Shrinking enrollment and economic factors that impact area urban Catholic schools are not unique to our diocese. That is why the Office of Catholic Education continues to seek vital partnerships to help local Catholic schools stay viable for the communities they serve.
Last year, the Catholic Community Foundation helped raise the necessary funds for St. Anthony of Padua School in Akron and St. Augustine School in Barberton to join the network of Notre Dame ACE Academies. The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) is currently implementing a five-year partnership with these diocesan schools that began in 2021, focusing on operational vitality, Catholic school culture, teaching, and learning.
"Our local Catholic schools are often 50 to 100 years old," says Scott Embacher, regional director, Notre Dame ACE AcademiesAkron. "We help set them up for success by providing operational playbooks, so they can last another 1 00 years and not have to face those tougher decisions of whether to stay open."
This is not to say St. Anthony or St. Augustine schools faced imminent closure, but they weren't trending in the right direction due to many factors. There were some bright spots at both schools.
Principal Kathy Wolf arrived at St. Anthony slightly before the beginning of the ACE partnership. Her fresh ideas and energy were a welcome addition and perfectly timed to renew the school's outlook.
"Our goal as an ACE Academy is to put children on a path to college and heaven. Mr. E (as the kids call Scott) has been remarkable in the pursuit of this mission," says Kathy. "He's very inspirational in the classrooms and is a tremendous asset to our school. Without the support we've received from ACE, I believe our enrollment would've remained flat, and we wouldn't have been able to sustain new programs, including our marketing campaign."
When Kathy began at St. Anthony, there were 169 students. In the first year of the ACE partnership, enrollment has risen to 196, and there's already a waiting list for several of the primary grades for next year.
The school's growth goes beyond enrollment. Student test score growth has risen to be equivalent to their suburban counterparts, which is tremendous considering all the obstacles these students overcome.
The North Hill area of Akron is home to St. Anthony School and one of the nation's largest populations of refugees from Myanmar/ Burma. Many of the students' families faced persecution in their native homelands - some were put into refugee camps in Thailand before being able to immigrate to the U.S. Here they are challenged by language and economic barriers. St. Anthony plays a vital role in the lives of these children.
"It's not an exaggeration to say we're saving lives. If students who are in a struggling school don't get the support they need, they can find themselves locked in the cycle of poverty - exposing our kids to dangerous circumstances," says Scott. "As long as they're in the Catholic schools with us, they're well-loved, well taken care of so we can improve their futures."
Without St. Anthony and St. Augustine, most of these students would attend local public or charter school options that do not offer the same environment, academic growth, or graduation rates.
Kathy Wolf adds, "Our school's diversity is a blessing. We have cultures from all over the world. It brings a better sense of community. It doesn't matter what color your skin is. It doesn't matter what your parents do for a living. Our students and staff support and learn from each other."
Tiffany Evans graduated from St. Anthony and is the mother of two graduates and two current students. Besides her kids requesting Asian noodles more often, she noticed other ACE improvements made possible. She says, "There's a renewed energy at the school. I've noticed more visibility in the community due to marketing and improved technology available to students. It means a lot to me that my children can attend the same school I did, and this excellent educational option will be here for future generations."
Diocesan superintendent Frank O'Linn sees the progress made at both schools as positive momentum. Both principals and the regional director will travel to Notre Dame this summer for further training. "Thank you to all the donors and the Foundation for helping these schools become ACE Academies," he says. "Your generosity is both helping to transform the lives of students in these schools today, and providing a valuable example for the future of Catholic schools throughout the diocese."
To find ways that you can support our Catholic schools, contact Fred Roberts, Director of Development for Education, 216-696-6525 x3310, email@example.com.