Families feel the sting of Catholic school closings

    The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing two more schools because of declining enrollment. For students and their parents at the Stella Maris School in South Philadelphia, the announcement made this month still stings.

    The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing two more schools because of declining enrollment. For students and their parents at the Stella Maris School in South Philadelphia, the announcement made this month still stings.

    [audio:100414LFSCHOOL.mp3]

    It’s a bright and sunny afternoon and school at Stella Maris has just let out. Parents stand in the parking lot chatting while their kids chase each other around a big patch of green grass next to the parking lot.

    Lifelong South Philadelphian Mariano DiGiacomo with his sons two of whom attend Stella Maris
    Lifelong South Philadelphian Mariano DiGiacomo with his sons two of whom attend Stella Maris

    Mariano DiGiacomo keeps an eye on his 5 year-old son Luca and his 7 year-old Mariano, who both go to school here.

    DiGiacomo and his wife are both lifelong South Philly residents; the family lives right down the street from the school. But not for long.

    With the school slated to close at the end of this school year, the family’s decided to move to New Jersey.

    DiGiacomo:

    Once we heard in February that the school probably wasn’t going to make it we decided to just find a new school and actually move out of the city. We decided if the kids are gonna have to go to a new school we might as well move all together. New school. New state.

    Back in February, officials announced they would consider keeping the Stella Maris School open, if enough students signed up. But when registration ended on March 30, only 69 kids were registered – well short of the 175 students it needed to stay open.

    The recent numbers haven’t been good for the school: it has had dramatically declining enrollment and increasing costs. Officials have said it’s painful to close the school but they needed to take decisive action.

    Archdiocese of Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford says as enrollment declines the cost of educating each child increases because teachers’ salaries and benefits remain constant.

    DiGiacomo says his family will miss Stella Maris.

    DiGiacomo:

    They like their friends, they like their teachers. It’s just a close knit community here in the school. Everyone knows each other. Everyone’s friendly with each other. …parents with the teachers, students they all like each other. So it will be hard for them to have to start over. New community, new school.

    Amy Espinosa and her daughter Alanna who is continuing a family tradition by attending Stella Maris
    Amy Espinosa and her daughter Alanna who is continuing a family tradition by attending Stella Maris


    Espinosa:

    My mother I think is more devastated than I am cause she was actually one of the first graduating classes here.

    For Amy Espinosa the closing of the Stella Maris School means the end of a family tradition. She attended the school, and so did her mother. Now her daughter Alanna is in the first grade here.

    Espinosa:
    When we found out originally the school was closing I was upset. My mother was in tears just because, you know, my grandparents when they were still alive helped to actually build the school. They did all the fund raising to get the school. So it’s going to be sad.

    Espinosa says her daughter’s so young she probably won’t even remember attending the school. She says the 6 year-old’s not too upset about going to another local Catholic school next year because many of her friends are going to go there too.

    For Espinosa, it will be difficult to leave behind her own memories,

    Espinosa:

    When I was still in school here they used to have carnivals here. I just remember every year sitting in the classrooms looking out on the schoolyard as they were putting together the equipment for the amusements. We’d bug our mother, what night are we goin’ because there were four of us here…me, my brother, and twins. And it just was a fun time for the family and the school.

    Superintendent Rochford says the Archdiocese will hold onto the building that was home to so many memories. She says it’s possible it will be chosen as the site of a regional school for students who once attended other Catholic schools across South Philadelphia.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.