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Catholic preschools continue to open across the archdiocese

January 23, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

The number of Catholic preschools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco has increased dramatically in the last dozen years. From six in 2002, there will be 23 by the end of this school year.

St. Pius Preschool in Redwood City opened during the 2013-14 school year and Holy Angels Preschool in Colma opened its doors Nov. 3. School of the Nativity in Menlo Park just finished a 900-foot wing for the preschool which is slated to open this spring.

“Enrollment’s thriving. The need for preschool is tremendous,” said Lauri Hill, director of St. Pius Preschool, a Montessori influenced school. Maria Montessori was an Italian Catholic physician and educator who opened her first Montessori school in 1907. Hill has brought her philosophy of education to three schools so far in the archdiocese. She started the Star of the Sea preschool in 2007, Immaculate Heart of Mary’s preschool in Belmont in 2010 and St. Pius in 2013.

“She had a pretty profound understanding,” said Hill about Montessori. “It really is about community building, allowing the family to have one central community supporting their faith – 3-year-olds through eighth grade.”

“What makes it different than a state school or secular school is really the spiritual development of the child and the spiritual development within the families,” said Hill. “We can talk about God. Really talk about him. We can live it. We don’t teach religion. I tell parents, ‘it’s in everything we do.’”

There were just six Catholic preschools in 2002, when Maureen Huntington began her tenure as superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. In April 2009, preschools were placed within the Catholic school system, just as the number of preschools accelerated. As of September 30, 2014, archdiocesan Catholic schools had 820 preschoolers enrolled, Huntington said.

Nationally, preschool enrollment is on the rise as well, according to National Catholic Education Association statistics. In the 2013-14 school year, 158,537 students were enrolled in preschool, up from 150,422 a decade earlier. That compares to an aggregate national decline in elementary enrollment during the same time period from 1.9 million to 1.4 million, according to the NCEA website.

“Preschools are good for the families and the children, and certainly for the enrollment,” Hill noted. Preschools are an excellent feeder to the elementary school’s kindergarten, school officials said.

For Hill, the preschool is also a wonderful way for young families to return to the Catholic Church, beginning with the parents’ visit to the preschool to check it out without their child.

“That’s the beauty of the parents I meet. They come in, young 30s, and say, ‘We’ve been away for a while, sorry. Now we have this most precious thing in our lives.’ And we just say, welcome home,” said Hill.

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