By TONIA HILL
School is back in session for students at St. Thomas the Apostle School (STA), 5467 S. Woodlawn Ave., and, for the first time in several years, 300 children are enrolled at the school.
STA added a pre-kindergarten class (increasing the number of Pre-K classes to three), a new third-grade class (now two in total) and a second section for the eighth grade.
STA reached a low point of enrollment in 2011 with just over a 100 kids according to Tim Gallo, principal at STA.
Gallo, a second year principal at STA, cited parent involvement in recruitment efforts and its staff and teachers as among many reasons why enrollment numbers have climbed over the last six years.
“It’s not one person or one thing. It’s the community as a whole willing and deciding that we’re going to be a great school that’s going to grow and bring in more people,” Gallo said.
New programming spearheaded by Gallo has also been a draw for families who want to send their children to the school, according to Mary Acton, advancement director at STA.
STA hosts STArry Night a benefit event that is held in April in support of the school’s programs and scholarship.
The event includes a silent auction, dinner, and opportunities to tell the story of STA.
The school also has an annual campaign known as Reach for the STArs which takes place in November.
Acton said last year, the school added a new model to its annual Reach for the STArs appeal.
An anonymous donor agreed to match every gift up to $30,000. Funds received from The Reach for the STArs campaign totaled, $60,000 which helped STA in incorporating technology into students’ curriculum.
Classroom iPad sets and charging sets were provided to preschool through third grade classes. The school was also able to provide Google Chromebooks to its fourth and fifth-grade students.
“This year our school is operating with a one-to-one [Google] Chromebook program [in grades 4-8], and every classroom kindergarten through third has ten iPads per room plus charging stations,” Acton said. Pre-K has its own set for 3-4-year-old students. New things like that have also made us a more attractive, dynamic place for families to want to send their children.”
Gallo said in a previous article in the Herald that 75 students in grades 6th through 8th received Google Chromebooks from successful fundraising last summer.
Since the middle school began using the technology, there has been a quicker turnaround on grading and submitting assignments, students can communicate directly with their teachers and take ownership of what they are doing, and students have become more organized.
STA this school year is also shifting how recess is structured. The school forged a partnership with Playworks, a nonprofit organization that will assist them in restructuring recess.
Gallo said recess is just as much an “important part of the education and the day as math or reading.”
Playworks will provide professional development for the recess coordinator as well as introduce structured games for children during recess hours.
Middle School children at STA will also have autonomy during recess. Students will have a choice on how they spend their recess hour, whether it is through academic clubs, the student newspaper or student council.
STA has also partnered with a yoga studio, which will provide yoga lessons to preschool students once a week.
Gallo said the school would begin its Reach for the STArs campaign in November.