OLEAN - For some students, even families, public school just does not fit. Some feel the curriculum is too lax, others want more of a structure, still more are looking for an alternative to the status quo.
One school in the Southern Tier region offers an alternative education, from pre-kindergarten to senior year. That school is offering a chance to come in and take a look at what they have to offer. Parents and students can take a look at what the school offers, as well as talk to the teachers and coaches today from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Southern Tier Catholic School (pre-K through grade eight), a perennial fixture of Buffalo Business First's Top Ten list for public schools, offers one class for each grade level. Class sizes average 15 students, according to director of admissions and marketing, Mary Beth Garvin.
Archbishop Walsh High School, with similar class sizes, offers the International Baccalaureate program in junior and senior years, giving students a rigorous curriculum that is designed to prepare them for college through intense classes and innovative teaching methods, to include critical thinking and writing exercises in each and every class.
"The dropout rate for college freshmen is right around 50 percent," Garvin said. "The reason for that is that they are not prepared. We want to make sure each and every student here is ready for that next step. We have a college admissions counselor that helps guide students on the path to where they want to go."
Education at the private school isn't reserved to those in elementary school nor final years of high school. The middle grades are taking part in the International Baccalaureate Programme Middle Years Program. The curriculum, just as rigorous as that in the higher grades, and as effective as those in the elementary grades, according to Garvin, is designed to better prepare students for that final two years of global-level learning as part of the IB program. The Middle Years Program is being implemented as Southern Tier Catholic and Archbishop Walsh apply for candidacy in the program, as they did with the IB program, prior to full accreditation.
To ensure the proper development at a competitive level, on the global scale, students are taught with state-of-the-art technology and classroom design.
"You will not see rows of desks, all facing the front of the room," Garvin said, showing innovated desk centers, each with a technology hub, to encourage collaborative learning within groups. Smart boards are mounted on the walls, big-screened, flat-panel televisions adjacent to each desk cluster, teachers are better able to tailor learning to each student.
That custom-tailored learning is a benefit of the school having a private school designation, Garvin said.
"Being private, we do not have to teach to the tests, as public schools do," she said. "Our teachers are able to teach curriculum based on where their students are, based on MAP testing."
MAP tests measure on aptitude benchmarks. The tests are given in September, as a baseline, and then in February and June, to measure student progress.
"The tests are given in ELA, reading and math," Garvin said. "The results allow teachers to better use differentiated learning methods and tailor the curriculum to their students better than what Common Core seems to allow."
Parents looking out for the diplomas can rest assured. Archbishop Walsh offers New York State Regents, Advanced Regents, International Baccalaureate Certificate, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
"Students with the International Baccalaureate diploma have a 50 percent better chance at the college of their choice, over those without," Garvin said.
For the parents, and students, looking for athletic programs, the school offers a wide variety, including boys and girls basketball, girls volleyball, baseball, softball, golf and boys soccer.
Just because a family is not Catholic does not mean they cannot attend Southern Tier Catholic and Archbishop Walsh, in fact, according to Garvin, only about 40 percent of families that have children at the school are Catholic. Students are required to go to Mass with their class and with the student body, but no one is required to take communion, in fact, the pillar of faith is not part of the services, Garvin said.
The all-important question about the school, but one that Garvin said is not the hurdle many think it is, is the cost of tuition. For a family that is looking to sent a child to the Montessori program at the school, a family can expect to pay $5,500. For Kindergarten through grade eight, $3,950, and from grades nine through 12, $6,200 a school year. For kindergarten through grade 12, the Diocese of Buffalo does offer financial assistance, Garvin said.
"We don't ever want parents to not look at the school based on price," Garvin said. "Over 50 percent of our families do receive some financial assistance. We are willing to take a look at what we can do to make the move to the school affordable. We will do what we can to help. We offer academic scholarships and also have work-study programs available."
Archbishop Walsh is the only private, Catholic high school in the region, Garvin said. "We get calls from parents that have students in some of the other Catholic elementary schools in the area, asking about continuing their child's education with us."