St. Stephen’s celebrates quarter century of Catholic education in Glenwood
St. Stephen’s Catholic School is Glenwood Springs’ little school that could.After many challenges and great community support, St. Stephen’s celebrates its 25th anniversary this week to coincide with National Catholic Schools Week, though the anniversary of its first classes is at the end of August. “A little Catholic school to be operating for 25 years in itself is a story,” said Principal Tom Alby. “Catholic schools have been closing everywhere.”Even though Alby has headed the school for only three years, he knows well that parents who appreciate St. Stephen’s conservative approach to education help the school pull through in tough financial times. “Whenever it gets tight, there’s a group of parents that value we’re small, family oriented,” he said. “A parent said to me, ‘Never have I seen a school with so few resources do so much for a child.'”Good test scores and a reputation for discipline don’t hurt the school either, he said. After all, Alby said, discipline is why the school remains open: Standardized test scores show that St. Stephen’s students score above the national average. And achieving that requires discipline. But the real story of St. Stephen’s comes from Sister George Antoinette, one of the founding faculty members and driving forces behind the school since it opened in 1981.”The idea of opening St. Stephen’s Catholic School originated with a group of parents in the community who studied and researched the possibility,” Antoinette said in a written statement. She was ill this week and unable to be interviewed in person. Enthusiasm for religious education in Glenwood from parents who had gone to Catholic schools became more intense over time, and by 1981, they had gathered the resources to make St. Stephen’s a reality.
Antoinette said St. Stephen’s opened its doors to 34 students in kindergarten through sixth grade on Aug. 27, 1981. Sister Marie Rene Pretti served as principal and the school’s fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Elizabeth Fitzgerald taught a combined third- and fourth-grade class, Antoinette taught first and second grades, and Barbara Dart taught kindergarten. “By 1985, enrollment had more than doubled to 78 students,” Antoinette said. The next 21 years are, well, history. She said the keys to the school’s longevity are high academic expectations and the dedication of the administration, staff and parents. Volunteerism has been a huge part of the school’s success, too. Parents, she said, are involved in the classrooms, fundraisers and even watch kids on the playground. The going hasn’t always been easy. The school’s biggest challenges through the years, she said, were concerns over tuition requirements and enrollment. “As expenses increased, tuition had to be adjusted,” she said. “Fundraising was, and still is, an integral part of maintaining St. Stephen’s School.”While teaching style has changed over the years, she said, the school’s founding philosophy has remained constant. Part of that is the school’s expectation that its students excel academically. But religion plays a huge role in the students’ education, too. “I like the fact that we talk about God,” said teacher and anniversary coordinator Laura Carter. Antoinette said the school is really a community of faith created to help everyone “in their call to holiness.”By practicing and celebrating the love of God and our neighbor, we are motivated to grow morally, socially, academically and culturally,” she said.
Indeed, Alby said, after nearly three decades in public schools where secularism is a mandate, it’s “refreshing when you can do some religious things in school.”St. Stephen’s will spend a week – through Friday – celebrating its anniversary. Carter said the school will host an open house for prospective students Wednesday. Students will also participate in an essay contest, for which they must write about “the challenge of living your faith.”On Friday, students will eat a “poor lunch” of beans and rice, so they can learn what less fortunate people often eat, Carter said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comSt. Stephen’s Catholic School By the Numbers
1981: Year that St. Stephen’s opened for business34: Total number of students at St. Stephen’s in 1981130: Total number of St. Stephen’s students in preschool through eighth grade in 200618: Number of eighth-graders today35: Percentage of St. Stephen’s students who are non-Catholic4: Total 1981 faculty13: Total 2006 faculty$2,812: Cost of one year of school at St. Stephen’s for Catholic students$3,586: Cost of one year of school at St. Stephen’s for non-Catholics
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