BROOKFIELD—The Diocese of Bridgeport will launch the first parochial school of its kind in Fairfield County in July, when it reorganizes St. Joseph School into multi-age classrooms that encourage personalized learning.
The new classroom model, which is sometimes called blended learning, will group students of different ages according to their abilities, and use technology to help children learn at their own pace.
“The great thing about this is if it works here, this can be a model for many of the other Catholic schools that might be receptive to it,” said the Rev. George O’Neill, pastor of St. Joseph Church.
St. Joseph Catholic Academy, as the new entity is called, represents a resurrection for a 65-year-old parochial school that has been struggling with low enrollment.
The new academy will be able to survive with fewer students because it requires fewer teachers. It will be organized into five “bands” that blend grade levels: preschool 3- and 4-year-olds; kindergarten through second grade; third and fourth grades; fifth and sixth grades; and seventh and eighth grades.
The academy, which was proposed by Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano in January, is being billed as an educational alternative for parents who think their children will thrive in a personalized learning environment.
Although the bishop said he believed in the idea and considered it a better alternative than closing a school that the diocese was subsidizing with $200,000 annually, he wanted it to be the school’s decision to make the change.
Caggiano promised to invest $200,000 for teacher training and classroom technology to make the academy successful, but he said the decision depended on parents buying into the idea.
This week, the diocese said 80 children from families with students in the parochial school had signed up for the new academy. The diocese hopes to sign up at least 20 more students.
If the diocese meets its 100-student goal, it would represent a 33 percent drop in its current enrollment. But with the academy model, St. Joseph’s will need half the number of teachers.
“This is a great example of what can happen when people put their heads together to figure out what is possible, instead of making a decision (to close) and moving on,” said Steven Cheeseman, the diocese’s superintendent of schools.
Mary Maloney, the president of Immaculate High School, will be the interim head of the school during the inaugural year. The school principal will be replaced by a director who will also teach class, the diocese said. The academy will have a coach to support teachers and a personalized learning coordinator.