Dolores Taffner is
watching television with her family on a hot summer afternoon. Even though she
loves summer break, the sixth-grader was looking forward to returning to the
classroom at St. Mary's Academy in Champlain in two months.
"I was so excited to
go," she said.
But this week the Taffner
family received a letter in the mail: The school is closing.
"I was actually
really shocked," Dolores said.
"I've been like a cow
on the railroad tracks for the last several years; I could see the disaster
coming," said the Rev. James Delbel of the Church of St. Mary.
St. Mary's Academy opened
in 1906, first serving kindergarten through twelfth-graders from New York,
Vermont and Canada. More recently it became an elementary school. At its prime,
130 students were enrolled. Enrollment has dropped steadily over the years as
pharmaceutical companies have left the region taking jobs and people with them.
Enrollment for next year was 65.
"We've pulled it out
so many times, it's almost unreal that we are really going to close it,"
The Catholic school came
close to closing seven years ago, but borrowed a quarter of a million dollars
to stay open. But a big donor recently withdrew a $50,000 pledge, making it
financially impossible to open the school in the fall.
"Given the economy,
given the fact we have an older community, I don't think we have the pool of
students that used to exist in this area," Delbel said.
The school closing means
16 teachers and staff members are looking for jobs.
"We're a family, we
are so close knit, and that's the saddest part; we have no closure for a
family, we have no time to say goodbye, put this to closure nicely," said
Amy Gehrig, a teacher at St. Mary's Academy.
To the Taffner family, it
was important for their kids to learn about the Catholic religion and beliefs as part
of their education. Now, their kids will have to attend much larger public schools.
"We were really
looking forward to them going up a grade with teachers that we knew and
loved," dad Bill Taffner said.
For Dolores, she is a
little nervous about the upcoming school year.
"It's new, all new,"
Delbel says it's a done
deal; the school is closed. But some in the community are holding out hope for
a Hail Mary.
The nearest Catholic
school is in Plattsburgh, about half an hour away.
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