Fourteen-year-old David Churchill wakes up at 5:30 a.m. each weekday.
The teenager has to get an early start to tackle a full day of high school — and a grown-up commute to get there.
David is one of 19 Columbia students who carpool each morning to attend Helias High School in Jefferson City.
“To think, when I was going to (Columbia Catholic Schools), I complained about getting up at 6:30,” David said.
According to a recent survey, most Catholic families in the city want teens like David to have a much shorter commute.
A feasibility study released by the Columbia InterParish Study Committee last week says 73 percent of Columbia Catholic families would send their children to a new Catholic high school in Columbia, should it open.
The study indicated 57 percent also support expanding the current elementary capacity at Columbia Catholic School, and 45 percent would back the opening of a second Catholic elementary school.
The InterParish Study Committee will spend the next three months talking with parishioners, to determine whether expanding local Catholic education is a fiscal and spiritual task worth taking on.
“What we wanted to do is approach this from a faith perspective,” said John Stansfield, a Sacred Heart parishioner who sits on the study committee. Stansfield also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at MU’s College of Business.
“Does God want us to do this?” he asked. “We don’t know yet. We’ll know in January, and then give our recommendation to the bishop.”
“I’m a finance professor, and we don’t ask God’s guidance very much in my field,” Stansfield said. “But in this field, we do.”
Fifteen of last year’s 50 eighth-graders at Columbia Catholic School now attend Helias High School.
David’s mother, Barbara Churchill, said she wanted her son to be one of those 15 freshmen because of Helias’ academic and moral standards. Otherwise, David would attend Rock Bridge High School.
“The public schools here in town are very good, but we wanted to maintain David’s focus on education,” said Churchill, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes parish. “He’s got friends; he does some things socially. But when he’s in school, we want him to focus on school, not on other distractions.”
Churchill said she likes the additional faith information her children receive in Catholic school. Her daughter Emily, 10, is in the fifth grade at Columbia Catholic School.
“They learn that there is somebody, somewhere out there, who is having an effect on what you do and on your decisions, and helping you make the right choices,” Churchill said.
The feasibility study, conducted by Meitler Consultants of Milwaukee, recommends opening a new Catholic school to initially serve grades 6–8, each year adding a grade until the facility eventually houses grades 6–12. The report suggests locating the new middle/high school south of I-70 and east of Highway 163.
Under the Meitler recommendation, Columbia Catholic School would serve expanded sections of grades K-5, including an all-day kindergarten program.
The Meitler recommendations are not the only, or final, options parishioners may consider. For example, parish discussions might generate other alternatives, such as building a 9-12 high school or another K-8 school, said Donald Novotney, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Jefferson City diocese.
The superintendent estimated Bishop Gaydos would respond to the committee’s recommendations by the end of the school year.
Helias chief administrator Dennis Hughes did not think opening a Catholic high school in Columbia would have a drastic effect on attendance at Helias.
“I haven’t thought of it from the standpoint that it would hurt our enrollment numbers, but from the standpoint that it would help Catholic education,” Hughes said.
A 40,000-square-foot building expansion was completed at Helias this past school year, adding 10 new classrooms and a new cafeteria to the school. Hughes said the addition was built to meet anticipated enrollment of 1,000 students by 2007-08. Helias enrollment is 906 this year.
David said he enjoys learning about Catholicism and other religions in his classes at Helias.
“The only thing I don’t like about Helias is that it’s in Jefferson City, and not in Columbia,” he said.