COLUMBIA — The spacious commons area in Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School's less than 3-year-old building was far from packed, but Principal Kristie Wolfe pointed out that the number of ninth-graders present at Monday's orientation was greater than the total number of students that started when Tolton opened in 2011.
Chants of “Go Trailblazers!” and “Welcome, freshmen!” filled the entryway at Tolton as older students welcomed this fall's incoming ninth-graders. This is the second year Tolton has introduced new students to the Tolton way of life with a student-run orientation called “High School 101.”
Columbia's first Catholic high school started with 52 students between ninth and 10th grades in fall 2011, but it has expanded with higher enrollment, bigger facilities, wider course offerings and more extracurricular programs such as “High School 101” each year since.
This fall, the school boasts its highest enrollment yet, with 183 students spread across all four grades. There are 64 students in the ninth grade alone. This spring, Tolton will be graduating its first senior class. Tolton's building is designed to accommodate up to 400 students.
“It feels really cool. We're the ones who are going to be setting the standard,” Michael Burke, 17, said about being a member of the first graduating class.
Establishing a reputation of admissions to high ranking colleges and universities for students like Burke was important to Wolfe and an issue she addressed early on.
A college admissions counselor has worked closely with the current senior class. Representatives from 25 colleges and universities visited Tolton last year, and students were encouraged to visit schools on their own.
“They were really supportive about seeing what we wanted to do after high school,” Burke said.
Austin Gregory, 17 and another member of the senior class, said the school has taken a serious approach toward college applications.
“Tolton is a college prep school,” he said.
Wolfe said she has been focusing on wider program offerings and increased enrollment this year. French and Latin will be available for the first time, in addition to the existing Spanish curriculum. Once the College Board approves the paperwork, Wolfe said the school will also have five Advanced Placement courses: English literature, chemistry, AB calculus, U.S. history and European history.
Tolton is also building an outdoor athletics facility next to the football field. The building will include a press box, a public restroom and storage space, administrative assistant Mary Creach said. Home football games must be held Saturday afternoons because the field does not have lights. Creach said lights can be expensive and that the school is expanding on its main building “a little bit at a time.”
Ninth-grader Laura Elfrink, 14, said she was excited to be starting at Tolton this fall since the school now has students in all four grades.
“They'll know what to expect when we graduate. They'll be done getting out the kinks,” she said.
Gregory said the main changes he has seen in his two years at Tolton were all size-related, whether it was the size of the school building or the student body.
As Creach put it, Tolton keeps “getting bigger and bigger and that's better and better.”
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