In April, the Youngstown Diocese revealed its plan to consolidate Stark County’s 11 Catholic elementary schools into a single academy with 11 campuses. As the campuses prepare to welcome students Tuesday, the positives are evident.

Across the nation, Catholic schools have seen a decrease in enrollment.

In Stark County, it is no different. The county’s parochial schools are faced with maintaining enrollment numbers and bringing new students into the schools.

In April, the Youngstown Diocese revealed its plan to consolidate Stark County’s 11 Catholic elementary schools into a single academy with 11 campuses. As a single system, officials believe the campuses will benefit from greater purchasing power, shared resources, more effective fundraising and coordinated curriculum.

As the campuses prepare to welcome students Tuesday, the positives are evident.

Under the restructuring, St. Barbara Campus at 2809 Lincoln Way NW now serves students in prekindergarten through fifth grade.

Despite the loss of its sixth, seventh and eighth grades, the campus has maintained its enrollment numbers, and by the start of school, could see a slight increase, said Principal Matt Creamer.

The campus also is seeing a jump in the pre-K classes. Creamer said a second class for 4-year-olds is being added. The school also offers a pre-K class for 3-year-olds.

A number of factors can be credited for the influx, he said, including a new pastor, a new principal and a new marketing person.

“We are trying to do things in a proactive way to provide a faith-based education,” Creamer explained.

School officials got the word out a number of ways, including updating the school’s website, he said.

According to the diocese, Holy Cross Academy’s preschools have been re-branded as “family preschool centers,” to acknowledge the role of parents, and to align the centers with Catholic identity and the schools’ curriculum.

Creamer said many parents don’t think about Catholic schools as a preschool opportunity, but the school’s reasonable prices and flexible schedule make it more appealing.

One of only a few schools that allow you to choose when you attend, St. Barbara offers preschool all day from 8:15 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. or half-day from 8:15 to 11 a.m. Parents can also choose to send their children from two to five days each week.

“I think it is an interest in a faith-based education that we have to offer here at St. Barbara,” said the Rev. Brian Cline, pastor at St. Barbara Catholic Church. “We have become an early child development building and we are going to provide the very best possible education we can at the early years and allow it to be in the faith while keeping the costs at a very reasonable cost.”

Kathleen Untch, principal at St. Mary Campus, agrees parents who send their children to a parochical preschool get “a good solid foundation for a good price.”

The preschool teachers, she said, follow the state standards for preschools as well as preparing the students for kindergarten.

Untch said St. Mary, at 640 First St. NE, also is seeing an increase in enrollment at all grade levels.

Some of increase comes from absorbing the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Barbara Campus, but also because of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, the Arts and Math) educational model the school is introducing this year. It is a model of teaching that utilizes problem-based learning, Untch said.

Students will work in teams to identify a real-world problem and then use real-life skills to develop a plan.

St. Mary, along with Our Lady of Peace, St. Joan of Arc and Regina Coeli, will offer the program. Kindergarten through third-grade teachers at the school are attending training at Walsh University to implement the pilot program.


Both Creamer and Untch agree the schools must continue to offer the best programs and activities to help attract students.

During the summer, staff at St. Barbara has been busy. Creamer said Wi-Fi was installed in the building, and the main offices were moved to be more visible.

Teachers for specialty classes, including Spanish, music, computers, art and library, were hired and classrooms were dedicated to art, Spanish and a new computer lab.

“Parents want their kids to have as many opportunities as they can,” Untch said.

Besides the STREAM program, St. Mary offers advanced math classes, as well as a plethora of extracurricular activities, including band instruction and musical productions, helping to offer a well-rounded education, she said.

Untch said the school also offers top-notch technology. Each seventh- and eighth -grader has an iPad to use in school, and classrooms are outfitted with interactive white boards.

Creamer and Untch said it is important for the school to get out into the community and build relationships.


Catholic educational leaders agree that a faith-based education is appealing to more people, including non-Catholics.

“We're helping to form these children with a moral conscience,” Cline said. “Not only do they come here and get that important education they receive in regular curriculum in core classes, but also what they are receiving faith-based, too.”

Untch said that religion may not play as important a role as it once did in society, but the smaller classrooms, the family atmosphere, parent involvement and the care of teachers makes a Catholic education special.

“Our teachers stay after school, call parents to keep them informed,” Untch said. “They all need a paycheck, but they are not here to make big bucks; they are here for the kids. The spiritual development of the kids is important in meeting the needs of the whole child.”

Untch said Catholic schools are a family, and the whole family is part of the education of the child.

“There is communication between the parent and the teacher because we are a team to educate all kids,” she said.

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