Cara Carter had hoped to send her son Conor to a Catholic school, but had resigned herself to the fact that her family could not afford it.
The day she stood with Conor outside Wilmington’s Highland School, ready to enroll him there for kindergarten, she felt a tug across the street toward St. Ann Church and School.
“I kept looking at St. Ann’s, then the Angelus bells began ringing,” signaling the time for a Catholic devotional prayer, Carter recalled. “I took Conor by the hand and walked over and signed him up at St. Ann School.”
That first year was a struggle financially, Carter said. “It was an extreme sacrifice. We had to pinch pennies to buy food. The second year we worried if we could make it.”
Then things seemed to fall into place for the Carters. They learned about tuition assistance grants available through the Diocese of Wilmington to help offset a family’s sacrifice in sending their children to Catholic schools in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The Carters applied for and received a grant for their son, who now is in the fourth grade at St. Ann. “Without the grant it would have been very hard” to keep Conor at St. Ann, Carter said.
282 children helped by grants
Grants totaling $606,400 are helping 282 children attend diocesan Catholic schools this year, according to the diocesan Development Office. The grants cover up to 50 percent of the cost of tuition.
Money for those grants comes from the annual Share in the Spirit collection and from interest accumulated by investments from the diocese’s Vision for the Future Education Trust.
This year’s Share in the Spirit collection will be taken up in parishes Sept. 24-25. Last year’s collection raised more than $243, 500.
The Vision for the Future Education Trust was established by the diocese in the early 1990s, with the first tuition assistance grants awarded in 1993. The Share in the Spirit collection was started in 2005.
Cost and special needs
About 100 miles south of St. Ann School, Linda DePietro thought a Catholic school education for the youngest of her three children was out of the question. The issue was two-fold: Besides the cost factor, Gianna DePietro, like her brother, has special learning needs that require an Individualized Education Program (IEP). When her son was starting school, Linda DePietro said, St. Francis de Sales School in Salisbury, Md., could not provide him an IEP. As a result, he and Gianna’s older sister have attended public schools; he will graduate this year from Parkside High School, where she is a junior.
Linda DePietro presumed St. Francis de Sales still could not accommodate students needing Individualized Education Plans and was resigned to Gianna attending public school as well. But circumstances dictated a change.
“We had a really bad experience” with Gianna in public school, DePietro said. She turned to St. Francis de Sales and learned it could now accommodate students with IEPs. So Gianna was enrolled there. She leaves her regular class for specialized work in reading and math.
“They’ve really worked hard with her. She’s up to grade level in reading and everything. The teachers there, you can’t beat them,” DePietro said. “She loves it. It’s a fun, safe environment.”
A Share in the Spirit-supported grant helps make Gianna’s tuition affordable, said DePietro, who is the food service coordinator for the school. She runs the cafeteria, ordering food and supplies, planning and preparing menus, and organizing volunteers who assist her. “That works well for me. I’ve been involved in food for a while,” she said, noting that her husband, Paul, runs Paul’s Pizza.
Paul DePietro went to Catholic schools in New York, and the couple wanted their children to have the same experience.
Like the DePietros, the Carters had hoped to send their son to Catholic school so he could have the same educational experience they had. Both Cara and her husband Gerald grew up in St. Ann Parish. Cara attended St. Mary Magdalen School, where an uncle taught, and Ursuline Academy; Gerald went to St. Ann’s and then Salesianum.
Even with the tuition assistance grant, the Carters still have to sacrifice for Conor’s tuition to St. Ann. However, “It’s well worth the investment,” Cara Carter said.
Contributions to Share in the Spirit make “it much more possible” not only for her family, she said, but for other people “in my situation who may not be able to afford a Catholic school experience for their children otherwise. I’m very grateful this is an option.”
Her gratitude grows each day when “Conor comes home and tells me something they did in religion that day,” she said. “He loves going to a Catholic school.”
— Gary Morton, special to The Dialog
Gianna DePietro and her mother, Linda, go over some learning exercises with fourth grade teacher Laura Manseuti at St. Francis de Sales School in Salisbury, Md.