PROVIDENCE — Dressed in Halloween costumes, preschool students at Bishop McVinney Catholic Elementary eagerly march into the main office. They smile thankfully as Deb Pascale, the administrative assistant, gives them each a piece of candy.
Pascale, along with Principal Lou Hebert, says seeing the children happy is gratifying.
“We do our best to make this their home when they walk through the doors,” said Pascale, noting that the children “absolutely thrive” on the individualized attention from caring staffers. “It makes them love coming to school.”
Hebert agrees, adding that students are flourishing in the “safe, comfortable, and family-like atmosphere.” He’s pleased that many children are able to attend Bishop McVinney to get the education they deserve with support from the Catholic Charities Appeal (CCA), the annual diocesan fundraising campaign that provides much-needed financial support for its numerous education, human service and spiritual development programs.
The CCA assists various Catholic missions, such as providing tuition assistance for students at Bishop McVinney, as well as other diocesan schools and facilities. It also aids a local youth center, homeless shelter and senior center, to name just a few.
“If you take away the Catholic Charity Appeal funding, our enrollment would be devastated,” said Hebert, who started working at the school as a teacher 25 years ago and became principal in 2001. “It helps the school survive [and] enriches the lives of the students in that it allows many of our families to afford to send their children to our school.”
Each year, the CCA donates $147,000 towards tuition for Bishop McVinney students. According to Pascale, 90 percent of school families receive financial aid.
“They struggle to send their children here,” she said. “Most of them wouldn’t be able to come if it we weren’t able to do that.”
Ann-Marie Bucci, coordinator of finances, echoed Pascale’s sentiments.
“The more tuition assistance we get, the better we are,” said Bucci.
If not for CCA funds, said Hebert, the school’s enrollment would be “seriously affected.” He’s pleased that enrollment has increased for the third year in a row.
“That says something about this school,” he said.
Pascale noted that they added about 30 students to the roster at the start of the school year, bringing their total to 285 students. In the last two years, Bishop McVinney implemented a Pre-K program and a second kindergarten.
“We currently have waiting lists in all our early childhood classes, right up through kindergarten,” said Pascale, pointing out that the school is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). “Our early childhood program received an exemplary rating through NEASC.”
Aside from strong academics, Bishop McVinney also gives students a faith-based education. Every morning and afternoon, students lead the school in prayer and Gospel readings. They also partake in religion class on a daily bases, with middle schoolers regularly meeting with Hebert for assemblies, which often include prayer.
Additionally, two seminarians visit fourth graders each week to assist teachers. The seminarians not only help teach the religion curriculum, they also spend time with students during lunch and recess to educate them about the Catholic faith.
“We’re teaching students to make good choices and good decisions,” Herbert said. “The spiritual life is all part of that, and this school offers them an opportunity to see that there is a faith life. Parents trust us to take good care of their children and give them the faith and values that they want for their children. They are dedicated to providing their children with the best education they can afford.”
Tuition is $3,950 per year for students in Pre-K through grade eight. But not only do parents who apply for financial aid receive funds via CCA, they also obtain donations from outside sources or appeals, as well as school funding.
“We work within a tight budget, but it’s our job to try and compensate that with more aid,” Pascale said. “Geographically, these children come from very hard-working families, and most of them can’t afford it. The parents are so committed to this school that they do what they have to do to make it work, [and] a Catholic education is a great option for them. Parents have a fantastic faith in God. What keeps us successful is the environment that we’ve created within this geographical area.”
She went on to say that the public school system doesn’t offer them what they need academically, emotionally and spiritually. Hebert feels the same.
“We’re an inner city school in South Providence that has its own challenges,” Hebert said. “But the parents want them to have a religious education.”
Another important asset of Bishop McVinney, said Pascale, is the before and after school day care program it offers. They also keep their doors open during the summer and school vacations to provide children with trusted caretakers.
“It’s huge for our parents,” she said.
Going forward, Hebert hopes to secure computers for an on-campus computer lab. He is curious if local businesses, colleges or universities are interested in donating gently used items.
“It’s too big an expense for us,” he said. “If someone out there could donate computers, that would be a huge help.”
In the meantime, Hebert isn’t focusing on what the school doesn’t have. Instead, he’s thinking about all the progress it’s made.
“In a lot of ways, we have come a long way,” he said. “The school is healthy, and we’re growing.”
Learn more about Bishop McVinney Catholic Elementary School at BMVschool.org,