TRANSCRIBED BY KATHLEEN LAPLANTE
Valley Patriot publisher Tom Duggan, (an alum of Saint Patrick’s Grammar School) sat down with the (now) Lawrence Catholic Academy Principal Jorge Hernandez. You can read part 1 of this interview on www.valleypatriot.com
VP: Do you get any help from St. Patrick’s Church? I know when you were affiliated with St. Pat’s, the priests used to come in all the time for religion class, answer some of our questions.
JH: Absolutely. We’re fortunate in that there are still a couple of Sisters of Charity of Halifax that are faculty members here, but absolutely, the parishes in the Lawrence community have been great with regards to coming over, being present in the school, having an opportunity to talk to the children. So whether it’s St. Patrick’s, or Our Lady of Good Counsel, or St. Mary’s, or Corpus Christi, everyone has been more than willing to embrace the school, be a part of the life of the school, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to engender and fully develop those relationships moving forward, not only with the parishes, Tom, but really with the entire community. This is a private school, specifically a Catholic school, but it is a school located within the city of Lawrence. I want to make sure the entire community knows that this is a school that is theirs, that we welcome the opportunity to be a part of the community. We welcome the community to be a part of what we do. So whether it’s a community based organization or private organization that want to work with us, that want to partner with us, we absolutely are more than willing to go ahead and have an opportunity to have a conversation and see how we might be able to have mutually beneficial…
VP: How many kids do you have come in every year? How many new kids? Do you have a waiting list? Is there space open? How does that work?
JH: We’re blessed that we have a good number of students in the early elementary years, early childhood area. So we go ahead and actually have three sections of kindergarten, three of first grade, and three of second grade. Then, starting in third grade, we go down to two sessions and we’re able to go ahead. Because of the projected growth that we see for ourselves moving forward, we’re going to need to look at, Tom, what the physical plant actually looks like, which is something that’s exciting.
That’s not something a lot of Catholic schools normally are able to talk about. So to be able to know that there is good demand for coming into the school, and we’re even getting some students that are transferring in, at middle school grades, for example. So we’re just about at capacity. We’re hovering at around 96-97% capacity.
VP: What is capacity?
JH: About 525. Right now, we’re at 511-512. So there are a couple slots that are open, here and there, different grades, but we absolutely want to welcome the families, friends of families, that just want to come in, check out the school, see what we’re about, have that conversation, and see if it’s a right fit, both for the student and the family, and for the school.
VP: What’s the cost and is there some kind of financial help available?
JH: There is some financial assistance that is available, and all families ever have to do is go ahead and fill out a simple Financial Aid Form.
VP: So they do financial aid like they do for college?
JH: Well, it’s all based on need. Right now, we don’t have the opportunity to offer scholarships, per se, for merit based. So that is the extent of what we are able to offer. Families are able to come in, fill out an application. We’ll let them know, in fact, if there is any space available, and if there’s a wait list, to go ahead and let them know that we will be in touch in X number of days or weeks, or if a slot happens to open up. The cost for attendance is just under $4000.
VP: For the year?
JH: For the year, right. So for the lower grades for nursery, it’s a little bit higher, just because there’s a little bit more involved with watching after the students. So that’s approximately at $4150 for those students. So the tuition information, all of that’s readily available right on the site. We want to make sure people have an understanding of what it is. There is a slight difference in terms of the differential if you have multiple children that are coming in, and certainly, we’re more than willing to have conversations with families as they come in. We work with families on a case by case basis.
VP: Lawrence is predominantly Latino, prominently Hispanic. Do you see an influx of Latinos coming in and do you see some of the struggles with language issues? Or, because this is more of a private school, is that not so much of a problem?
JH: There are some students who will come in and not have had English as their first language, but because of either previous schooling that they may have had, or the opportunity to come in and really strengthen their skills with language acquisition, particularly if they come in the early grades, the younger grades.
They have an opportunity to go ahead and strengthen their English language ability here with us. Certainly that’s not something that we encounter as an issue, as much as maybe some of our public school counterparts and peers might see, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not something that’s present. Right now, we don’t have separate ESL classes or ELL classes, and we hope the students, wherever they are, we meet them and guide them to where they need to be successful as students.
VP: So my question is, what would you like the readers to come away [with] at the end of reading this story? What is it that you want them to remember?
JH: I’d like for readers to understand that presently, here in the city of Lawrence, a city that I’m proud to be a resident of, a member of the community, to be able to serve in this capacity, to help our children continue to better themselves, pursue their education, in a setting that really looks to develop the whole person, as part of the education here, that we pursue, that they’re going to be academically successful. That they’re going to be students that are successful socially, that we’re looking to continue to prepare, inspire, and produce engaged citizens, that then in turn, know that they have a responsibility to be able to give back to their community.
Hopefully, it’s here, in the city of Lawrence, but many times our students, as all over the country, myself included because I’m originally from Southern California, go out to different communities, but know that then they have an opportunity to continue to impact, in a positive manner, and work toward the common good, and that’s something that happens here on a daily basis at Lawrence Catholic Academy.
There is a school that is dedicated specifically to making sure that the students who come seeking a Catholic faith based education, have an opportunity to do so, and that there are good, dedicated, working faculty, and staff members here who want to make sure that we, along with all educators here in the city of Lawrence, are part of continuing to move the city forward.
We’re proud to be a member of a community here, of Lawrence, and certainly to be able to also help the Merrimack Valley as a whole, because we do have students that come from surrounding towns, not just specifically Lawrence, and that we’re hopeful that we continue to grow, that we absolutely look forward to continuing to see how we might be able to become a stronger member of the community so that everyone can, in fact, get behind what is offered as really the hope for the city of Lawrence and all our cities in the Merrimack Valley.
In terms of really looking at education and how we as a community can help move that forward, so that there can be that continuous improvement for ourselves as a community, as a society.