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Archive for Friday, January 27, 1995

S SCHOOL APART

January 27, 1995

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Lawrence's only Catholic school will join others across the country in celebrating next week.

Stereotypes dissolve quickly in the hallways of St. John's School.

The children wear today's fashion -- no starched uniforms. The building is cinder-block and tile, with artwork pasted everywhere, the hallmark of any school hallway. Teachers wear their "grubbies," jeans and sweatshirts, because it's clean-up day. Sister Susan wields a bottle of tile cleaner, not a ruler.

Beginning Sunday, St. John's, 1208 Ky., will celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and teachers and students are busy polishing the building.

Not only do St. John's and public schools look similar, Principal Pat Newton said, they also offer similar programs.

"In the 21 years I've been here, we've tried very hard to be as progressive and as good for kids as we possibly can," she says.

With 301 pupils in kindergarten to sixth grade, St. John's is Lawrence's only Catholic school. The two parishes in town support the school for its Catholic members, and 26 families who aren't Catholic pay $2,100 a year in tuition.

Quality Performance Accreditation is no stranger here. Neither is the concept of multi-age classrooms. Religion is the primary ingredient that sets St. John's apart.

A first-grader stands on the podium beneath the vaulted arch of the sanctuary, doing her part for the weekly prayer service for kindergartners and first-graders. Parents watch from the pews, some pointing video cameras.

"One day, someone asked Jesus, 'Who is my neighbor?'" she recites, beginning the story of the Good Samaritan.

The Armstrongs, a family that moved to Lawrence about five months ago from Pennsylvania, enter the sanctuary, kneel and slide into a pew.

They are considering St. John's for their son, John, a fifth-grader at one of Lawrence's public schools. During a tour of the building, Jeanette Armstrong says she's looking for structure, academic challenge and religious values for John.

"In public schools, and it's somewhat understandable, you have so much variation from classroom to classroom," she says.

John says he has liked what he has seen and will probably switch to St. John's.

The principal says between two and four children transfer into the school each year, some who move into the area and some who want a change from public schools.

"We're not in competition with the public schools," she says. "We just do the best job we can."

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