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Suburban Catholic Schools Grow

Amid the return to classes this month, a new Catholic High School has opened in Hyannis on Cape Cod.

It's part of a trend that's emerged as parochial institutions in the cities have been closing in recent years, because of falling enrollment and families leaving for the suburbs.

Here's WBUR'S Bianca Vazquez Toness with more on the story.

TEXT OF STORY:

CHRIS KEAVEY: Mrs. Siminow could you please stand? What does Mrs. Simonow teach?

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: Principal Chris Keavey stands at the front of the Pope John Paul II High School. The handsome building is totally renovated from the old Barnstable High School.

KEAVEY: Yes..of course, Spanish. Spanish I AND II

TONESS: Keavey is addressing about 40 freshman, the school's first class of students.

KEAVEY: OK, but what's the theology class we teach in this school? The Old Testament.

TONESS: This is the second Catholic school to open on the Cape in the last three years. The trend is evident elsewhere in Massachusetts — suburban schools boast waiting lists, while many urban Catholic schools from Boston to New Bedford have closed or consolidated.

As families move north, south and west, the schools are following them and their money.

KEAVEY: I think on the Cape its a different caliber of people compared to the city. I think the median family makes more money to live because you have to to live here.

TONESS: Erica Emrich of Centreville is sending her daughter to repeat the ninth grade at Pope John Paul II High School. She wasn't satisfied with the year she spent at the public high school, and prefers the small classes and uniforms at Catholic institutions.

ERICA EMRICH: I can't imagine a better education than a religion-based education.

TONESS: Kim Richard lives in Sandwich is recently converted to Catholocism. For her, the religious part isn't as important as the quality of education she says her son gets at Catholic schools.

KIM RICHARD: He's getting better grades now with a harder curriculum than he was getting in the public school with more money spent per child.
I think there's a terrible flaw there.

TONESS: As the Catholic schools follow parents to the suburbs,
some worry it's harder to reach disadvantaged children — one of the missions for Catholic schools. Father Joseph O'Keefe, Dean of the School of Education at Boston College.

JOSEPH O'KEEFE: Many of the non-Catholics in these urban catholic schools are African Americans from protestant backgrounds. They aren't catholic, not many of them will become Catholic. But they like faith in Jesus, gospel values, they'd like to have a religiously affiliated education for their kids.

TONESS: Principal Chris Keavey would like to make his school accessible to more students. He says many of the 40-plus students at Pope John Paul II are getting help with the $7,000 a year year tuition. But the school is not yet as diverse as he would like.

KEAVEY: There's a sizable Brazilian community. And I want to find ways and I'm looking to talk to people to talk to those families and attract them to our school. Because I think we offer something they would want for their children.

TONESS: But taking on more students will depend on attracting more money. So far the school has raised $3 million at fund raisers and through private donations. That's gone towards buying and renovating the building as well as operating costs.

KEAVEY: And we will start our day with prayer everyday.

TONESS: For now though, Principal Keavey is savoring the intimacy of a small school, where all of his students fit in the small chapel.

KEAVEY: Now everyday after this, we will probably have to use the PA, that's a special benefit. I think that's cool.

TONESS: Keavey expects the school to more than double in size next year. Not only because of the new freshman class but also because he hopes to attract some of the 200 kids who leave the Cape to attend Catholic school elsewhere.

This program aired on September 10, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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