More than a coat of paint Even with challenges facing Catholic schools, Sacred Heart starts year with optimism
by :Tom Jennemann
Sep 30, 2004 | 264 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It took plenty of elbow grease over the summer, but the formerly white classrooms at the Academy of the Sacred Heart have been transformed into a cheerful array of greens, reds and yellows.

In a physical as well as a philosophical sense, these colorful hues are one sign that the students, parents, alumni, and staff of the 136-year old school Catholic all girls' high school are ready to face the challenges of the new school year.

"The school looks really sharp," said Sister Jacqueline Carey Monday Morning as she gave the Reporter a tour of the school. "You have to remember that this is 136-year-old building, and there's been a lot wear and tear. We've done what is necessary to bring us into the 21st century."

The Academy of Sacred Heart on Washington Street, with its 110 students, is Hoboken's only Catholic high school alternative. The school is operated by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth of Convent Station with a staff of around 25.

Refreshing outlook

This summer, the administration, under Carey's supervision, undertook an ambitious improvement program. Inside, corridors and classrooms sparkle with fresh paint, brand new boarders, and new carpets. With a tight budget for capital improvements, all of the work was done by parents, students and alumni voluntarily.

"When I walked in the door the first day of school, I was like whoa," said Senior Ursula Gener Monday. "Things were definitely different."

Students have also been greeted by a number of new computers and a new multi media room. Forty computers, many of which have been purchased in the past year, are now connected to the web.

"We've been trying hard to integrate computers into the classroom," said Carey. "They have become such a valuable educational tool."

Plenty of challenges

Anthony Cardino, the school's director of development, said that the stepped-up effort is a direct response to the challenges that urban Catholic schools face today.

While the past 10 years have seen substantial increases in enrollment in suburban schools, where expansion of existing schools and new school construction is the norm, the nation's urban Catholic schools, especially in the tri-state area, have maintained nearly two decades of declining enrollment, school shutdowns and consolidations. Since 2000, for every new Catholic school that opens, two close, according to the National Catholic Education Association.

With Catholic schools relying on tuition to cover major costs like teacher salaries, declining enrollment can have disastrous effects. Also, the declining numbers of religious teachers, increasing educational and operational expenses, and a variety of other financial issues, including a soft economy, have made it increasingly difficult to operate such schools, especially the small ones.

"There are many challenges," said Carey. "The price of education continues to rise, which makes it hard for some families to afford."

What they do best

Small Catholic schools, like the Academy of Sacred Heart, have several innate advantages. One is class size, said Carey, as most classes at Sacred Heart are made up of only around 15 students.

Also, despite admitting most who apply, Catholic high schools graduate 95 percent of their students, compared with just over 66 percent in public schools. And it's not because academic standards at Catholic schools are lower. In study after study, Catholic school students outperform their public school peers. Government surveys consistently show that Catholic school students do better in mathematics, science, reading, and social studies than their public school peers. All students are required to maintain a schedule with an advanced classical course of study with a full complement of math, science, business, computer and vocational courses.

It's this type of individualized attention, said Carey, that helps lead to higher graduation rate, a lower dropout rate most other area schools. Not only do students graduate, but nearly all graduates end up going to college. Last year's graduating class of 25 students earned an impressive total of over $1 million in scholarships to college, according to school officials. Some of schools in which graduating seniors will be attending include Notre Dame, Manhattan University, Montclair State University, Monmouth University, Felician College, Drew University, Seton Hall University, Saint Peter's College, Ramapo College, Fairleigh Dickinson, Manhattanville, Saint Leo's University, Centenary College and the University of Hartford. Additionally, according to officials, seven girls achieved National Honor Society recognition.

Other goals

With the goal of being proactive, Cardino said that in these challenging times, it is especially important to get parents get involved in their child's education, not only in fundraising, but in the actual school itself. "Fundraising is always the life blood of the school," said Cardino, "but there is so much more that parents can do to help out during the school year."

Cardino said that painting the building during the summer is only a start. He added that parents will be tapped this year to help expand activities for the girls, such as additional intramural sports.

Also, the administration has begun actively courting area businesses and community leaders. "We've been talking to some of the people in the business community," said Cardino, "to see how they might be able to work with us, through either donations or internships."

He said that for too long, Sacred Heart has been "Hoboken's best kept secret." "Either step up become a little more visible or we will be pushed into the background," he said.
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