Enrollment surges, new administrators, changes in preschool programs, technology upgrades and building renovations greeted Catholic, private and Christian school students who have returned to classes.
Enrollment has reached record-high levels this year. To meet the needs of its growing student population, the academy on West Hardies Road in Hampton is erecting a new classroom building.
Site work has begun on the two-story, 22,000-square-foot building that will contain 11 classrooms and two science laboratories. It is scheduled to open for 2014-2015.
Students and their families gathered Monday to witness Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik bless the ground for the $4.2 million construction project. Funds were raised during a yearlong capital campaign. Three families donated $1 million each. The rest has been pledged by families and friends of the students.
"Our families all see how crowded we are, so they really responded to that need," said Leslie Mitros, head of school. "Quaint is starting to be not so much fun anymore."
The school was started in 1996 by families seeking a faith-based, classic education. Peter Blume, president of the board of directors, was among the founders of Aquinas, which began its first year with 13 students.
"It is the first and only parent-founded school in the area with a curriculum governed by the Pittsburgh diocese," he said.
Thus far, 364 students are enrolled in the kindergarten through 12th grade. There are 32 children in the preschool for 3-year-olds and prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.
"We're grateful there's a niche and demand for our school," Mr. Blume said, pointing out that Aquinas is the only kindergarten-through-12th-grade Catholic school in Western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Blume said he and all the parents were honored with the support they've received from the Pittsburgh diocese as well as Bishop Zubik.
The ground the bishop blessed was excavated in August. School, which usually starts the week before Labor Day, was delayed until Sept. 3 so most of the noise and dust that came with the earth moving was settled.
Mrs. Mitros, who began teaching math at the school in 1999 and became head of the school in 2004, said Aquinas has grown at least 15 percent every year.
She credited the school's reputation for academic achievement and its strong curriculum in faith formation with attracting new students.
The new classroom building will be mostly for high school students. It will feature two science laboratories to meet the needs of the advanced placement chemistry students and space for music and art classes for students on the lower level.
This year's student body, which includes the school's largest kindergarten class of 31 students, is divided into two classrooms.
The academy also has a new, full-time administrator of computer services, Cathy Harshman. A graduate of Robert Morris University with a bachelor's degree in business information, Ms. Harshman also has a master's degree in information management systems from Carnegie Mellon University. She will also teach computer classes at the school.
A French II class has been added to the curriculum. Elicia Schlosser, who also teaches first-year French will lead the new class. -- Rita Michel
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic
There are a few big changes as the school begins its final year in Troy Hill.
Formerly known as North Catholic High School, the school has changed its name in preparation of the opening of a new building in Cranberry for 2014-15.
The new name honors Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a Pittsburgh native who served as Bishop of Pittsburgh. Beth Pawlowicz, director of admissions, said the rebranding incorporates the history and tradition of North Catholic while recognizing the importance that Cardinal Wuerl played in the new school and campus.
"The bishop, now cardinal, played a major role in the reason we are moving to a beautiful new facility and campus. But, we didn't just want to close the school with an almost 75-year history, so the re-branding blends our rich history and tradition of excellent education while honoring Cardinal Wuerl," Ms. Pawlowicz said.
The school also introduced a new curriculum this year, focusing on college preparation in a liberal arts curriculum with a science, technology, engineering, math and medicine focus, said Ms. Pawlowicz. Students will be able to choose to focus on liberal arts or a STEMM curriculum in preparation for their college careers.
The "increased rigor" in the curriculum provides new challenges and more opportunities for students to work on inquiry and problem-solving skills, according to Ms. Pawlowicz.
She said she has been asked why they made the changes this year instead of waiting for the move to the new campus.
"We are making our changes in phases over several years. It is difficult to do it all at once and do it well. We want to do it well," she said. -- Kathleen Ganster
Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy
The Aspinwall school has increased tuition by $100 to $3,850 per student, according to Tracy Giussre, admissions director. She said all rooms were painted over the summer and new desks were added in the elementary grades.
Third-grade teacher Sarah Lamb was added to the staff. For students, a new anti-bullying policy was instituted. -- Roxanne Tuinstra
Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament
The Natrona Heights school is launching a new website -- www.olmbs.com -- that is being designed by school principal Sean Davis. Classes started on Aug. 22 and school is now sharing a Spanish teacher with St. Joseph High School.
Mr. Davis said the school has new Smart Boards, lockers and desks and chairs. Enrollment for 2013-14 is 250 pupils, he said. -- Laure Cioffi
The Beaver County Catholic high school enters its 47th year with enrollment in grades 9-12 at 147, two fewer than last year. The first full day of classes for students and faculty was Aug. 26.
