Catholic school growing steadily, looking for a pathway to expand

Nance Reese leads a fifth-grade class at St. Joseph Catholic School in a math lesson Feb. 25. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

After almost 19 years of slow, steady growth, St. Joseph Catholic School, 110 N. Madison, is working to increase enrollment even more and weighing options to add more grades.

According to the school’s website, the first parish school opened in 1904, the high school closed in 1968 and the grade school closed in 1975. A parish fundraising initiative led to the grade school’s reopening in 2000.

Since then, the school has been adding a small number of students almost every year, said St. Joseph principal Wade Laffey, now in his 13th year at the school.

Small class sizes

St. Joseph offers 3-year-old pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The 3-year-old pre-k is a half-day program and is available mornings only, two, three or five days a week. After-school care is available until 5:30 p.m.

Though it is not a requirement for private schools, teachers at St. Joseph must hold the same state teaching certificates required to teach in public schools.

Laffey said one of the attractive aspects of St. Joseph is the small classes, which are limited to no more than 20 students to enhance the quality of classroom instruction, Laffey said.

“We want what’s best for teachers, for learning and for the students,” he said.

While St. Joseph is a small school, Laffey said students are offered a well-rounded education, including art, Spanish, physical education, music classes and band.

“The academics are rigorous and challenging,” Laffey said, “and our students end up being ahead of their peers when they re-matriculate in public school after they finish fifth grade here.”

Faith-based lessons

But, he said, perhaps the greatest draw to St. Joseph is its most visible attribute: grounding in Catholic faith.

Religion classes are a core requirement for all grades at St. Joseph, and all students attend Mass once per week. In second grade, the students begin preparing for participation in the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Laffey said the thorough religious instruction is a central consideration for most families coming to St. Joseph.

“I think anybody who wants their children to be exposed to a faith-based education absolutely needs to check out our school,” Laffey said. “Having a faith-based environment provides a full education, as opposed to leaving the faith aspect out.”

But, Laffey said, the faith aspect of daily life at St. Joseph isn’t just academic.

“It isn’t just public school with a religion aspect,” Laffey said. “We work to create an overall Christian environment, and we want our students to realize faith is a 24/7, 365, all-the-time endeavor.”

All denominations

While faith, and Catholicism in particular, are central to the education at St. Joseph, Laffey said the school enrolls children of all denominations and faiths and employs several teachers who are not Catholic.

“I think a lot of times people think if you’re not Catholic you can’t even consider our school,” Laffey said, “and that’s absolutely not the case.”

Non-Catholic students and their families are drawn to St. Joseph, Laffey said, because of the ways their children benefit from a faith-based environment.

“We try to include faith in everything we do, and that’s something the students really crave,” Laffey said. “They have a hunger for God, and they love to see faith expressed by adults.”

Enrollment focus

The strong faith-based environment, rigorous academics, small class sizes and well-rounded curriculum and activities continue to attract new families to St. Joseph, Laffey said, and he’s hoping that will continue to add to the school’s enrollment.

The pre-k classes “fill up fast,” he said, but there usually is room in upper levels, due to families moving away or transferring to other schools after pre-kindergarten.

St. Joseph now has an enrollment of about 110, but Laffey said the school could enroll up to 140-150 students, within current grade and class size restrictions.

Laffey said filling those open seats is essential before the school expands further.

“We need to continue to see growth in enrollment,” Laffey said, “so we can safely expand what we’ve spent 18 years building.”

A future look

If enrollment continues to grow, Laffey said it’s feasible the school could add grades.

“There is interest in expanding to a middle school,” Laffey said. “I think it’s possible. I think Enid and our local Catholic population are big enough to support it. We just need to figure out how to do it, while being good stewards of what we already have.”

For now, St. Joseph is considering a feasibility study of possibly growing into middle school grades. Laffey encouraged families interested in St. Joseph to enroll their students as young as possible “so they will be here, and have a better chance of expansion further down the line.”

Tuition at St. Joseph ranges from about $300 to $350 per student per month, and scholarships are available through the local parishes for Catholic families. Open enrollment begins March 15.

For information on St. Joseph Catholic School, go to https://stfrancisenid.com/school.