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St. Joseph High School starts classes

By Carolina Astrain
Aug. 13, 2012 at 3:13 a.m.

Students crowd the halls for the first day of school at St. Joseph High School. Students went back for an early dismissal day  Monday and will resume a regular schedule  Tuesday.

Where St. Joseph FRESHMEN come from

• Nazareth Academy: 26

• Our Lady of Victory School: 39

• Trinity Episcopal School: 7

• Our Lady of the Gulf: 2

• Other (VISD, home-schooled and new to the area): 16

• Total: 90

Clara Allen had a splash of glitter around her eyes as she danced into AP English class on Monday morning.

"That's an accident," said Clara, 17. "I'm a cheerleader and my makeup exploded in my bag and so everything is covered in glitter."

She was excited about the start of her senior year at St. Joseph High School, which began Monday with the first day of classes.

In the hallway, the blue and white lockers at the private school banged open and closed as 322 students made their way to class.

While overall enrollment increased by one student, the freshman class increased by 20 students to a total of 90.

But Monday wasn't their first experience with the school.

On Saturday, the freshmen attended an overnight retreat at the Catholic diocese's Spiritual Renewal Center near Victoria. At the retreat, senior leaders taught the freshmen about school traditions and policies.

"They took us out to a little area and the lights were off. They were playing Christian music and they started with prayer," said freshman Mary Ann Knezek, 14.

"They each gave us a candle and lit it and gave each of us a special blessing."

Mary Ann said the 10-year-old welcoming tradition helped her ease out of being home-schooled and into going to high school with other kids.

"It got me ready so I wouldn't be so afraid," Mary Ann said.

Clara was a senior retreat leader at the orientation.

"All the freshman really got to know each other," Clara said. "I had a lot of fun."

The summer leading to her senior year also meant reading pre-assigned books for her English class.

Clara said the most engaging book on her summer reading list was Leo Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilych."

"It just made me think about how to live my life to the fullest," Clara said. "It put emotional value into the things I've done."

Clara attended private school throughout her educational career, starting with Nazareth Academy before transitioning to St. Joseph.

"I knew that if I went to the public schools that I wouldn't get the same education," Clara said. "I know that I could go into a college tomorrow and I'd be totally prepared for it."

While the school focuses on teaching morals, values and respecting one another's faith, it comes at a cost to the students and their families. Tuition for one academic school year runs $8,750.

The school awards scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000 for families who may have trouble paying the full tuition, but no one gets a full scholarship, said school President and Principal Bill H. McArdle Jr.

"We've never been in that position," McArdle said. "Our sense is that families need to invest in their sons and daughters, just as we need to invest in their future."

At least 50 percent of their students receive scholarships, said Anna Holladay, the school's director of advancement. The grants total $375,000 and $380,000 per year.

"It's a need-based grant," Holladay said. "So that any student who truly desires an STJ education has the financial assistance needed to enroll."

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