‘Creating disciples of Christ’
for 50 years in Portsmouth

Beau Bright, a first grader at Portsmouth Regional Catholic School, works with Play-Doh during a hands-on activity on Tuesday, Dec. 8. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the school is trying to raise $217,000 in order to remain open. (Photo/Jennifer Neville)

School seeking to raise $217K in order to remain open


Portsmouth Catholic Regional School (PCRS) is a happy place.

Just walk through the halls adorned with students’ paper crafts — trees, angels and wreaths — hanging on the walls. Some artwork has notes such as examples of random acts of kindness that would cause the Grinch’s heart to grow.

Visit a music class and watch the pupils play percussion instruments and move to the music.

Peek into the classrooms of primary grades, and perhaps you will see children working on projects entailing painting, coloring or sculpting with Play-Doh.

While all students wear face masks, one can see the smiles in their eyes, said Donna Henry, assistant principal and first-grade teacher.

For 50 years, PCRS has “provided academic excellence” and striven to form children spiritually and socially and to shape them as disciples of Christ, said Scott Bolton, principal since January 2019.

The school educates children from pre-K-3 to eighth grade. In addition to traditional academic studies, students have physical education, Spanish, music and art. Each grade has a religion class, and the students go to Mass weekly and pray together daily. Teachers weave faith into their curricula, Bolton said.

Family feeling

Many say that the PCRS community of staff, families and students are close knit.

“There is this incredible sense of belonging in the community, and it just truly is family,” said Henry, who has taught at the school for 35 years.

“People choose to send their kids to PCRS just because of the feeling they get when they walk in there,” said Kathy Noblin, PCRS alumna and second- grade teacher for 36 years.

That was true for Mike and Kelley Bright. Before they enrolled their son, Beau, in kindergarten last year, they toured the school. Kelley, who attended PCRS from first to eighth grade in the 1990s, said when she visited, she “instantly had the feeling that it was home.”

Similarly, when Mike saw the classrooms, technology lab and “the genuine love and care the teachers displayed for their students,” he was hooked.

“I knew right then and there that’s where I wanted to send my kids,” he said. “It’s just a loving, nurturing place with a fantastic world-class, faithbased education.”

They enrolled their son the next day, and this year they enrolled their daughter, Penny, in kindergarten.

Beau said he likes the school because “everyone is kind,” and he likes learning about Jesus.

“I learned that if you are kind, it makes you a better person,” he said.

Focus on faith, service, knowledge

The school emphasizes the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and provides opportunities for students to put those values into action.

In previous years, PCRS has participated in service projects such as collecting food and clothing for the poor, raising money for Habitat for Humanity, singing carols at nursing homes and making cards for the sick. They are currently collecting baby items for Catholic Charities.

Generations have gone to Catholic schools in Portsmouth starting in 1876 when St. Joseph Academy opened. Through the years, Portsmouth Catholic high schools consolidated, with the last one closing in 1991.

In 1970, the three Catholic elementary schools in the city – St. Paul’s, Holy Angels and Little Flower – consolidated to form what is now Portsmouth Catholic Regional School. Along with lay teachers, the Daughters of Charity continued to staff the school until 2000. When the religious order left, the school was staffed entirely by lay teachers.

The school has had some physical changes – the addition of primary and middle school wings, a gym and a technology lab – but has remained steadfast in its cornerstone of faith, service and knowledge, Henry said.

Henry, who attended PCRS for seventh grade in 1970, said she patterned her teaching approach after that of her English teacher whose classes provided the opportunity “for more student choice, interaction, discussion and debate.” The religious sister set up learning stations that re-enforced lessons through activities such as crossword puzzles, games and cooperative learning like developing skits.

Raising funds to continue operating

At a time when many businesses and individuals are experiencing financial hardship, PCRS is facing its own financial strife, which has put the school’s continued operation in jeopardy.

The Diocese of Richmond is requiring the school to raise $217,000 by Jan. 27, 2021 to cover a budget shortfall this year, or the school will close at the end of the academic year.

Within just three months, the school community rallied together and raised 92% of the funds, partially through a golf tournament and Giving Tuesday, a national day of giving. A number of alumni, community leaders and local businesses have contributed, and tickets for a raffle are on sale. The school is raising its awareness through communication, media and social media.

(As of Monday, Dec. 21, the school had raised more than $218,000.)

If the school meets the $217,000 goal for this year, Bright hopes donations will continue so the school “can get a jump start” on next year’s budget. However, he said the school needs to find additional ways to keep it sustainable. For that, enrollment is key, said Mike Bright.

One challenge to increasing enrollment is that classes are currently limited to 15 students due to COVID restrictions. Pre-COVID, there was room for 22 to 25 students in each class, but few had that many, Bolton said. The school has 143 students with one class for each grade – except sixth and eighth grades, which each added another class this year due to their size. Pre-K through second grade are full.

Bolton said staff is “dedicated” and “go above and beyond,” and school board member Cynthia Pauler said the teachers “go the extra mile.”

“There’s just a genuine care for these students by teachers and staff,” Bolton said. “Everyone has a common goal to create disciples of Jesus Christ within the students.”

Donations may be made at portsmouthcatholic.net and to the McMahon Parater Scholarship Foundation. 

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