Jean Wieand was so impressed with the Catholic school education her grandchildren received at St. Peter the Apostle School that she made a request of their father.
“Before she passed away, my mom was pretty insistent on my kids going to Catholic schools,” said Charles Wieand. In the three years since Jean Wieand died, he has honored his mother’s wish.
It hasn’t been easy. Wieand said. He was out of work for six months. “It’s hard being single with two kids,” he said, so he asked for and was granted tuition assistance provided in part by the diocese’s annual Share in the Spirit collection.
“It allows me to continue to pay my bills and still have a nice school for my kids to go to that has structure,” Wieand said. His children are sixth-grader Alizabeth and fifth-grader Blaine.
Money raised through the collection and interest from the diocese’s Vision for the Future education trust will provide $579,000 in tuition assistance during the 2011-12 school year for 307 students, including the Wieands, said Deborah Fols, director of the diocese’s development office.
This year’s Share in the Spirit collection will be taken on Sept. 24-25. The collection has raised more than $1.4 million in tuition aid for students since it began in 2005. However, there are more students who need tuition assistance than can be helped by the collection right now. While 307 students are being helped this school year more than 800 families, representing 1,240 students, applied for help, said Fols, whose office oversees the program.
Some diocesan funds used in the past are no longer available as a result of the diocese’s bankruptcy settlement, Fols said. “No longer having access to unrestricted funds reduced the amount of money available for tuition assistance. Last year $700,000 was awarded to 423 students,” whereas this year only $579,000 was available, reducing the awards to 307 students.
To help all the students whose families qualified, Fols said, the diocese would need $3,689,059.
Still, Share in the Spirit “promotes strong Catholic schools by providing tuition dollars in support of quality academics and the faith formation of our students,” according to Catholic Schools’ superintendent Cathy Weaver. Share in the Spirit’s “impact has been real and important to the sustainability of our schools.”
Those who support the collection, Fols said, also have a stake in continuing more than 170 years of Catholic schools’ efforts to teach students “to honor the dignity of each human person and encouraging them to grow in the image and likeness of God. They are not only assisting children whose families are yearning for the excellence of a Catholic education, but they are also helping to continue the Catholic school tradition, ensuring that our values remain strong in the next generation.”
For Natalie Cooper, that faith-centered environment, combined with her parents’ example, led her to seek help so her son, Benedict Jouridine, could continue in the fourth grade at Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md.
“It’s a matter of the values that are instilled in Catholic schools,” said Cooper. “It’s seamless: What you learn at home, the values you learn at church, they carry over to the Catholic school as well.”
But as a single parent trying to keep her child in Catholic school, “it’s a challenge.” She reminds herself of the sacrifices her parents made to provide their 10 children a Catholic education in Liberia.
Still, when she was notified she would receive assistance this year, “it was kind of a big burden being released.”
In Wilmington, Teresa Oliver-Bell agonized over the mounting tuition she would have to pay for two daughters, Diauna in grade six and Darielle in grade five, to attend the Cathedral of St. Peter School and for a third daughter, Darian, a junior at St. Elizabeth High.
“I was pulling hairs, thinking what am I going to do, how am I going to do it? I think I would have had to work two, three jobs and I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”
She did not want to compromise her children’s education — “that means more to me than anything” — and the younger girls “were very concerned about not being a part of St. Peter’s” if the economics could not be worked out.
“When I thought I would have to take the children out, their hearts were pounding,” Oliver-Bell said. “My children really love that school; they embrace it.”
Her children are again at St. Peter’s, thanks to tuition assistance through Share in the Spirit.
Wieand knows first-hand what it is like to be pulled out of a school because of finances. As a child, he attended Holy Spirit School in New Castle until “my parents could not afford it.” Looking back, he believes he could have used the structure Catholic schools provide, something he values especially for his son.
Besides, his children are at home at St. Peter’s.
“Once you’ve been going to that school for so long,” he said, “it’s kind of hard for me not to let my kids go back.”
Thanks to the Share in the Spirit collection, he did not have to make that decision this year.
“Money should never be the overriding factor when parents decide whether they can send their children to a Catholic school,” Fols said. “Catholic education should be in reach to any parent whose desire is to place their child in a learning environment where Jesus is the center of all that they do.”