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St. Joseph Catholic School expands

St. Joseph Catholic School expands
St. Joseph Catholic School expands
Father Kyle Rodden and St. Joseph Catholic School student Abigail Staratis share a fist bump Friday after the first school Mass of the 2022-23 school year. Photo by Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer

St. Joseph Catholic School in Corydon is growing. Last year, the school added a seventh-grade class. This year, it is offering an eighth-grade class as well as a preschool class for 3-year-olds and a second 4-year-old class.

Principal Brittany King said SJCS has experienced an increase of approximately 50% during the last two school years with 163 students currently enrolled.

Aug. 3 was the first day for students.

“It was a great first day. Overall, it went great,” said King. “There were smiling faces leaving the building and smiles on the faces of parents. The kids were looking forward to their second day.”

King said students had a big surprise when they saw St. Joseph pastor, Father Kyle Rodden. After two years of growing his hair and beard to donate to a charity that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair, he was sporting a closely-cropped haircut and beard.

“They were very shocked to see Father Kyle,” said King.

She described the priest as a “heroic figure in the building. Kids really look up to him. … He definitely has a presence. We see him multiple times a week.”

St. Joseph has also added to its staff as a result of its increased enrollment. Kevin Rice, who taught sixth grade for seven years, was promoted to assistant principal during the spring semester of the 2021-22 school year. He initially filled the role part time. With this school year, it is full time.

“I needed help. There were too many things to juggle; I needed assistance to get things done and put the focus on academic success for our students,” said King.

Rice’s focus is on academics and student success.

“He oversees anything that has to do with the success of students,” said King. “He’s driving a high level of instruction, planning professional development weekly, doing classroom observation and encouraging and building success in the best way we can.”

King attributed the school’s growth to two things. Adding the seventh and eighth grades stemmed from parents requesting the addition. The school, which opened in 1953, originally went through eighth grade but discontinued seventh and eighth about 20 years ago. The preschool expansion is meeting a need in the county.

“The early learning was added as a service to the community,” said King. “There’s not enough providers to fill the need.”

St. Joseph’s early learning programs are nationally accredited, allowing the school to partner with the state and offer financial assistance through On My Way Pre-K and with child care assistance vouchers.

The school also partners with the Harrison County Community Foundation, which offers a JumpStart grant to families. Those grants initially were for 4-year-olds, but the Foundation is piloting a program to fund classes for 3-year-olds with St. Joe’s class.

King said there are a limited number of preschool openings. St. Joseph has an open enrollment policy, meaning students may start classes at any time throughout the year.

King said there are some misconceptions regarding Catholic education. Perhaps the biggest is that it is only for Catholics.

“Last year, 47% of our 153 students were Catholic,” she said.

While students have daily religion class and attend Mass weekly, SJCS accepts those of other faith backgrounds.

King said Catholic education is now accessible to a wider audience, thanks to the Indiana Legislature’s expansion of the Choice voucher program.
Two years ago, the legislature significantly increased the income ceiling for families to qualify for vouchers.

“It gives them a choice; that’s why it’s called the Choice voucher program,” said King. “It gives parents an opportunity to choose where their child goes to school. … It enables them to make the best choice for their children.”

The student growth has led to the school filling spaces used for church gatherings and storage.

“We have maximized every nook and cranny,” said King. “We’re at a point where we can’t grow any more program-wise until we have additions to our campus.”

King is in her 10th year at the school. She taught fourth grade and math for grades 4 to 6 before being named principal almost three years ago.
As the 2022-23 school year gets underway, King said she is happy to see the carpenter family together. The school mascot is the carpenter, in honor of St. Joseph.

“We walk with one another in times of happiness and times of struggle,” she said. “We are teaching acceptance of one another. We are all unique, but we are all called to love.”