By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
For many years, decades probably, students and teachers at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic School have been doing without.
A dwindling enrollment quickly illustrated its effect on the Pleasant Grove campus: lack of instructional supplies, outdated textbooks, age-old equipment and infrastructure, and low teacher pay, to name a few casualties.
Yet, according to administrators and other school officials, student achievement has not waned—with 100 percent of its graduates in recent years receiving high school diplomas and entering college—a formidable feat for a school with a majority Hispanic enrollment and a demographic whose national high school dropout rate is more than 50 percent.
School enrollment jumped 25 percent this year, giving the school some financial breathing room. And now to help confront the school’s challenges and bolster the students’ achievements is a group called “The Friends of St. Philip.” It is a team of volunteers and benefactors that over the past 18 months has either donated its time, talent or treasure to St. Philip or has found others to do the same.
“Many of the parishes in the north have people on their boards or parents or families that when the school puts the word out that they need help, they respond because they have resources available to them,” said Mary Emma Karam, who helped start the ad-hoc group.
Some of the needs may include Crayons, printer paper and cartridges and other teacher supplies to essentials like new textbooks.
Facing the challenge
Karam, whose family helped found St. Philip church and school and who along with several of her siblings are alumni, has requested the help of contacts she developed over the years while sitting on school or community boards in other parts of the city.
“Because the school is in an economically depressed area, for the last five years or so, there has been a fair amount of financial stress,” said Frank Miele, the president of the school’s advisory board. “With the advent of this group we’ve been very successful in getting grant money and getting people to donate and to bring up the quality of the school. It is so important for the kids there. They just need a chance.”
And with the help of the group, St. Philip has started to see a transformation.
Doing their part
White ceramic marker boards have replaced most of the aging chalk boards, thanks to donations by Mark Claerhout, Karam’s brother-in-law and a parishioner at St. Monica Catholic Church. His family’s company, Claerhout & Associates, also donated 200 feet of cork strips to replace its aging predecessor so that teachers can hang students’ artwork in the hallways.
State-of-the-art blinds, thanks to Charles and Mark Abide of Sol Solutions, replaced older, brittle and yellowing venetians blinds or construction paper that covered the windows.
John Holloran of Impartial Services donated 25 computers and software.
Nancy Poinsatte has written many of the grant requests and Cathy Edwards Thomas, an alum, donated English and writing books.
Ted Tobolka donated some athletic equipment, resurfaced the playground and helped obtain and coordinate the school’s internet infrastructure upgrade.
Miele, the school council president, said that with student enrollment up now to 152 students teachers were given a raise.
“A lot of the teachers will buy things themselves to bring to the classrooms even though they are not paid very well, just so that the kids will not go without,” Miele said.
On April 15, the school and parish will get one of the most-dramatic upgrades in years, with a new football field and amenities, a community garden and an entertainment pavilion, thanks to the donation by employees and volunteers of Ewing Irrigation Systems, Inc.
The wish list for the school continues, of course, with prayers for more basics such as a solution to a patched-up HVAC system.