As parents look to instill values in their children, many have turned to Catholic schools for help.
As a result, officials at St. Patrick School in Kent have consistently welcomed an increasing number of students each year and are now working on a plan so they can greet even more.
In the four years Jack Carney has been the school's principal, enrollment has gone up 24 percent and has almost doubled in the last 10 years _ from 189 students in the 1986-87 school year to 367 this school year. The school enrolls students from kindergarten through eighth-grade.
"We attribute it to parents who are looking for a place where Christian values are taught as well as discipline," Carney said. "We try to teach students self-discipline so kids have a respect for their activities."
Carney and other school employees seem to be getting the message across because enrollment continues to increase.
"Our projected enrollment for next year is 392. That's a big increase," he said.
Because of the increases, officials are adding a second class of eighth-graders for the 1998-99 school year, which would make two classes at each grade level. They also are in the process of planning an addition to the building, which is more than a century old.
"We need to look at some additional space," he said, adding that before the plans for an addition are final, the project must be approved by the parish council and finance committee, the church pastor and the bishop.
"If the addition is approved, while construction is going on, we'll make a room at the end of the library for another eighth-grade class for next year, and we'll be hiring an eighth-grade teacher," he said. "Based on the approval, we're hoping we'll have the addition by 1999-2000. The classroom in the library is temporary. It's not very palatable, but it's our only option at this point."
While Carney said he doesn't expect enrollment to keep growing at its current rate, he does project at least another 25 percent will enroll. This year, the school will graduate 23 students, but already has 50 students registered for kindergarten.
"Not only are we growing by kindergartners, but we're growing by other classes. We've picked up kids in a majority of grades," he said. "Also, we seem to be holding onto our kids. I think we'll be hovering around 400 as long as we're meeting the needs perceived by our parents."
Rosemary Cardina, a 12-year teacher at the school, apparently feels the school is meeting the needs of parents. A mother of two, she sent both of her children to St. Patrick.
"I was very happy with their education. My husband and I were the products of a parochial school, and we felt committed to the parish and wanted to see our kids get as much as we did," she said. "I found that all of the teachers care very deeply."
She also said the school gave her children a good start in life. Both have gone on to Catholic high schools.
"My kids have made lifelong friendships. It's growing, but it's still small enough to get to know each other. It's a home away from home really," said Cardina, who began teaching at St. Patrick the same year her daughter began first-grade at the school.
And the increase hasn't negatively affected teachers, or the way they teach their classes.
"There is definitely an increased number of students, but now we have a broader curriculum and a lot of different children with a lot of different needs," Cardina said. "When I came here it was the beginning of the two first-grades.
"Enrollment was starting to increase then, and small classes are important, especially in the primary grades," she added. "Each year I've been here, I've seen the growth, but I think it is positive. We want to see growth because it really challenges us to meet different needs."
Jay Shaw, a science teacher who has taught at the school for seven years, said the teachers have been adapting.
"We now have larger groups, but we divide them up if we need to. It really goes back to what the kids need," she said. "Actually some classes are smaller because there are two grades. The growth is definitely a positive. As we add more teachers, we add more abilities. Also, there is more diversity, which is a plus."
Carney said there appears to be a trend in Catholic school enrollment.
"In northeast Ohio, from what I've been told, there has been definite interest in parochial schools," he said. "I've been told that parents want a little better place to provide an good environment to their kids.
"This is a good school and a safe place to be. I think a lot of times when students start getting in the middle grades, parents become more aware of their kids and are seeing things they don't like," he added. "They want to get them in a place to provide a little less risky environment."
While Carney said the school does have a few admission requirements, he does try to accommodate parents with a real desire to send their children to St. Patrick.
"If a parent comes here and is willing to go the extra mile then I feel as long as we have space and are not detracting from our students, we have a moral obligation to meet their needs," he said.
"We don't want to be an elitist school. That's one of our concerns," he added. "Jesus never considered the elite, he was for the poor and we need to keep that in mind."