Camden Yards fair draws hundreds interested in Catholic schools

March 20, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

A Catholic schools fair brought hundreds of students and parents to Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday for a chance to shop for parochial education opportunities in the area.

Held every spring for the past five years, the fair is one of the chief marketing tools used by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to heighten awareness of its Catholic schools -- and officials say it seems to be paying off.

Enrollment in Catholic elementary and high schools has been increasing by about 1,000 students a year, or about 3 percent, said Dr. Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese. There are 35,000 students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese, he said, almost 27,000 of them at the elementary level.

The trend shows no signs of subsiding, he said. "This growth is expected to be with us through the year 2013." There are about 2,500 student on waiting lists for elementary level alone in the eight counties covered by the archdiocese, he said.

But many at the fair seemed most interested in the high schools.

Admissions officials and students, sporting their school uniforms and school colors, manned booths in an area between the Pastimes and Bambino's restaurants in the ballpark complex.

Parents and children browsed at photo displays and looked at yearbooks and glossy brochures touting the various schools' achievements. Youngsters talked to Catholic school students, and parents asked dozens of questions.

They wanted to know about the schools' academic reputation, class sizes, honors programs, and teacher-student ratios. But they also were concerned about tuition costs, scholarships, financial aid and bus service.

Some were looking years ahead to when their young children will be entering high school.

Susan Phillips of Highlandtown was there with her son, Jason, a fifth-grader at Holy Rosary School. She said Jason, an honor-roll student, has already received an unsolicited introductory letter from Calvert Hall College high school in Towson.

She expressed particular interest in scholarships.

"I'm a single parent. And it's hard enough sending them to elementary school," she said. "He'll end up going wherever he will be happiest, but we also have to consider transportation and finances."

Brian Crumley, a seventh-grader at Golden Ring Middle School, was leaning toward Calvert Hall, he said, because an uncle graduated from there. But his parents, Kathy and Bill Crumley of Rosedale, said they are still exploring "all the options."

Brian was among the public school students looking to make a switch to a private education in high school. His parents said they are unsatisfied with the atmosphere in public schools and are looking for a more academic environment.

"Brian's an honor-roll student and we're concerned about where he will be prepped to go to college. We think private schools will prepare him better," said Mr. Crumley.

Dr. Valenti said the steady increase in Catholic school enrollment has prompted the archdiocese to establish a task force to look into the possibilities for expansion, particularly in elementary education.

He said the committee is considering various methods, including temporarily renting space to use as a school, enlarging existing schools and building new ones. Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Frederick counties are in particular need of more schools, he said.

Meanwhile, Catholic schools are expanding their marketing programs.

Officials at Mount Carmel High in Essex-Middle River, where enrollment has increased from 135 in 1992 to 190 now, say its students are their biggest recruiting tool.

Recruiter Debbie Hanley said she goes to about 30 public and private middle schools a year, taking with her Mount Carmel students who are alumni of the schools they visit.

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