SILVER SPRING, Md. — St. Camillus Church here has been busy enrolling students for its new school, a partnership with a nearby parish, set to open in September. In fact, school officials said national Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, has been largely spent recruiting students for next fall.
Recent mounting financial challenges and declining enrollment — experienced by many Catholic schools today — sparked the administration of the more than 55-year-old St. Camillus School to join with St. Mark the Evangelist in Hyattsville, Md., to form the new St. Francis International School.
Announcement of the new school was made in mid-January, after Archbishop Donald Wuerl gave his approval.
“The new school came about as St. Mark School officials were looking at ways to overcome the declining enrollment and an operating deficit,” said Michael Johnson, OFM, St. Camillus pastor, in the Jan. 20 Catholic Standard. “Meanwhile, St. Camillus School was looking for ways to keep providing a quality education that is affordable and sustainable into the future.”
The Right Thing to Do
“There may have been a financial reason that started the conversation, but the real motivation for starting the school is the fact that this is the right thing to do — the way it should be, even if there were no financial problems,” said St. Camillus principal Tobias Harkleroad in the Catholic Standard article.
Described as “a new Catholic school for the 21st century,” the international school, offering pre-kindertarten through eighth grade classes, will initially be based at the St. Camillus School building, currently undergoing renovations. Offering classes in early childhood, elementary and middle school education as well as a summer program, the school will provide the best of what each parish’s former school had to offer, especially Franciscan values.
The curriculum is a new standards-based approach, developed around the Archdiocese of Washington’s academic and catechetical standards, according to the school brochure, a publication featuring several images of St. Francis. The school will address the whole child, encompassing his or her physical, personal, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual development.
Initially, the school will serve between 450 and 550 students. In approximately two to three years, it expects to increase enrollment and operate the school on the campuses of both former schools, which are three miles apart, according to Harkleroad. St. Camillus is planned to be home to the preschool and primary school, and the St. Mark campus will host middle school students.
Stressing Culture and Values
Both St. Mark and St. Camillus, which the friars have served since 1984, have large immigrant populations. The new school “will enable us to have an international curriculum, and to reach out to students who may not have the opportunity to have a Catholic education,” said Father John Dillon, pastor of St. Mark, whose school was established in 1958, just four years after St. Camillus School opened.
“The school will operate with significant differences from most of the other parochial schools in our archdiocese,” said Harkleroad, who joined the St. Camillus staff in 2007.
Those differences will include an acknowledgement that each child and family is unique. It also includes longer school days, multilingual classes and a wide variety of after-school enrichment classes and clubs. In addition, subjects will be integrated so students can understand how math relates to science, and history to English, for example.
Michael told Catholic Standard the new school would “integrate faith formation into every part of the curriculum. It is part of the Franciscan tradition to see God in all creation. The school will offer (students) a sense of structure and a sense of belonging to God’s family.”
He added, in the Catholic Standard, “The people and are pleased and the kids are thrilled about this wonderful partnership.”
Information about St. Francis International School is available in the recently-produced eight-page brochure.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.