Last year, 40 seniors graduated. All were accepted to colleges or universities, according to Michael Rubino, executive director of advancement.
Support from parents and alumni remains strong, and the next fundraiser is the Oct. 11 Evening at Tiffany's Gala at the Club at Shadow Lakes in Hopewell. Last year's event raised $86,000. -- Linda Wilson Fuoco
Classes started Aug. 26 for students in grades 1-8. James Correll is full-time principal. He had been a teacher in the middle school program for more than three years. Mr. Correll replaces John Kuntz, who had been principal for two years. The McCandless school begins its 50th year of providing Catholic education. -- Shellie Petri Budzeak
The year at the Catholic school in Pine started Aug. 22 with new principal Robert Reese. He was hired in July and comes from Northside Catholic School, where he was an assistant principal.
Mr. Reese said St. Alphonsus implemented an early-morning care program this year in which parents can drop off pupils as early as 7 o'clock. They also have a new bank of about 30 iPads that classroom teachers are encouraged to use throughout the year during lessons, he said. St. Alphonsus has 415 pupils. -- Laure Cioffi
Classes started Aug. 22. The school is for children in preschool to grade 8 in Sewickley. Parents night will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 24. -- Shellie Petri Budzeak
St. Mary of the Assumption
A total of 187 students are enrolled in preschool though grade 8 at the Catholic school in Shaler, which started classes Aug. 26. No new programs or buildings have been added this year. -- Kathleen Ganster
There will be free busing from the Leechburg Area School District to the school in Harrison. Additional bus routes expanded from Ford City/Kittanning and Wexford/Cranberry.
New computers were added to the science and technology buildings for the College in High School Web design course through the University of Pittsburgh. The school offers 45 credits from 14 College in High School classes.
The computer lab has been upgraded for Web design and robotics classes to include new desktops and laptops capable of running modern computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing and software development suites.
The robotics and engineering lab is also getting a 3-D printer capable of taking models developed in CAD software and creating the objects in two types of plastic.
The first day of classes was Aug. 26, and enrollment is approximately 226 pupils. -- Laure Cioffi
Students in kindergarten through eighth grade returned to the Catholic school in Ross on Aug. 22. Preschoolers returned on Sept. 3 and 4.
The school has 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and 60 preschool students.
A new full-day pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds started this year, and kindergarten was expanded to three classes.
Technology was upgraded with the school now 100 percent wireless, and the website has been redesigned.
Also new this year are 80-minute block classes for language arts and 60-minute block classes for science and math. There are four new teachers. -- Sandy Trozzo
St. Teresa of Avila
The school in Ross underwent several renovations over the summer.
Sister Karen Brink, principal, said the front entrance, reception area and office space were renovated to bring the 60-year-old building into the 21st century.
The school also initiated a new "enrollment management team" that will seek to recruit new students, contact parents and act as a liaison for the school.
St. Teresa's is in its 107th year and has 250 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. School started Aug. 26. -- Sandy Trozzo
Classes started Aug. 21 with 155 students in preschool through eighth grade. A new anti-bullying program, Olweus, was added this year. There is also a new Science Fusion program for students in grades 5 through 8. The curriculum includes online, book and module usage to promote higher thinking skills. The Hampton school also increased the number of iPads for students to include the lower grades. -- Kathleen Ganster
Classes started Aug. 26 with the largest freshman class in recent history.
More than 70 freshmen from 13 Catholic elementary schools are attending the McCandless school, which is run by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
The school upgraded to wireless technology, and students were given Chrome Books to use in class and for homework.
"We anticipate our faculty being able to incorporate valuable content into lessons, inspire collaboration and encourage our students to create and share their creativity with the world," said John Fedko, president of Vincentian Academy, who spearheaded the technology advancements.
Vincentian will also host 20 exchange students from China this year, as part of an agreement with Holy Family Institute.
The school is in the second year of its football and cheerleading programs. The varsity football squad will become an official WPIAL sport after this season.
A new locker room and a weight room were built beneath the gym, and the lighting was upgraded in the gym.
Vincentian Academy remains the only Catholic International Baccalaureate program in the region.
There are three new administrators. Kelly Lazzara is the new principal/dean of academics, curriculum and student life. She was formerly the dean at Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School. Brad Swiger was appointed dean of instruction and technology.
Kathleen Lynch is the new vice president of advancement. She previously held positions at Allegheny College, Duquesne University, The Bradley Center, St. James Catholic Church and Central Catholic High School. -- Sandy Trozzo