Struggling Catholic Schools Need Not Close

The following blog was contributed by Amy Fry, M.Ed., Director of St. Charles Early Education Center in Arlington, VA.

Amy Fry will be presenting, “Struggling Catholic Schools Need Not Close” at the 2019 NCEA Institute for Catholic School Leaders (ICSL 2019), July 14-17 in Indianapolis. SAVE the DATE!

ICSL 2019 is an engaging professional development opportunity for principals, aspiring principals, presidents, pastors and board members. Information about ICSL 2019 can be reviewed at Registration is now open!

The news was harrowing. A Washington Post investigation found that 60 children had died in Virginia day cares in a decade, mostly in unregulated home care settings. Why are so many families entrusting their precious children to unlicensed caregivers? For lack of any options, affordable or otherwise it seems. A recent study finds that 51% of Americans live in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts, defined as 3 or more children for every one child care slot.

What if the areas deemed child care deserts overlapped with Catholic school closings? What if we were to offer our communities an alternative rooted in Christ and committed to the dignity of each child? What would be the pay-off if we could leverage our existing structures, physical and organizational, to address the desperate need for safe, loving, faith-filled care for the youngest members of our church? Everyone wins when we employ this sustainable model to build the body of Christ among young families. At St. Charles we have done just that.

Taking an elementary school founded in 1919 by Benedictine Sisters as an example, we can see the potential. By 2004, declining enrollment in this traditional K-8 Catholic School had become unsustainable. Two preschool classrooms were introduced to bolster revenue and enrollment. By 2014, the preschool offerings had doubled, but the K-8 continued to decline. The parish could no longer afford to subsidize the massive operational losses. The decision was made to close the K-8 grades and convert the entire facility to strictly early childhood education. 

In year two of the new program, 2-year-old siblings were added, and the budget broke even. Students now attend liturgical prayer services, weekly Chapel and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd instruction, and participate in prayers throughout the day. “Parents who self-identified as unregistered Catholics on their application are rediscovering their own relationship with Christ through their child,” observes Amy Fry, the Director.

As word-of-mouth began to spread regarding the faith formation available to preschoolers, Catholic families throughout the region began flocking to open houses. Enrollment doubled to 185 students by year three, and the preschool was able to gift back to the parish $100,000 that year alone in gratitude for the decades of support. We are currently the largest early childhood program in the region.

Existing Catholic education systems and buildings are perfectly situated to have a positive impact on America’s child care crisis, while sharing the Good News of Christ’s love. Mrs. Fry looks forward to exploring the many possibilities for greater engagement in Catholic early childhood services at ICSL 2019 in July.

About the Author

Amy Fry is originally from Ohio, but married a native Arlingtonian. They have four children and have been members of St. Charles Parish in Arlington, VA for many years. Mrs. Fry was Director of the Corpus Christi Early Childhood Center from 2006-2009. She has also taught at Queen of Apostles, St. Clement  and St. Thomas More. Mrs. Fry is the youngest of twelve children and was the first woman in her family to attend college. She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame. As a graduate of Marymount University’s Masters Degree Program in Catholic School Leadership, she brings a wealth of knowledge to the Early Education Center’s expanding programs.