St. Catherine-St. Lucy Principal Sharon Leamy still remembers when her young students met students from nearby Fenwick High School. About eight years ago, a handful of Fenwick students started tutoring St. Catherine-St. Lucy middle schoolers as part of a service project, Leamy said.
The project later bloomed into a full program that now takes place twice a week, pulling in more than a dozen students. “It’s a beautiful thing to witness,” Leamy said, her voice wavering from the excitement. “And the relationships developed between the Fenwick students and our students were incredible. It was wonderful.”
Now the alliance is deepening again with a full-fledged partnership being put in place between St. Catherine-St. Lucy, 27 Washington Blvd., Oak Park, and Fenwick High School, a half-mile west at 505 Washington. The elementary school draws nearly all of its students from neighboring Austin. Fenwick is a well-regarded college prep school with enrollment from across Chicago and suburbs.
Leamy said the tutoring project is one of many efforts that have brought the two neighboring Oak Park Catholic schools together. With Fenwick Principal Peter Groom’s warm welcome toward the elementary school’s youth and additional support from Fenwick faculty and alumni, this relationship has evolved over the years and has now been transformed into an official partnership.
At an April 16 gathering, Leamy and Fenwick President Rev. Richard Peddicord signed off on a mission “bridging the gap, linking the future.” The agreement includes a $200,000 matching gift from alumni where half of the raised funds will help expand the tutoring program, while the rest will be funneled into scholarships for the grade school’s students interested in attending Fenwick.
“That is a huge step, because not only does it open up wonderful education opportunities for our kids, but it makes it easy for them to go four years and to change their lives going forward,” said Leamy about the scholarship fund, as she spoke to a small group of Fenwick and Saint Catherine-St. Lucy staff, donors and colleagues Friday afternoon.
The elementary school also received a $200,000 donation from Fenwick alumni to help renovate its gym, which has become another feature in the schools’ new agreement. The two schools plan to share the gym to host basketball clinics, tournaments and other activities.
Bringing the schools together is also part of Fenwick’s initiative to give families a choice and a chance “to attend schools like ours,” said Raymond Moland, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Fenwick. According to St. Catherine-St. Lucy’s school site, the great majority of its students – about 95% – are from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
Peddicord and Moland said tuition costs can be a barrier for families, and Fenwick has stayed committed to finding ways and teaming up with other organizations to try and alleviate those financial constraints.
These steps, no matter how small or big, make all the difference and work to make that bridge between St. Catherine-St. Lucy and Fenwick stronger, Moland said.
“This partnership is definitely an example of two entities within a community working together for the betterment of all our students,” he said.