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St. Joseph Academy to close

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Published April 13. 2018 04:12PM

For decades, Catholics from the Jim Thorpe area have attended St. Joseph Regional Academy for their elementary school years. However with enrollment declining about two-thirds since 2014, church officials have decided to close the school

The Diocese of Allentown sent a letter to parents Friday afternoon informing them of plans to close St. Joseph’s at the end of the school year.

The closure will leave Carbon County with only one Catholic elementary school, St. John Neumann Regional School, which has a campus in Palmerton. Our Lady of the Angels in Lansford closed in 2016 and Ss. Peter and Paul in Lehighton closed in 2014.

The diocese said in a news release on Friday that only 41 children have been registered for the next school year at SJRA. The low enrollment would mean that parents and the school’s sponsoring parishes — St. Peter the Fisherman in Lake Harmony, Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph in Jim Thorpe, and SS. Peter and Paul in Lehighton — would have to pay more next year to keep the school open. And it said even with the increased cost, there was no guarantee that the quality of education would remain the same.

“There would have been an adverse impact on parents because of higher tuition and higher fundraising expectations, an adverse impact on the parishes due to the increased financial requirements, and an adverse impact on students because the financial burdens and low enrollment would impact the quality of education they received,” the release stated.

Based on that information, Bishop Alfred A. Schlert had accepted the Diocesan Board of Education and Council of Priests’ recommendation to close the school.

Beloved school

Parents past and present said they were heartbroken by the decision to close the building.

For Kathy Goff, St. Joseph’s was a family tradition. She followed in the footsteps of her mother, aunts and grandmother, who all attended the school. When her children were born, she moved back to the area from New York so they could attend.

“Did I expect this day to come? Yes, but not until several years down the road. My hope was to get both of my children through the school. Now my daughter is not going to have that opportunity,” Goff said.

Geralyn Hartman was the first of two generations to attend St. Joseph’s. She recalled how the school welcomed her and enriched her Catholic faith following the unexpected death of her father.

“Moving from New Jersey, I was only a little kid — I started in the middle of fifth grade and I loved it,” she said.

Later, she would send her two children there. She said they’ve thanked her for their Catholic education, which has helped propel them to successful careers in the medical field.

“My kids got an excellent education. They would not be where they were today without it,” Hartman said. “I had tears in my eyes when I saw it because it’s just so sad. Everybody was so close knit,” Hartman said.

Some parents said that the environment at St. Joseph’s has been more like a family or a small community than a public school.

Jesse Walck’s two children are currently students at the school. He said the school was tight knit, and also in proximity for Catholics from Lehighton, Jim Thorpe and Nesquehoning.

“It’s almost a family atmosphere, and it’s nice for the kids to be able to have that. They’ll definitely miss that,” he said.

Goff, who served as president of St. Joseph’s Home and School Association, which each year raised $50,000 for the operation of the school, said students were always willing to chip in to help the school. They would hold family nights during the summer where students would voluntarily paint, clean and pull weeds. When they switched to a new food service provider, a group of former students came in on the last day of their summer vacation to help get the cafeteria ready.

“That just goes to show you what kind of atmosphere we have. The kind of kids we send out in the world are willing to come back and do that,” Goff said.

Next year

Tamaqua’s Catholic elementary school, St. Jerome’s, is moving to the former Rush Township Elementary School this summer.

In the letter to parents, the diocese said St. Joseph Regional Academy parents would be offered grants if their child continues in another Catholic elementary school in the diocese.

There are still plans in place to provide bus transportation to Marian High School from Lehighton, Jim Thorpe and Lake Harmony, and that bus will also serve the new St. Jerome’s school.

The Home and School Association plans to honor its pledge to raise $50,000 for the school this year. It will still be sponsoring the end-of-year dance, blue and gold day, and an upcoming play at Mauch Chunk Opera House.

It wants to make sure the rest of the year is purposeful and memorable. The association plans to invite past students and teachers back to celebrate the school before it closes.

“We want to make sure they leave here with good feelings and knowing that everybody did what they could, and go out with a bang. We don’t want to go away quietly,” Goff said.

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