Maybe it’s the warm welcome of Dean of Students Carolyn Lenhardt, who knows, as she has for 47 years, when a student needs a little extra love. Maybe it’s the teachers, who take time on evenings, weekends, and summers to offer more opportunities for students and their families. Maybe it’s the alumni who come back to provide living proof to current students that they can become judges, pastors, police officers, and poets. Maybe it’s all of those things, and a 68-year history spanning generations, that make people say St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School “feels like home.”
Their pastor for the past 15 years, the Rev. Patrick Tuttle, said the school’s familial culture primes children for success in school and life. Values learned there benefit students long after they leave, following them through high school and beyond.
“We educate children not only with academics, but also with character formation. When children understand they are the apple of God’s eye, and base their self-esteem on God’s opinion, they feel more comfortable and secure to learn,” Tuttle said. “We are adding to the increasing graduation rates in the city — 100 percent of our students graduated high school and 100 percent earned college admission.”
What started as a ministry to help neighborhood children from low-income families get ready for elementary school has grown to include 145 students from 3-year-old prekindergarten through sixth grade, all of whom qualify for free lunch. Many parents now drive their children from other areas of Greenville to attend the school.
“Although the neighborhood demographics have changed, St. Anthony of Padua remains true to its mission to teach children, some with limited resources, and to make college possible for them,” said Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation. “Many of these students have graduated and gone on to become leaders themselves.”
The Community Foundation recently gave the school $40,042 from its Margaret Linder Southern Endowment Fund for technology upgrades designed to allow students to learn at their own pace, without limits. Children who have benefited include a fifth grader who is now reading at an 11th-grade level, and a third grader doing 10th-grade math.
“They have the opportunity to compete against themselves — they want to beat their last score,” Tuttle said. “The technology allows the competitiveness of students to take them as far and fast as they can go.”
Tuttle said arts education is another way St. Anthony allows children to transcend perceived limits. In addition to art, music options include orchestra, choir, and piano lessons. If a child wants to learn to play an instrument the school doesn’t own, the staff reaches out to the community to find one.
“When information is encountered and engaged to the arts and they can use it to paint, write a poem, or sing, our students surprise us over and over. They remember and process better,” Tuttle said.
After-school activities include chess, karate, and etiquette classes as well as aviation and cooking clubs. Summer Academy keeps the instruction going year-round, complete with trips and hands-on experiences.
Principal Mary Margaret Martin said the school’s quarterly Parent University offers a variety of practical topics like budgeting, student enrichment, and time-management strategies. Monthly family-fun activities draw a crowd that includes extended family. Martin said she and the other staff members enjoy these events and cheering their students on at games and recitals.
“What drew me here was the family atmosphere, their vision, and the feeling we really are making a difference in our children’s lives,” she said. “We are rewarded by seeing how important it is to parents and the smiles on the children’s faces.”