JAMESTOWN — St. John’s Academy will offer eighth grade for the first time in decades this fall and is expecting 19 students, Principal Jeff Trumbauer said.
St. John’s Academy is owned and operated by St. James’s Basilica. The Catholic school‘s last high school graduating class dates back to 1965, Trumbauer said. The academy continued to offer grades 7-8 for a short time but in 1968 was only a primary school.
This changed in fall 2021.
The academy nearly doubled its space at the school in the fall of 2020 with a $6 million construction project that included classrooms, a kitchen, a cafeteria, a chapel, and other amenities. After this project was completed, a long-term planning committee conducted a feasibility study to determine whether there was merit in providing education for students beyond grade six. This process, one of the last initiatives of Monsignor Jeffrey Wald, who was pastor of the basilica and died in October 2020, was to assess the support of stakeholders, including parishioners and families of the school and the parish. .
“We received a very strong response to our assessment and it was evident that our families were very interested in continuing to provide their children with a faith-based education,” Trumbauer said.
The results of the committee’s work were presented to the lay directors of St. James’s Basilica and its new parish priest, Reverend Neil Pfeifer. Trumbauer said Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo was supportive and encouraging, and Pfeifer and the lay directors determined that the seventh and eighth grades should be offered again.
In fall 2021, St. John’s Academy added the seventh grade. Trumbauer said the year went well.
“I couldn’t have been happier, more satisfied,” he said. He said most of the sixth graders attending the academy the previous year stayed to attend the seventh grade.
“We did studies of other schools that had recently taken a similar step, and most of those schools told us to aim low with enrollment … and speculated that retention rates might be lower than 50% from sixth to seventh grade,” Trumbauer said. .
But the academy exceeded its estimates, with 18 students attending grade seven in the 2021-22 school year. Trumbauer said the teachers deserved credit for how well things went.
“It’s not an easy year, you’re offering something that hasn’t been offered here before,” Trumbauer said. “We have new classes, we have a new program, it’s the first go-around for our staff, so there was a lot. It was a busy year and we asked a lot of them.
Traumbauer said this year, 19 students were enrolled in eighth grade and 18 in seventh grade. He said enrollment in the sixth year of the academy was also up and had a higher retention rate than previous years.
“I’m very happy and it’s really a testament, I think, to the experience these students have had in their first six, seven, eight years here, kindergarten through sixth grade,” Trumbauer said. . “And I think those families have a lot of faith in the teachers and administrators here to give them a good experience.”
When classes begin this fall, 190 students are expected to attend St. John’s Academy from kindergarten to grade 8, the highest number in at least 10 years due to the extra grades, Trumbauer said. He says enrollment has remained steady at the academy.
“Rising enrollment was not the motive for adding secondary education,” Traumbauer said.
He said those college years are important for young people.
“Students are at key points in their lives,” Traumbauer said. “They are 12, 13, 14 years old. These are very formative years. I think that was the main reason we explored this. It was about being able to educate these children at this point in their lives and making sure that Christ would be part of their education. … There’s a lot of things they’re trying to figure out. And so to be able to make sure that…faith is built into that period of their upbringing was key.
Students attending St. John’s Academy do not have to be Catholic. Trumbauer said 60% of students are parishioners of St. James’s Basilica and 40% are non-parish members. Need-based financial aid is available through the academy’s endowment fund, the Foundation for the Advancement of Christian Education (FACE), for families wishing to enroll their children at St. John’s Academy, Trumbauer said. He said affordability shouldn’t be a barrier to school attendance.
“We will work with all families between the basilica and between FACE to ensure they can register their child,” he said.
Trumbauer appreciates the community support at St. John’s Academy.
“I think what I’m most grateful for here is that everything that happens at this school and that we are able to offer is because of the generosity of others,” he said. “This community has been very supportive of St. John’s Academy for generations and especially with this most recent decision to add grades.”
He said the support was not only financial, but also by providing resources and enrolling children in school.
“I look at our school and our grounds and I’m proud of all the contributions that are made from volunteers to employees to our student body and our teachers and staff and our benefactors,” Trumbauer said.
St. John’s Academy also offers year-round child care for children ages 3 to 12, including before and after school, Kids’ Kingdom Preschool, and an accredited pre-kindergarten program.
“I think we have a beautiful building inside and out, but the education the kids get is even more impressive,” Trumbauer said. “And I think the reason for all of this is that our community wants to see this faith-based education thrive.”
For more information, call 252-3397 or visit stjohnsacademynd.org.