BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — School leaders and parents alike say that they’re disappointed to see Belvidere’s St. James Catholic School close, but they look back fondly on the time they spent there.
Rachel Peterson, whose sons attended St. James Catholic School, said, “This is very heartbreaking for us, because we’ve been at that school 15 years.”
Peterson says her two oldest sons, Jacob and Donnie, both graduated from St. James, and her youngest son, Cameron, was set to start eighth grade there next fall.
“My kids loved absolutely loved going to that school. And they each have their favorite teacher, but all of the teachers were phenomenal,” Peterson said.
Peterson says she wishes her son was able to at least finish out the school year at St. James and feels for all the kids who didn’t know it was their last day at the school when it closed following the stay-at-home order.
“A lot of the younger kids won’t have that closure. They don’t understand what’s going on at all,” she said. “They don’t understand why the school is closing, why they’re not going to be able to see their teachers anymore, why they won’t be able to go back to the school they love.”
Father Brian Geary says that amidst uncertainty from parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school suffered from low enrollment. He said this year, over 100 students attended the school but only 36 were registered for next year.
“That’s really not a sustainable number for a Pre-K through 8th grades for a proper education, having so few students,” said Geary.
A St. James parent started a GoFundMe last week to try and raise money to keep the school open for one more year.
Between donations online and in-person, almost $7,000 was raised.
Geary says that money will benefit the church’s religious education program.
“Those funds are so appreciated. Because in religious education, we run a deficit also because we keep tuition costs for parents low. So that money will be used very well in our religious education program too,” Geary said.
While Geary and Peterson are sad that the school has to close, they both said it brought them fond memories that they’ll continue to cherish.
“St. James School was like a very close-knit family,” Peterson said.
“Just the joy of their face and their souls in school, just walking through the halls and in the classrooms, is something we’ll miss very much,” said Geary.
Geary says once it’s safe to do so, the school is planning on hosting an appreciation event for students, parents and teachers to give them a chance to say goodbye.
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