A Catholic elementary school in Clarksville is bucking a national trend.
Instead of closing its doors because of shrinking enrollment, the St. Louis School in Clarksville is turning students away.
"It seems to be against the trend," said Sister Mary Catherine Duerr, principal of St. Louis School. "Tuition is going up, and we still have the demand."
For the past eight years, waiting lists have been the norm for the school at Routes 108 and 32.
But this year, the school was able to accept 53 new students with the addition of the Parish Center, a wing that contains classrooms, meeting rooms, a science lab, art room, library and cafeteria.
About 100 more children are expected to join the 300-student school by 1997, said Sister Duerr. To accommodate them, six more classes will be added from kindergarten through fifth grade over the next five years, she said.
Catholic school officials hope the enrollment increase signals a new trend in Catholic education.
"We've turned the corner in some respects," said Ronald Valenti, Catholic school superintendent in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "Parents are becoming very, very discerning in their judgment concerning education."
National reports show Catholic schools are also attracting an increasing number of minorities. They are cheaper than other private schools, and national studies have shown that minority Catholic school students outperform their peers in public schools.
"It's a viable alternative that's presented to the community," said Mr. Valenti, who anticipates an enrollment increase for all five Catholic schools in Howard County.
School enrollment in the Baltimore Archdiocese has dropped from a high of 74,000 during the late 1960s to about 31,000 in 1991. The Baltimore Archdiocese includes all of Maryland, except the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Catholic school officials say Howard County's growing population, and an aggressive marketing campaign for Catholic education has placed St. Louis School in the forefront.
Parents said they are drawn to St. Louis School because of its small class sizes, high academic standards and emphasis on values.
Kevin Murphy, whose two sons attend the school, said he admires the personal attention given to parents and students.
"I was impressed by that," said Mr. Murphy, recalling a school secretary who remembered his name a year after he tried unsuccessfully to enroll one of his sons in the school. "She deals with many parish families, yet she recalled my name and my son's name. You weren't just a number."
Cynthia Vogt said she and her husband, Chris, removed their 14-
year-old daughter from Oakland Mills Middle School last year to regain control of her education.
"Our daughter was having problems we had absolutely no idea about," said Mrs. Vogt, who said her daughter was becoming too concerned about clothes and make-up at the public school.
The situation is different at St. Louis School.
"You really feel in more control of the situation," she said. "You feel like you know what they did during the day. You're getting constant feedback."
The Parish Center opened in December 1991, replacing the original 69-year-old school called Bishop
Hall. With the addition, the school gained five classrooms, freeing classrooms that had been used for other purposes, such as a library.
Despite the Parish Center, there is still a waiting list of nearly 45 students for second, third, and fourth grades, Sister Duerr said. The situation will remain the same until additional classes are added over the next five years, she said.
In the meantime, the $2.1 million Parish Center is getting rave reviews from students and teachers alike.
In the old, un-air-conditioned building, "I felt like my clothes were sticking on my body," said fifth-grader Molly Thompson.
Perhaps the person who enjoys the center most is physical sciences teacher Eileen Hoffen, who conducted experiments in a trailer while the center was under construction.
"We worked in a trailer that had no water and we used alcohol lamps," she said.
"We did our experiments but we had to make due. This is like heaven," she said, glancing around the fully-stocked lab, which contains sinks, gas lines, and hot and cold running water.