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Briarcliff Group Rallies To Save St. Theresa School

St. Theresa School alumnus Tara Hammonds, 16, organizes a volleyball game with community members and kids during "Occupy St. Theresa" Saturday night.
St. Theresa School alumnus Tara Hammonds, 16, organizes a volleyball game with community members and kids during "Occupy St. Theresa" Saturday night. Photo Credit: Nathan Bruttell

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – A Briarcliff Manor community group is working to raise $1.5 million or bring in 50 more students to St. Theresa Catholic School to keep it from closing.

The Archdiocese of New York recently announced that the Catholic elementary school is one of about 120 in New York that are “at-risk” of closing at the end of the 2012-13 school year. St. Theresa School teaches roughly 150 prekindergarten through eighth grade students from Briarcliff Manor and surrounding school districts and employs more than 20 teachers and staff, school officials said recently.

Community members said enrollment will have to  increase to 200 or the community will have to raise roughly $1.5 million to make the school viable for the future.

Michael Molinelli, a Briarcliff Manor parent and member of the community group trying to save the school, said the archdiocese recently laid out four issues the school would need to address. The group is set to make a presentation addressing the four issues (demographics, enrollment, funds and viability) at a private meeting with the archdiocese at the beginning of January. 

“St. Theresa School had a couple of rough years, and it was a red flag before the announcement, but we think we can turn that around,” Molinelli said. “There’s a lot of good that’s going on here and unfortunately that’s not what the archdiocese looked at when they made the announcement. We’re on the way back up and we just need a couple more years to get back to where we were.”

In addressing demographics and enrollment, Molinelli said the group is going to propose a scholarship plan that will attempt to bring enrollment from 150 students to roughly 200 in the next couple of years.

“We’re planning to offer scholarships for needy families in the greater Ossining community and bring them in and give them the benefit of the excellent education we have and create more ties with the community and its surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “We’ve had a rough transition, but with our new principal our enrollment has trended upward and we believe the scholarship plan will get us where we were.”

As for a reserve fund and viability, the committee is looking to raise about $1.5 million for the next three years that will help offset the subsidy provided by the parish. While the group has opened a charity, the funds “won’t go down a hole” if the goal isn’t met, Molinelli said.

“We think it’s a win-win situation because if it doesn’t work, people will get the money they donated back,” he said. “And if it does work, then their money will have gone toward saving the school and improving the community.”

Dozens of alumni, including 16-year-old Tara Hammonds and 16-year-old Julia Solari, hosted bake sales and community fundraisers recently that raised more than $5,000 for the school. But the two didn’t stop with fundraising, rallying the community with a lock-in and spirit-raising gathering known as “Occupy St. Theresa” last weekend at the school.  

“I think it’s wonderful how many people came out to support our cause,” Tara said, noting that more than 50 community members attended “Occupy St. Theresa.” “Hopefully it will help send the archdiocese a positive message about our school spirit. Even with potential donors, if they see how much this school means to people, hopefully they’ll feel more inclined to help us out.”

To donate to the fund to save the school, residents throughout Westchester are asked to contact St. Theresa School at 914-941-1646 or the rectory/parish office at 914-941-2582.

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