MILWAUKEE — Notre Dame Middle School will add co-ed K5 and first grades to its fifth through eighth grade all-girls school in time for the 2012-2013 school year.

The primary school campus, to be housed in the St. Patrick Parish School building at 1115 S. Seventh St., will include two classes per grade and add 80 students. The middle school, whose campus is located about seven or eight blocks away at 1420 W. Scott St., and which is currently at an enrollment of 139, will remain all girls.

notre-dameNotre Dame Middle School will add two grades and a second site in the fall when the school adds co-ed K5 and first grades at St. Patrick Parish school building, 1115 S. Seventh St., Milwaukee. The school currently educates 139 middle school students at 1420 W. Scott St., Milwaukee. (Submitted photo courtesy Notre Dame Middle School)The goal is to add another class every year until the primary campus has 5K through fourth grades, according to Mary McIntosh, president of NDMS, and School Sister of Notre Dame Jean Ellman, the school’s principal and academic leader.

“The girls will feed right into Notre Dame Middle School and the boys will feed into other schools in the community,” McIntosh told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday, March 6, noting that planning for the expansion began last February.

“Every year we face the same challenges with girls being behind in math and reading and we thought well, you know what we could do … we could get them in kindergarten; that would help alleviate a lot of the challenges that we face,” McIntosh said of the school, which will accept students through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. She estimated that about 94 percent of the middle school students attend through the program.

The primary school will have four bilingual teachers because a majority of the students come from Spanish-speaking homes, but Sr. Jean said they hope that English-speaking families will also enroll their children in the K5 and first grades.

“We’re looking for not only Spanish-speaking families, we’re also looking for English-speaking families, because our goal, by the end of fourth or fifth grade, is that these students will be truly bilingual and biliterate,” she said.

Sr. Jean said that the middle school was started to help Latina girls complete high school and go on to college, because the Latina high school completion rate is low in Milwaukee and the U.S. But about half of the students who enroll in NDMS are below grade level in reading and math, so they hope the primary school will help to prepare students well in all subjects, especially the English and Spanish languages, by the time they reach middle school.

“We wanted to make it possible that when they started fifth grade they would be mostly on grade level, so that we could really give them the kind of education they need in middle school to go into a good high school and then go on to college with some confidence in their ability to do this, and that was really our thinking behind the primary school – we get them earlier because so many of their educational habits are formed in the early grades, ” Sr. Jean said.

Everything they hope to do stems from the school’s mission, “which is to provide the best education preparing our young students for college prep high schools,” McIntosh said.

After making the decision to add the primary grades and coming up with a model, McIntosh said she and Sr. Jean searched for a campus location.

“That was a real challenge here on the south side and (Jesuit) Fr. Jose Moreno really kind of stepped up to the plate and offered to help us out with that, so we’re very, very pleased,” McIntosh said.

They asked Fr. Jose Moreno, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, about renting the unoccupied building at Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Fr. Moreno suggested the school building at St. Patrick that’s currently being used by Wisconsin Community Services, because of the larger size and the office space that was lacking at Our Lady of Guadalupe. Wisconsin Community Services will be out of the space June 30, and the school will move in July 1.

It’s a collaboration that Fr. Moreno sees as a benefit for the parish.

“We really need an alternative school with very good academic level and then (students) can have access to the middle school,” he said, noting that many families in the area are poor and need an excellent education.

The setup will benefit more than just the parish and the school, according to McIntosh, who said they’ve received help from a lot of people to make this a reality, including the board of directors, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Kathleen Cepelka, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, and people in the community.

“I think it goes beyond benefiting the school – it benefits the community as a whole,” she said, “and if you go back to the kind of the history, the rich 180-year history of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and their the whole concept of transformation, I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do; we’re really trying to get the young students and transform them and transform the community and transform society.”