St. Philip School combats middle school enrollment drop

St. Philip School combats middle school enrollment drop

SMITHFIELD – When enrollment at St. Philip School began to drop a few years ago, the private Catholic school, educating children age 3 to grade 8, started the process of developing programs marketed to families, much like public schools.

Now in her first year at the school, Meghan Martelli, advancement and enrollment coordinator at St. Philip’s, 618 Putnam Pike, said her position was created to combat enrollment declines and to work with prospective families and students.

Total enrollment has remained fairly consistent over the past five years, including 181 total students this year.

“If we’re in the 180s, we’re happy,” said Martelli.

The noticeable difference in lower numbers has been at the middle school level, she said, a trend the school is taking steps to address.

Martelli is tasked with finding invested families, or those that will stay in the system until graduation.

“Most of them are,” she said.

Martelli said enrollment dropped around the same time private high schools began offering middle school classes in addition to high school. Retention rates have suffered at the middle school level.

“It’s been a challenge for us to retain some of these kids. There are misconceptions of a pressure to commit early on to increase chances to get into the high school of their choice,” Martelli said.

She said parents feel the pressure that if a child is not committed to a private school by middle school, the chances of being accepted dramatically decrease.

“That is not the case at all. It’s quite the opposite. We have a 100 percent acceptance rate to the high school of their choice for students graduating from the 8th grade,” she said.

St. Philip’s strategically restructured programs in the middle school to offer a more authentic middle school experience and environment. The middle school was separated into a separate wing from elementary school classes and lockers were installed. She said there are plenty of extracurricular offerings, such as electives, athletics, and service leadership opportunities.

The curriculum was adjusted to align with high school programs and statewide initiatives. Instead of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) St. Philip’s teaches STREAM, which includes religion.

“It’s a whole different experience now. We offer a middle school experience,” Martelli said.

Most students who attend St. Philip’s are from Smithfield or Johnston, and Martelli said there are students from 12 towns in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Class sizes vary from 10 students in 8th grade to 23 in lower grades. She said it varies from year to year and grade to grade.

Some grades are heavier than others, Martelli said. With students leaving for other schools, she said a class size can fluctuate from one grade to the next.

Tuition for the school, which is between $6,000 and $7,000 a year, remains the same throughout, so families are not spending more but are getting more for their children. Financial aid is available.

Martelli said while enrollment at St. Philip’s has decreased from what it once was, the school is not struggling or in jeopardy of closing. She said she believes there is a nationwide fear that Catholic schools are in trouble, but that is far from the truth here.

“I think it’s a common fear. I think people think that. Or it’s happened in other places, so it’s going to happen here. That mentality is not present here,” she said.