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Staff, families pitch in to reduce tuition at Trinity

Leaders cut expenses to keep Catholic education affordable for all families

Published: May 3, 2016   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Trinity Junior High School’s “mow men” care for the school’s 28-acre plot each week. They include Tim Ellsworth (back row, from left), Jacob Maestri, Steve Werley, Jason Wewers, Father John Antony (middle row, from left), Joe Pennington, Jack Grote, Clint Kindrick, Preston Dubina (front row, from left), Mike Kimberly and Dan Smith.

FORT SMITH — Trinity Junior High School gave its families a pleasant surprise for the 2016-17 school year, lowering tuition by $629 for parishioners and non-Catholic families.

“It caused a significant buzz in the parishes,” principal Dr. Karen Hollenbeck said. “Folks are just appreciative that we understand the sacrifices they make and try to keep tuition affordable.”

Tuition for a Catholic student this fall will be $4,975 a year, representing an 11-percent decrease from the 2015-2016 school year.

Father John Antony, Trinity’s administrator, sees the discount as an integral component of the school’s mission.

“Catholic schools weren’t founded to provide education to those who had lots of opportunity; it was to educate the poor and immigrants. We understand that the middle class faces challenges in affording tuition, too.” Father John Antony

“Catholic schools weren’t founded to provide education to those who had lots of opportunity; it was to educate the poor and immigrants,” he said. “We understand that the middle class faces challenges in affording tuition, too, and that if we could lower tuition significantly it could make a difference.”

The school has several need-based scholarship programs awarded through the Catherine McAuley Fund. Families can apply for assistance by filling out a needs assessment form through FACTS Management.

The tuition reduction was accomplished without asking the parish councils of the local Catholic elementary schools for any additional support, and enrollment has increased for the coming school year.

Father Antony set the pace for hands-on education by leading a team of 20 “mow men” in mowing the school’s 28-acre campus each week, resulting in significant savings in the landscaping budget. Parents painted the school’s interior a few summers ago, and another volunteer painted the locker room over spring break.

“We ask for 10 hours of volunteer work per family each year, but most families do a lot more,” Hollenbeck said. “Our teachers look at their teaching as a ministry. We clean the cafeteria and gym ourselves, and students police the cafeteria after lunch.”

Father Antony is traveling to every parish in the West River Valley Deanery, speaking at all Masses to thank people for their support, ask for more support and encourage sixth graders to think about Trinity for seventh, eighth and ninth grades.

Mike Charlton, director of advancement, began the “Think Trinity” poster campaign. The lightbulb posters and decals with the slogan began appearing on lawns and vehicles around town. Charlton accepted the part-time position after retiring as a businessman.

“We just had a ‘pre-union’ event for students in feeder elementary schools, serving dinner, sending the kids off on a scavenger hunt and educating parents on the value of a Trinity education,” he said.

The Quiz Bowl team’s state championship win inspired a recent fundraiser, pitting Father Antony and a team of priests called the Men in Black against the Buffs in Blue Quiz Bowl team. The students won.

The reduction in tuition was accomplished without laying off any teachers.

“We streamlined office details, upgraded some areas to be more effective and added more technology. We now have one computer for every two seventh and eighth-grade students, and would like to get to a 1/1 ratio,” Hollenbeck said. “We increased our wireless capability and hired a full-time information technology director to work on upgrading our systems and teach some technology classes.”

Trinity’s athletic program is in a new conference this year and will start the 2016-2017 football season with a new football coach, John Vitale, who recently served as the assistant coach at Van Buren High School. Students have taken over publication of the school’s weekly newsletter and are getting ready to take over the yearbook. The choir club, led by Christ the King vocal music teacher Rebecca Smith, has expanded its practice schedule, and retired high school drama teacher Joanne Elsken and her husband Mike still work with an active drama club.

While Trinity’s academics, school spirit and lower tuition are incentives for families to choose Trinity for their junior high students, Father Antony and administrators never forget Trinity’s main advantage — a faith-based education augmented by weekly Mass, regular confession and annual retreats.

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