both first and second graders. The result is 34 second graders in the building right now.

“It’s very different from the traditional combo class, where you’ve got to draw a line between the two grades,” she said. “The kids are challenged to achieve at their own best level. So if we have a little first grader who’s reading at third grade level, then that’s what he or she is provided with.”

St. Aloysius School has done a remarkable job of retaining students even into the upper grades. Rowland said that the eighth grade enrollment is now 28; seventh grade, 24. “The only class that is down right now is fifth grade, with 22,” she said. “The boost for enrollment that we’ve been working on seems to be working.”

Some 65 teachers and staff oversee the school’s academic and other programs, including music, art, and physical education specialists for K through grade 8. As with several of the Catholic schools in Spokane, Gonzaga Preparatory School provides band instruction.

When it comes to the tough situations, St. Aloysius tries to be proactive. If a student has learning disabilities or behavioral difficulties, “we do everything we can,” Rowland says, “to access services that are available in the community” – for instance, through Public School District 81. “We have a wonderful relationship with Gonzaga University. The benefit of being right here on their doorstep is that we have great access to their Education Department and to their students. Every semester we have a number of students from their Education Department who are here to work in our classrooms. So if we have a little one who needs special attention we can say to that university student, ‘Here’s what I’m doing. I want you to focus on this child and make he or she stays on task.’ So we use that resource.

The school also is examining the possibility of hiring an internal counselor, “not for ongoing therapy but just for helping the teachers know how to manage extraordinary kinds of behaviors, or to help the children learn conflict resolution strategies, or if something traumatic happens in a child’s life to be able to help the child talk it through on a short-term basis. We’ll see where that goes,” Rowland said.

The school takes very seriously its identity and character as a Catholic school.

“Not only will you find what you would expect to find in a Catholic school, like the daily prayer and the daily religion lessons, and the presence of Catholic art, but on a deeper level one of the things I enjoy about this community, and this family, is that the parents who are here raise their children to understand and value the humanity in one another,” said Rowland.

“Each of the kids here knows that you’re a little quirky like this, and I’m a little quirky like that, and she’s a little quirky like that – and that’s okay,” she said. “We really don’t have issues of bullying or exclusion. Sometimes, as teachers, we can do everything that we can to help that dynamic occur in our school, but what it comes down to” is how the children are being raised by their parents. “I think our parents are raising their children to be very tolerant and very accepting,” she said. “So that makes it so enjoyable. I like raising my children with these families.”

The Catholic-to-non-Catholic ratio at St. Aloysius is “about 50-50, or maybe 60-40,” according to Rowland, with the majority – though not all – of the Catholic students coming from St. Aloysius Parish itself. The student body draws from throughout the area, including Cheney and the Greenacres area in Spokane Valley. The school’s location in the central city makes it attractive to many parents who drive to work in Spokane from various locations throughout Spokane County. The ethnic minority population of the school is about 14 percent.

As with all Catholic schools, St. Aloysius looks constantly for ways to generate additional funds. The annual auction has proven a winner, with “nearly all of that money allocated to facilities and equipment,” said Rowland. This year will see overhauls of electrical systems and renovations of office areas and bathrooms. “We have a 20-year facilities plan, so that money is used very carefully for facilities,” Rowland said. Another portion of the auction proceeds helps fund scholarships as well.

Rowland enthuses when asked about the involvement of the two priests at St. Aloysius Parish, Jesuit Fathers Natch Ohno and Robert Fitts. “They are wonderful,” she says, “and very involved and very supportive of the children.” Students plan the school Masses; the priests will come over to the classrooms ahead of time and teach a lesson on the theme of the Mass. They also attend various school events in a show of support.

Bottom line for Rowland is that she has been involved with Catholic schools for so long because “it feels like such a blessing to me to be able to be a part of raising these children in the faith. As much as I feel blessed to raise my own children, that God has given to me as gifts, I feel the same about all these children who are entrusted every day to us. It’s a priceless gift.”

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