Volume 78 / Number 15 - September 3 - 9, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower
East Side, Since 1933

Academy’s enrollment expands dramatically — to 12

By Melissa Korn

Things have changed dramatically since last year at The Academy of St. Joseph, a private Catholic school at 111 Washington Place. Most notably, there are enough students to hold classes in more than one room.

Twelve students were scheduled to enter pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade when the school year began Tuesday. With the increased head count — there were two children last fall and three by the spring — the school is now able to offer after-school programs, such as chess, Seido karate, clay art, cooking and movement, one program every day of the week. Of course, students are encouraged to invite friends along to help fill the ranks.

And while St. Joseph was already ambitious by teaching French to 4-year-olds last year as part of its humanities-rich curriculum, the school is increasing its academic breadth to include once-weekly Italian classes, as well.

“We are about where we had planned for a real first year with construction complete,” said Principal Angela Coombs. That said, she’d happily accept new students throughout the year.

The school’s small size angered some last year because St. Joseph operates in a building that had housed a bustling parish school for more than a century. The parish school was forced by the archdiocese to close when its enrollment dwindled to 124. But now the academy is starting to find its audience, as the extremely intimate classes are a selling point for parents frustrated with crowding at local public schools.

Stephanie Pederson, whose son Leif is a first grader, was thrilled with the school’s small number of students.

Leif had attended P.S. 116 in the Kips Bay/Murray Hill neighborhood, where he was in 30-student classrooms.

“It was so crowded that there were no desks,” Pederson said. “They would be on the floor the whole time.” With such a large group, the teacher was addressing both students who didn’t know their alphabets and those who could read fluently, like Leif. “None of the kids were getting the attention they needed to learn on a basic level,” she said.

Pederson and her husband found the $18,000 tuition at the parochial academy “reasonable” compared to some other private schools. The school cost $25,000 last year, but Principal Coombs reassessed, deciding the tuition shouldn’t be the same as it is for schools that have more established histories. Tuition and fees at nearby St. Luke’s School, an Episcopal academy, run $26,675 for junior kindergarten and $27,675 for kindergarten through third grade, rising again for higher grades. And Friends Seminary, a Quaker school in Gramercy, is $30,450 for tuition alone.

But it’s still not an easy check to write.

“We’re a very middle-class family. This is gong to be a bit of a burden for us,” Pederson said, knowing her two younger children will most likely follow Leif to private school.

St. Joseph’s tuition has made many parents swallow hard, so much so that the school took out notices in the University Parish of St. Joseph bulletin advertising partial scholarships, funded by a private donor. Four students were awarded scholarships, which Coombs said provided “a significant amount” of aid.

The old parish school in the St. Joseph building charged only about $3,500 per student.

The school building, six stories with a rooftop playground, has been undergoing renovations for more than a year. While the young pioneers who entered last fall started classes in a basement, they’ll now have full access to the resource-rich classrooms, library and assembly hall.

Leif Pederson, however, is most excited about having a desk.

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