October 3, 2013


St. Mary’s to add eighth grade

GradeJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
St. Mary’s Elementary School homeroom teacher Eileen Hoyt teaches Andy Ryan, left, and Samantha Brafman, right, Monday while reading the book War Horse on iPads.

Staff Reporter

For the first time in over 20 years, St. Mary’s Elementary School is offering a seventh grade class, with plans for eighth grade class next year.
In addition to the 13 students enrolled in the North Main Street school’s seventh grade, St. Mary’s has another 207 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Of the 13 currently in seventh grade, ten are from the Cortland School District, two are from Homer and one is from McGraw.
The school’s new seventh grade and upcoming eighth grade have been met with excitement and approval from students and parents alike, said Principal Denise Hall.
“Parents have been requesting this for years,” Hall said. “They have expressed that they feel that seventh and eighth grade are very formative years and they want their children in St. Mary’s.”
St. Mary’s class additions come despite a nationwide trend of decreasing enrollment in Catholic schools.
The National Catholic Education Association estimated that Catholic school enrollment is down 1.5 percent since the last school year, and that 148 schools have closed against only 28 new schools opening. Though St. Mary’s enrollment experienced steady decline in the decade leading up to the 2011-12 school year, it has remained steady since then, actually increasing between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.
In a departure from lower grade levels, St. Mary’s seventh-grade students move around to a variety of different teachers throughout the school week. Though Hall said that there are no concrete plans to hire new teachers, she did say that the school has received more applications than the previous three years combined.
Seventh-graders also have more academic options. They choose between studying French and Spanish, and also have the option of taking advanced math classes.
“Our educational program meets all of the New York state program requirements for seventh grade,” said Hall. “Classes will prepare students for a New York state Regents diploma, and will also prepare them to be role models and leaders of our community.”
Andy Jewett, a Cortland resident whose children, Michael and Molly, are sixth and seventh grade students at St. Mary’s, said that the decision to continue sending his son to St. Mary’s instead of Cortland High School was largely dependent on St. Mary’s smaller class size.
“There are so few education hours in the day,” said Jewett. “There is so little time for the teachers to teach and the students to learn. In a small classroom, the educational potential is maximized.”
Jewett, who, like his own father, attended St. Mary’s, said that he and his wife plan to have Michael in the eighth grade come next year and also to have Molly enrolled in the seventh grade.
“We have no reason to think we would do anything different,” said Jewett. “I have no doubt we’ve made the right decision.”
As part of enhanced student instruction, St. Mary’s also purchased iPads for the entirety of its seventh grade class as a means of doing quick research, reading required texts and for organizational purposed, Hall said.
Tuition costs for St. Mary’s 2013-14 school year are $3,570, though Hall said that financial aid is available.
Hall said that the implementation of next year’s eighth grade will be “a natural addition,” as research and planning has already been completed.
The move to seventh- and eighth-grade offerings comes as part of a three-year commitment on the part of St. Mary’s. After those three years, the level of enrollment and interest in the seventh and eighth grade offerings will determine whether or not the grades will be continued.
“We will assess at the end of the 2015-16 school year,” said Hall.


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