Thanks to a state law regulating the start of the school year, students at Lowell Area Schools have one more week to sleep in before it’s time to set their alarm clocks and head back to the classroom. However, it’s a different story for private schools like St. Patrick, which is located on Parnell Ave. in the Lowell School District.
Students there had to be up bright and early Tuesday morning for their first day of class. Using a schedule set by the Diocese of Grand Rapids, all parochial schools in the area will meet for three days this week before taking a long weekend for the Labor Day holiday.
“Having a short week at the start gives us a chance to welcome students and settle into a routine so we can hit the ground running after Labor Day,” says Scott Czarnopys, who is entering his seventh year as the St. Patrick principal. “It’s a nice way to ease into the school year.”
FROM SURVIVING THE RECESSION TO THRIVING TODAY
St. Patrick School has an enrollment of 194 students in preschool through 8th grade this year, an increase of 21 from last year. That’s a far cry from the start of this decade when, in the wake of the recession, the student population dwindled to only 70 students, and split classrooms were instituted.
As enrollment rebounded, single classes were slowly reintroduced and new programs added. In recent years, the school has expanded to include developmental kindergarten, 4-year old preschool and 3 year-old preschool. What’s more, middle school band and Spanish language have been added to the curriculum.
To accommodate the growing student body and additional enrichment classes, St. Patrick has worked to reconfigure the use of its space. Most notably, the school has eliminated its traditional computer lab in favor of Chromebooks which can be used in the classroom. The former lab was transformed into classroom space while the existing library was renovated with custom-built cabinets this summer, funded by local donations and constructed by Nugent Builders.
“We’d love to add on to the school eventually,” Czarnopys says. “But until we’re in a position to do so, we can make what we have work.”
SCHOOL STRIVES TO FEEL LIKE FAMILY
Despite the school’s growth, Czarnopys says keeping a small-school atmosphere is important. Both he and the St. Patrick Church pastor, Fr. Mark Peacock, stand outside to shake hands and greet each student every morning. “I know every student by name, and I want them to feel like they are important when they walk through the front door,” Czarnopys explains.
On Wednesday, St. Patrick School will host its annual Back-to-School picnic to welcome new families and allow all parents the opportunity to meet teachers and tour the school. One area being highlighted during the event is the refurnished library which will later this fall be re-dedicated as the Bea Byrne Learning Center.
“We are excited to have our students back and look forward to the year ahead,” Czarnopys says, reflecting on the start of the new school year. Those interested in learning more about St. Patrick School can visit the school website.
All photos courtesy of RaeJeana Newland