ASSUMPTION HILL – Are things simply the way they appear? Or does perception become reality?
Those are questions that Lebanon Catholic School faces on a near daily basis, and one that the parochial school has become quite adept at handling. After all, LCS is in the God business.
For years, there have been rumors whispered around town that the little school on Chestnut Street is closing, or at least headed down that path. But while Lebanon Catholic might only be a shadow of its former self, it may very well be that the private school is as healthy as it possibly can be.
It is what it is. And acceptance is the first step in understanding.
“No, the school has never come close to closing,” said Rose Kury, who’s in her second year as Lebanon Catholic’s principal. “Since I’ve been working here (1983), we were closing every year. But we’re still here. Whoever is saying that doesn’t keep up with Lebanon Catholic. We’re actively putting ourselves out there, and we haven’t tooted our own horns enough. It’s only getting better.
“From an administrative standpoint, that’s what we try to combat,” Kury continued. “We’re out there putting our best foot forward. We’ve been closing for decades. But we’re going to be open for decades to come. There are too many people with too much invested in Lebanon Catholic. Come into the school. When (outside) students shadow, they love it. If you come in, you’ll see what we’re talking about.”
The current enrollment at Lebanon Catholic, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade – is hovering around 330 students. That is a number which is higher than recent years, but nowhere close to the heyday of Lebanon Catholic.
This year’s graduating class is around 38 students, which is typically a large number for LCS classes, but significantly larger than the Class of 2012’s 16. Currently, the smallest class at Lebanon Catholic contains about 14 students.
The cost of tuition for students ranges from $4,125 per year for high-schoolers, to $3,695 for middle-schoolers to $3,245 for elementary-aged children. The school offers multi-children discounts and financial aid for economically-challenged families.
Kury insisted that money should never be a reason for students not to come to Lebanon Catholic.
“It has been declining, because of the economy,” said Kury. “But enrollment is coming up. It’s up three percent from last year. I think we’re at the end of those lean years. I would say the last two years the enrollment has increased. The downfall was a good five years. But what you saw was a lull in the economy.
“I think more than anything,” Kury continued, “I’d love to change the opinion of people, that it is a vital school. The graduates who leave here are contributing members of society.”
Lebanon Catholic High was officially established on Willow Street in the city in 1929, but boasts roots back to the 1860s through Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish on North Eighth Street in Lebanon. Lebanon Catholic moved to its current location on Assumption Hill and became a Harrisburg diocesan high school in 1959, then enjoyed its largest enrollment in school history in the early 1960s, in some cases more than 100 students per class.
At one time, Lebanon Catholic High School was populated by four elementary schools.
In 1989, with the addition of the seventh and eighth grades, Lebanon Catholic High School became Lebanon Catholic Junior-Senior High School, and at that time enrollment was 265 students. In 2001, Lebanon Catholic School was born, and the kindergarten-through-12th-grade enrollment was 485 students.
“There are so many variables to account for the decrease,” said Kury. “When the school became consolidated (in 2001), there was a big influx in students, and at that time, the administration increased the tuition. At that point, they were looking to accommodate a number of needs. The ones who couldn’t go with the jump didn’t.
“In the city of Lebanon, we went from a steel industry to one without it,” added Kury. “There was a strong economic base. That has left the area. It’s a totally different city since the (19)60s and 70s. Obviously it has affected our institution.”
While Lebanon Catholic is the largest private school in Lebanon County, it is not the only one. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lebanon Christian Academy, New Covenant Christian Academy and then Blue Mountain Christian Academy were founded.
Currently, Lebanon Christian Academy’s enrollment is 55 K-through-12 students, down from a high of 200 in the 1990s (LCA’s tuition is $4,400 per student per year). New Covenant’s enrollment is believed to be over 200 students, in grades kindergarten-through-12.
“It is the case,” said Kury, of not allowing finances to stand in the way of pursuing a Roman Catholic education. “We want to work with our families, in all regards. Costs should not be the reason that parents don’t send their students here. There are a number of ways we can help parents.
“The tuition is very, very affordable,” Kury added. “We also have scholarships to offset the tuition. Half of our student population receives some sort of financial aid or another.”
Lebanon Catholic is supported by three parishes in Lebanon, one in Myerstown, one in Jonestown, one in Cornwall, one in Annville, one in Palmyra and one in Hershey, and is overseen by a board of directors. At one point, Catholic students from the Palmyra and Hershey parishes were ‘compelled’ to go to Lebanon Catholic.
That is no longer the case. Kury estimated that Lebanon Catholic now enrolls one or two students from the western most regions of Lebanon County.
“Since I’ve been here, the amount of children from that area has been very small,” said Kury. We’d love to have them. But there are protocols concerning what we can and can not advertise. We’re in partnership with St. Joan’s (in Hershey). What is best for parents, as far as distance, that’s what they base their decisions on.
“We do strategical planning,” continued Kury. “We want to put our best foot forward. If we can put kids in our elementary school, they’re here for life. They want to go through. It’s like a family.”
Not every student who attends Lebanon Catholic is Catholic or practices the Catholic faith. And conversely, a very small percentage of practicing Catholics in Lebanon County send their children to Lebanon Catholic, for a variety of reasons.
“I’m not sure why,” said Kury. “We certainly provide them with all the religious education and character development. We’re a very strong academic institution. Ninety-four percent of our graduates go on to post secondary education. Maybe they’re (local Catholics) not quite informed.
“The students we are getting come from public schools,” continued Kury. “Once they get here, we have shadow days. They either need to be challenged or are looking for a new environment.”
Lebanon Catholic School is part of the Harrisburg Diocese.
“They’re like the superintendent,” said Kury of the diocese. “They give us direction and support in many ways. They provide us with tools to succeed. They do provide some financial assistance. The diocese gives the Newman scholarship, which is a big contributor, to all schools within the diocese. It’s kind of hard to disseminate. Our parents and benefactors help finance the school, but so does the diocese.”
While things are on an upswing at Lebanon Catholic, it’s difficult to imagine the school ever returning to its ‘Glory Days’ of the 1960s.
“There’s a lot of factors pointing to that direction,” said Kury. “Obviously it is my hope it will get to the point where we’ere growing in that direction. I think word-of-mouth is the key. I don’t think we’ve tooted our horns enough. There’s so many reasons why the school is appreciated in this community.
“I would say our prospects are very good, and very promising for the future,” Kury concluded. “I’m very optimistic. We have a lot of participation in the community.”