RUMFORD — The numbers may be down, but the attitude is positive as 54 preschool through eighth-graders began classes at the Holy Savior School on Wednesday.

“The economy is hurting and people hear that we’re closing, but we’re not,” said Barbara Pelletier, teaching principal of the Catholic school affiliated with the Holy Savior parish in the Rumford-Mexico area.

A group of supportive parents during the summer helped prepare the exterior of the school for the arrival of youngsters.

The playground is painted in a variety of bright yellows, reds and blues, as are the exterior windows. One parent used his bucket loader to wash the school’s windows, as well as his sweeper to clean up the school yard.

“Many parents volunteer to do work, to keep the school going,” Pelletier said.

The status of NewPage Corp. paper mill may be one reason the student population has declined, said Kathy Kellogg, a 32-year veteran of teaching elementary students at the school.

“The economy is our biggest concern,” she said.

The Mountain Valley region of the Western Foothills School District reported an increase in middle school students this year, some from the Holy Savior School.

Parents have to determine where to cut, and sometimes that includes eliminating school tuition when free public school is available, Pelletier said. Kellogg said others find alternative ways to cut their household finances.

“As soon as the economy turns around, we’ll increase,” Kellogg said.

While the preschool numbers have dipped this year to 14, youngsters in grades one, three and five are the largest. The neighboring school district began a prekindergarten program this year, which is another reason Pelletier believes her school’s number in preschool has declined. And this year, only one new kindergarten child is enrolled, when the usual number is seven or eight.

About 10 years ago, the school employed eight teachers and a full-time principal for nearly 100 students. Today, five full-time and two-part-time teachers instruct 54 youngsters. And the principal is one of the part-time teachers.

“People are concerned about us, but we’ve kept a steady budget from the church,” Pelletier said.

Tuition, which can range from $1,665 to $2,534 for kindergartners, and $2,153 to $3,400 for those children in grades one through eight, is contingent upon parental church attendance and tithes.

Holy Savior School works with the former SAD 43 for such things as transportation, flu shots, and even classes. Pelletier said one eighth-grade student is enrolled in the virtual math class at Mountain Valley High School.

The 54 pupils will participate in their first outing of the new school year on Sept. 16 when they will be bused to the Oxford County Fair to learn about local agriculture.

“We could be down in numbers, but we do a good job,” Pelletier said. “For the future, we hope we can be visible enough in the community so people will see us as a viable alternative.”

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Holy Savior School elementary teacher Kathy Kellogg reads “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” to a group of second- and third-graders Thursday afternoon during the class’s daily reading time. Fifty-four youngsters, preschool-grade 8, started school for the new year on Wednesday.

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