MERRILLVILLE — Aquinas Catholic Community School has received a $1.25 million grant from the Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana.
Funding for Big Shoulders comes from the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation. It will be used to pay for the renovations needed to accommodate the growing number of enrollments at the school. Renovations are expected to begin in the spring of 2022.
The renovations will include an improved main entrance, a welcome office, two new classrooms and space to accommodate students with additional learning needs.
“Aquin’s expansion will help our partners at the Big Shoulders Fund carry out their mission to provide students with affordable, high-quality education and support educators who have accepted this important call,” said Bill Hanna. , Executive Director of the Dean and Barbara White Family Foundation. “The Big Shoulders Fund has a rich history of success in advancing this goal in Chicago and now in Northwest Indiana.”
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Joseph Majchrowicz, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Gary, said he had never seen such a gift in the diocese. He said he was incredibly grateful.
Aquin’s student population has increased by 37% since 2017. Currently, Lisa Gutierrez, Aquin’s principal, says there are 192 students. She said growth has been steady each year, with around 20-25 students joining each year since 2017.
Majchrowicz said the diocese as a whole saw enrollment growth of 10% in the 2021-22 school year. All but one of the schools grew into students.
Gutierrez said she believes part of the increase at Thomas Aquinas was due to use of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. Families may attend schools that may not be an option for financial reasons under this program.
She said that in the 2021-22 school year, 84% of families used the scholarship. She said tuition for 2021-22 is $5,580 per student, and the scholarship fully covers that, plus registration fees and book and technology fees.
Across the Diocese of Gary, 37.8% of students have used the Choice Scholarship as of October 1, 2021. They expect this number to increase next year.
“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of this donation and excited to be able to provide even more students with a high-quality Catholic education,” Gutierrez said. “We’re growing so fast that we’ve turned rooms that weren’t meant to be classrooms into classrooms, so this gift will help us grow and welcome more families into our tight-knit community.”
Gutierrez said the school has students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but only has eight classrooms. Two grade levels are in repurposed halls, so this expansion will help considerably. She also said that the school currently has two buildings combined, which means that students have to go outside to go to activities such as physical education or to visit the nurse.
The upgraded main entrance will combine the two buildings and improve safety and security.
Gutierrez said she never imagined that Big Shoulders Fund would be able to help them in this way and that she is very grateful.
Dan Kozlowski, chief executive of the Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana, said the organization wanted to help Aquinas because the school really hit them. The Big Shoulders Fund also helped the school start a federal hot lunch program. He said he was very proud to be able to serve Thomas Aquinas in this way.