South Dakota

Aberdeen Roncalli will create dedicated middle school after 20% enrollment increase

ABERDEEN, SD (Dakota News Now) – The Aberdeen Catholic school system is celebrating more than just National Catholic School Week.

Roncalli has reported an almost 20% increase in enrollment over the past two years, and this increase is largely due to incoming classes.

“The biggest increase was in the kindergarten area. That’s kind of where we really start this whole effort from the ground up,” said Roncalli Admissions Coordinator Michala Heller.

These large kindergarten classes prompted Roncalli to start a real middle school. Sixth graders are currently attending classes at Roncalli Elementary, but they will relocate to the junior high and high school campuses, and junior high will officially become Roncalli Middle School in the fall of 2023. The process doesn’t require a new building, but it does require some reconfiguration.

“I think that was mainly because we had an increasing need for classrooms in our younger schools with more pre-school classes and more kindergarten classes. Also, we recognize that our sixth graders play a big part in what happens at our junior high,” said sixth grader Dan Gallagher.

As incoming classes grow, public school pupils are also transferring to Aberdeen’s Catholic school system. Sophomore Tom Niederbaumer said joining Roncalli this year has given him the opportunity to receive an education in Aberdeen in a setting similar to the size of the Faulkton School District.

“Faulkton was a really good place and I loved it there, but coming here and I love it here too, there’s just so much more to do in terms of courses and stuff. There are so many more options. I feel like there’s a lot more stuff you can do online and a lot more resources,” Niederbaumer said.

Heller said there have been deliberate efforts to increase enrollment not only within the school but also among teachers and parents.

“I think one of the reasons for that is that together we’ve made an effort to really improve our approval process. One thing was appointing someone, myself, to be the admissions coordinator,” Heller said. “Not only through the efforts of the Admissions Office, but also through our staff encouraging and inviting relatives and friends, but also through our parents and our ex-parents. I would say in my experience that was one of our greatest assets.”

Roncalli also has resources to keep tuition affordable, Heller said. This includes philanthropists who contribute to Fund-A-Student’s-Tuition (FAST) accounts and grants such as: B. The South Dakota Partners in Education Scholarship. Heller said Roncalli received over $100,000 from SDPE last year.

“I mean, we’ve had families get a call and they’re like, ‘You know what? Your entire tuition will be paid,” Heller said.

As an alumni and teacher, Gallagher said Roncalli offers a unique educational experience for students in a more densely populated area.

“You get to know them on a deeper level, but you also get to know their families, you get to know their friends, you get to know their interests. Aberdeen is a bigger city for South Dakota, but it offers that small school opportunity that you don’t get at a larger public school,” Gallagher said.

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