St. Elizabeth school grows and changes Survival: Private donors help the Catholic school continue to serve its Baltimore neighborhood.

March 29, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Catherine Marshall is surrounded by a gaggle of preschoolers who demand her affections. Not a single child will leave her side before sneaking a hug or stealing a kiss.

Marshall's day has just begun. By the time the day is done, the principal of the Southeast Baltimore Catholic Academy's St. Elizabeth of Hungary Campus will have lavished her attentions on an untold number of students, helped others with their classwork and found a few lost jackets on the playground.

Over the past year, there have been many changes at St. Elizabeth. Marshall, who is completing her first year there, is only one of them. In September, the school adopted a new name and embraced more than 30 new students.

St. Elizabeth has survived the scrutiny of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which last year closed or restructured schools troubled by changing demographics and economics.

"Our school was saved by the commitment of corporations and the Abell Foundation," said Marshall. "The resources they've donated is what has made it possible for many of our students to receive a Catholic education."

Enrollment at St. Elizabeth has increased 21 percent since September 1996. The school's 208 students are from a mix of backgrounds. Flags representing 17 nations -- including France, Italy, Korea and Ghana -- adorn St. Elizabeth's first-floor hall in honor of the students' cultural diversity.

"I love my new school," said Tysha Whitby, 8, who transferred in October to St. Elizabeth from Commodore John Rodgers, a public elementary school. "I get more attention from my teacher here. If I have a problem, she's always right there."

Tysha is one of five children attending the school through a scholarship program funded by the Abell Foundation. The nonprofit organization will donate up to $414,000 to the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the next eight years.

Through the Abell program, all children whose parents buy homes from the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. are eligible for a scholarship that covers the cost of up to nine years of tuition at St. Elizabeth. Tuition is $2,600 per year.

'A lot of new friends'

"I wanted Jerel to have a Christian-based education, but I also wanted to buy my own home. If it weren't for this program, I couldn't afford to do both," said Jacinta Brown, 27, who bought a two-story rowhouse in the 100 block of N. Streeper St. last year for $40,000. She and her 8-year-old son, Jerel, moved into the house in May.

"It was hard at first, getting used to a new school," Jerel said. "But I have a lot of new friends, here at school and in my neighborhood. And I like my classes, especially math."

The Abell Foundation is one of several private donors providing tuition assistance to the city's Roman Catholic schools in an attempt to secure their future. Through a corporate gift program announced in January, several businesses will provide more than $6.5 million in tuition assistance to youngsters who could not otherwise afford to attend.

"It shows what a committed community can do to bring about positive change, to help the church maintain a Catholic presence in the inner city," said Marshall, whose career as an educator began two decades ago in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. "Their commitment is what attracted me to this school."

Changing neighborhood

St. Elizabeth opened on Lakewood Avenue in 1902. In its heyday, more than 1,000 children attended the school. But urban flight and changing economics in the Patterson Park neighborhood caused a decline in enrollment. Community leaders and groups like the Abell Foundation are trying to reverse the trend.

Marshall, a former middle school teacher, visited St. Elizabeth last spring after learning that the school needed a principal. Dick Gatto, St. Elizabeth's former principal, left in June to take a position with the Shrine of the Little Flower, another Catholic school in Baltimore.

"I fell instantly in love," Marshall said of her first visit to St. Elizabeth. She reflected briefly on her first day as principal before moving on to more important matters. A student needed help with his phonics lesson.

"Every day is different," Marshall said. "Every day holds new challenges."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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