‘Our little red schoolhouse’

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Although some diocesan schools have experienced declining enrollment over the last few years, St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington continues to grow and even installed a modular unit to create necessary classroom space Aug. 1. The 28-by-68-foot outdoor complex will house the school's library in order to make room for a third second-grade classroom and a Spanish classroom within the original school building. Development Director Tara Quaadman explained why the school community felt that a project like this was necessary.

"Parents understand that we are growing and that this is a good thing," she said.

"We did not want to increase class sizes and needed to find a way to provide space to meet the needs of our growing community."

Principal Eleanor McCormack said the hard work and dedication of devoted parents, teachers and staff has allowed enrollment to increase from 323 to 400 students over the last five years.

"The growth we have experienced within our school is due to the efforts put forth by the enrollment management team and development committee, both of which are made up of active parents," said

McCormack. Donated their time and talents to allow everything we thought possible to actually come true. We are so grateful for their help and for the strong leadership our rector, Father

Robert Rippy, has demonstrated throughout the entire process."

The modular unit is the first step of a larger renovation project the school plans to undertake throughout the next decade.

Eventually, they hope to build a new gym in a separate building and use the old gym for additional classroom space and a technology center.

Although the modular unit does not allow for increased shelving space, it will be equipped with fully functional bathrooms and electrical outlets in order to recharge new tablets that the school is introducing this school year. These tablets will be loaded with electronic versions of library books and educational materials for students to use throughout the year.

McCormack explained that the school felt motivated to upgrade technology in order to allow students to thrive in the classroom in a whole new way.

"Our kids are savvy and have abilities with technology we cannot even understand until we supply them with the tools they need," said McCormack. "We are always going back to the question, 'Is this going to strengthen the child's education,' and our parents supported the idea so strongly that they spent the last three years raising over $100,000 to allow us to buy tablets and iPads."

Along with meeting the students technological needs, the school has implemented new security plans to keep the children safe while they are learning in the modular unit.

"I always take the time to tell the parents,

'First and foremost, your child's safety is the most important thing to me. I promise to love your child as they grow in Christ on our campus,'" said McCormack. "They entrust our staff with their most precious commodity, and it is our duty to protect the children and parish community from any possibility of harm."

Although the idea to educate children in an outdoor complex might initially have worried some members of the school community, Quaadman described the excitement that has begun to surround the project.

"This is our little red schoolhouse, and we plan to enlist students to help plant flowers around it and help welcome it as an extension of our home," said Quaadman.

As the administration prepares for the upcoming school year, McCormack explained how the enthusiasm of the students serves as the project's foundation.

"The kids think it will be quite an adventure, and although I know it will have its challenges, we have done all the back planning we can do. For now, all we can do is leave it in God's hands and pray it will help our students thrive and grow."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013