Thursday, 01 September 2011 13:07
By Joe Rodriguez
WICHITA – Family fragmentation, generational poverty, and a shortage of adult role models are just a few of the factors students of Holy Savior Catholic Academy deal with on a daily basis. So when Pastor Father James Billinger and Principal Delia Shropshire received notification recently of state assessment successes from the Kansas Department of Education, they knew it was the result of the academy’s focus on encouragement, evangelization, and educational excellence.
Students and educators at Holy Savior Catholic Academy received word in June that 100 percent of the academy’s seventh-grade students met the state’s academic standard in science. In addition, 88 percent of the seventh graders met the standards in reading, and 100 percent met the standards in math. All three scores marked dramatic increases from 2010. Each helped the school earn Standard of Excellence recognitions in each category.
Other grades up, too
The success on the state assessments was visible in other grades, as well. In all areas of testing, the percentage of students meeting academic standards either equaled or increased from last year in 11 of 14 areas.
For a school where only 30 percent of students reside with both parents, the news was further confirmation of what Father Fr. Billinger and Principal Shropshire already knew: That through determination and faith, the social ills resulting from poverty can be managed and often reversed.
Holy Savior serves all faiths
Holy Savior serves primarily African American children and youth of Northeast Wichita, pre-K through eighth grade, with 72 percent coming from a low socio-economic level. Although the academy operates under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, its mission is to serve students of all faiths and as such 80 percent of HSCA students are people of other faith traditions.
With 175 children currently enrolled, student education is funded through a combination of parishioner tithing, tuition payments for non-parishioners, and private donations. “We simply could not provide this apostolate of Catholic education and make a great difference in the lives of our students without the assistance of many individuals outside of our parish,” said Fr. Billinger. The cost to educate averages $5,000 per child per year, or nearly $1 million annually.
Students back approach
The academy’s unique academic approach is winning the support of students as well. Mystic Ross, a student since pre-kindergarten and now preparing to enter seventh grade this fall, appreciates the attention she has received in the small school setting. “It is like a family,” said Mystic. “You really feel like the staff and everyone there is always there to help me and everyone else.”
Fr. Billinger also noted that Holy Savior provides a self-supporting food pantry across 13th Street from the Parish campus at 12th and Indiana. God’s Food Pantry is a Holy Savior Church ministry, staffed entirely by volunteers from the parish and other Catholic churches, and funded by private donations. It serves about 500 area households with twice monthly food provisions.
Pivotal time for school
With enrollment increased from 81 students in 2004 to 175 students in 2010, and academic proficiencies on the rise, Fr. Billinger knows it’s a pivotal time for Holy Savior Catholic Academy.
“Now that we’ve seen the great impact we can make in the lives of our students and families, we envision building a new school on our current campus where students may be free to explore their educational dreams,” he said. “We believe God has inspired this vision.” Earlier this year the staff went to work on the school’s gymnasium stripping tile, removing asbestos, clearing away clutter and renovating the kitchen, now providing a recreational environment for students.
The top priority is to unify onto one property the school campus with the existing church campus, said Fr. Billinger. Initial plans call for the school to have 12 classrooms, each 1,000 square feet; a science lab; a media center; a computer/technology lab; a cafeteria/commons; a gymnasium; and space to office school counselors, a nurse and administrative offices.
A gift of $1 million has been pledged from a private donor and additional donors are being sought to position the academy for expansion as it endeavors to enlighten young minds, souls and hearts with its faith-filled mission of education. A development committee has been formed of parishioners, staff, business leaders and community volunteers to establish community connections and strengthen the academy’s support network.
Gwynne Birzer, a Holy Savior parishioner and Development Committee member, believes in the academy’s unique offering and academic vision. “Holy Savior Catholic Academy is a special place,” said Birzer.
“It’s well-situated in the northeast community and it provides a holistic experience that centers on family, faith and academics – with a belief that no one stands alone.” Birzer is an attorney at Hite, Fanning & Honeyman.
“We have a marvelous opportunity to deepen the faith of our Catholic children, support the Christian faith of others, and invite those children and families without a church into the life of Holy Savior Catholic Church,” Fr. Billinger said.
Rodriguez is director of development for the parish and school.