One of the surest signs of fall is the opening of schools in Milford. And on Tuesday, when the Milford Public Schools open for the new school year, the private will open as well.
The children at Milford Catholic are immediately identifiable by their uniforms: blue plaid jumpers for the girls, and white shirts worn by boys. This year, 120 students are expected in kindergarten through sixth grade, a slight decline from the 128 last year.
Over the years, enrollment has declined gradually at the elementary school, which serves both Catholic parishes in Milford: and
The enrollment trend is mirrored across the nation, although some cities in the South and West have begun to see a reversal. Catholic school enrollment peaked nationally in the 1960s, and declined steeply through the 70s and 80s before rebounding a bit in the 90s.
The recession this decade has had an impact, said Milford Catholic Principal Andrea Tavaska. Like all Catholic schools, Milford Catholic is tuition-based, although the Diocese will work with families on payment plans. "Like many of the schools in the Diocese, the recession has hit us," she said.
Parents who choose Milford Catholic do so for several reasons. The biggest difference, between the public schools and the Catholic elementary, is the religious instruction. This does not mean the students have to be Catholic to attend. The children attend mass once a week, alternating between St. Mary's and Sacred Heart.
Another appeal: the school has small class sizes and its tiny size — one class per grade level — makes the school feel more like a second family, Tavaska said. "It's more that you want something more for your child, the culture and atmosphere within that setting."
Antoher key difference: the school does not follow the MCAS for testing, and no class time is spent on test-prep. The children do take part in one national, standardized exam, the Terra Nova. And the school follows the state curriculum standards. "We are competitive academically," Tavaska said. "They're leaving here with a very strong foundation."
Milford Catholic, which opened in 1975, draws about 40 percent of its children from Milford, about 60 percent from surrounding towns, including Uxbridge, Upton, Mendon, and Hopedale. Children who live in Milford take the school bus with the public school students. Children who live outside the town are taken to school by parents.
Students typically stay enrolled through 6th grade, and then 55 percent move on to a Catholic middle school, the remainder to public schools.
In recent years, changes have included a movement of inside the elementary building, and expanding its reach to 3-year-olds, as well as 4-year-olds. In addition, the preschool now offers full- as well as part-time programs.