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September 25, 1998     Cape Gazette
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September 25, 1998

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St. Thomas More, school of arts offer education options By Rosanne Pack The American educational sys- tem has been in a constant state of evolution from the days of the one-room school house to neigh- borhood schools, multibuilding districts and to choices of public magnet schools and private insti- tutions. Starting this fall, families in southern Delaware have two new options to consider in making ed- ucation decisions for their chil- dren. The Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville and St. Thomas More Academy between Milford and Dover each opened this month and each has attracted some students from the Cape Henlopen School District. The school 6f the arts is a public magnet school in the Indian River School District and the academy is a diocesan school under the di- rection of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. Both new schools were a few years in the making, and grew from community desire for op- .tions in education. The interest and labor of parents and educators in Indian River district led to the creation of the 1-8 school of the arts in that district. St. Thomas More was originally to be a pri- vate, board-administered Catholic high school that would only take religious education direction from the diocese. However, financial reality and practicality of funding a new school encouraged the board of directors to ask the dio- cese to take over St. Thomas More. Donna Matthews, St. Thomas More director of development and marketing, said the board had land and a building, but not the finan- cial resources to operate the school. She said the board offered the facilities to the Wilmington Diocese, and the offer was enthu- siastically accepted. There has been no Catholic high school in southern Delaware since Holy Cross closed more than 10 years ago. In the ctse of St. Thomas More and the school of the arts, parents and students who choose to leave the Cape district in favor of the new schools say that it is not a negative reflection on their home district. They express a desire for a different educational experience than what is offered in Cape. Looking at choices "Some parents say that they :Want more structure for their chil- dren," said Matthews. "We have three requirements at St. Thomas More: Students must be respectful of everyone else; they must be reverent; and they must be respon- sible for themselves. "Smaller classes also appeal to many parents. Their children will get more one-on-one attention and guidance?' Matthews said the 42 students represent a wide range of families, economically, geographically and even spiritually. She said the school is open to all, regardless of religious affiliation. "Not all of our students are Catholic; there are some of other Christian faiths, but they are not even all Christian," she said. "We have a Jewish family and a Mus- lim family in our student body. "When Bishop Saltarelli was here for the dedication, he asked some of our students if they were Catholic. When they told him that they weren't, he told them that what is important is to be the best you can in whatever faith you are called to. We want our students to grow spiritually." The Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, presided over the dedication Mass and blessing of the classrooms of the new school in Jonathan's Landing near Magnolia. Students and teachers were joined by parents, church officials and board members who helped start the school on 20 acres of do- nated land. For the f'wst two years, the school will operate out of the new gymnasium and the first of three wings. A grade will be added each year until the school can accommodate ninth grade through 12th grade. In the inaugural student body, there are 26 freshmen and 16 sophomores. The majority of the students are from the greater Dover/Camden/Wyoming area with others from Milford, Smyr- na, Frederica, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and even Bishopville, Md. As a private school, no public school money transfers in with the students; tuition is $4,995 per : Submitted photo The Southern Delaware School of the Arts is housed in t'he old Selbyville school. Submitted photo Cape Region students are among those who welcomed the Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli when he came to dedicate the new St. Thomas More Academy, the newest high school in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. Pictured are (I-r) sophomore Billie Wilkinson, Saltarelli, and freshmen Paul Becker and Katie Johnson. pupil. Matthews said one reason the school officials decided to offer the building to the diocese is be- cause the financial support allows the school to provide financial aid to some families. "This is a very education-ori- ented diocese," Matthews said. "The leaders will do what they can to help a new education pro- ject." Matthews, a former teacher, said most of the teachers have taught in Delaware; two are from New York and one from Mary- land. The principal, Dr. Mary Soltys, was an assistant principal at St. John the Beloved School in Wilmington. The director of development and marketing said care is taken with the curriculum to avoid stu- dents duplicating work previously covered in their home district schools. All are required to take religious education and to attend religious assemblies and cere- monies even if they don't actively participate. Mattbews said the re- ligious education incorporates academic subjects such as history, geography and social studies. "We are not here to recruit or to turn all students into Catholics," she said. "We want to provide a sound education and an alterna- tive for families to consider." Billie Wilkinson of Lewes is a sophomore at St. Thomas More; she will be in the first class to graduate from the Catholic high school. Even though she is one of only three Cape Region students enrolled, she said she felt comfort- able from the beginning. "The classes are so small, I got to know people really fast," she said. "Everyone is friendly and re-. spectful; the teachers are really nice, too." The few obvious differences from public school, such as wear- ing uniforms, are not an issue with Wilkinson. She said the khaki pants and skirts, white shirts and navy jackets or sweaters are easy to take and they reduce decision and dressing time in the morning. Since she and two other Cape Re- gion students are on a bus by around 7 a.m., they can use that extra time. The rotating class schedule is one of the main differences in how other high schools operate. Although students have the same subjects each day, they don't meet at the same time each day. "Like one day, first period is bi- ology with social studies and Eng- lish following, and the next day, first period might be English and the other switched around. You have the same subjects, but at dif- ferent times,. I like that a lot," Wilkinson said. "You don't get in a rut, and if you are really sleepy for first period, at least you know you won't be sleepy for the same subject every day!" The freshmen and sophomores who make up the first student body at St. Thomas More know that they are making decisions that will influence all other stu- dents who will follow: colors, mascots and school songs that will set tradition. Other than that, they don't see too much difference in their school experience. "It's pretty much the same as any school; we'll have dances and sports teams and plays and stuff," Wilkinson said. "We have an ac- tivity period where we can plan and work on things like the school newspaper and yearbook. I'm working on the yearbook now. " "It's sort of quiet in the halls during class change, since it's small, That's different. But, most- ly, it's the same as any other school." Arts, academics team up Just as the St. Thomas More Academy is not intended to turn out all Catholic graduates, the Southern Delaware School of the Arts is not intended to produce only ai'tists. Principal Timothy Fannin said, "This school is not designed to build artists; it is a school 'of" the arts, not 'for' the arts. We are principally an academic school, but our approach is to instill learn- ing through the arts. All the core subjects are taught using the arts; we have a balanced curriculum that includes dance, theatre, music and art. "We also hope that our students will have fun as well as learn what they need .to." The choice or maghet school is located in Selbyville, in a former middle school that now houses the Indian River District offices as well. To be eligible for an admin- istrator, the school had to have a minimum of 300 students; the school of the arts has 320 en- rolled. Of those, 250 were already resi- dents of the Indian River district. Fannin said that there are several: from the Cape district, some from Milford and Woodbridge, and even one student from Ceasar Rodney district. Lewes resident Dara Heam has three children in the new school. She said mor than 600 applied, and her family feels fortunate that they got in on the second round of. acceptances. The first half of the 320 students were chosen first come, first served; the remainder were chosen by lottery. "We didn't make the first round, but there were some who did not accept, and it helped that we had three children that we wanted to enroll," she said. "We are very happy so far. The kids jump up'and run off to school everyday; they are having a good experience." Hearn ear pools with other fam- ilies from the Cape Region, and she admits that it is a fairly long drive. A school shuttle is available from the Long Neck area, but for now, many parents are choosing to car pool. Creative academics "Academics is a strong issue at the school of the arts," Heam said. "But geometry might be com- bined with creating a quilt pattern, or geography might be combined with learning a native dance from a foreign country. But, academics Continued on page 12