WESTERLY — Two former teachers at St. Pius X School will open a preschool at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in September.
The teachers, Jena McGuire and Karla DeSarro, who are sisters, not only taught at St. Pius but also attended the venerable institution, which closed at the end of the 2018 academic year because of declining enrollment. McGuire and DeSarro are known to many in the area as two of the six Carey sisters.
The idea for a preschool was suggested to the Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi, pastor of Immaculate Conception, by a parishioner during a cookout last year. Capoverdi saw DeSarro at Mass the next day.
"I called her into the sacristy and told her about the idea and she said, 'That's what I was thinking,' and I said, let's see what we can do to put this in motion," Capoverdi said in an interview on Thursday.
It took about a year to get all of the necessary approvals from the town, the state, and the fire marshal's office, and to prepare the Pray and Play Immaculate Conception Preschool's space in a part of the church's Parish Center that previously was used mostly for catechism classes. The process was challenging at times and both Capoverdi and McGuire said they occasionally questioned whether the idea would actually become reality — but on Thursday the newly painted classroom space gleamed.
"Nothing good ever comes easy," McGuire said.
Capoverdi thanked McGuire and DeSarro for their work bringing the school idea to fruition. He also praised the work of Mike Mumford, a parishioner who coordinated the project for the necessary approvals, as well as local lawyers John Turano and Thomas J. Liguori Jr., who contributed their time pro bono. The Rev. Michael Najim, pastor of St. Pius X Church, donated games and other educational materials that were left over after his parish's school closed.
"There was a lot of elbow grease to put in and a lot of selflessness. It was such a beautiful collaborative effort of parishioners and people of the town," Capoverdi said, adding that prayer played an important role, too.
The parishioners also came through financially by donating about $500,000 during a capital campaign, Capoverdi said. The effort came at the behest of Bishop Thomas Tobin, who asked all parishes in the Diocese of Providence to initiate capital fundraising campaigns.
The new school, which will serve 3- and 4-year-olds, is seen as a way to restore what had been a 90-year tradition of Catholic education in Westerly. The school is certified to serve up to 18 children if there is a mix of the two ages, or 20 if the population is just 4-year-olds. St. Pius X School served the same age group as does a preschool at St. Michael School in Pawcatuck, but that facility has had to turn potential students away because it has been at capacity.
"We wanted to service these kids in Catholic education as much as possible. We'll start small again and rebuild," McGuire said.
Once the preschool is up and running, additional grades could be added.
"It's our aspiration, as soon as we possibly can, to have kindergarten here as well," Capoverdi said, adding that Grades 1-4 might be added eventually as well.
The school will accept all children regardless of their faith and beliefs but will include the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which was developed for the religious formation of children. McGuire and DeSarro were trained in the Montessori-based program at St. Pius V in Providence last year.
"We'll teach the Catholic faith for about 30 minutes per day but also incorporate that into their play. ...Where people sometimes worry about character education and morals and teaching, it will be incorporated into their day here," McGuire said.
Capoverdi said both the pray and the play part of the school experience will be important. "I want them to go home and say, 'I had a lot of fun today,'" he said.
The school will offer half- and full-day programs as well as morning and afternoon care. Tuition is set at $127 per week for a five-day program and $106 per week for a three-day program. Grants are available for families that need assistance with tuition
McGuire taught middle school math and science at St. Pius X School for eight years and also taught in the Westerly Public Schools. She is also a former director of religious education at St. Pius X Church. She is certified to teach pre-K children and to serve as a school administrator and head teacher. Most recently she taught pre-K students at a Catholic school in Baltic, Conn. DeSarro taught physical education at St Pius X School for more than 20 years and currently works at the Ocean Community YMCA.
"We're fortunate to have two very experienced teachers who grew up in town and are known as trusted educators. It's such a tremendous positive for our school," Capoverdi said.
An open house will be held after each Mass this weekend for people who are interested in learning more about the Pray and Play Immaculate Conception Preschool. Masses are at 4 p.m. Saturday and at 7, 9, and 11 a.m. Sunday. More information will also be available by calling the church at 401-596-2130 or McGuire at 401-218-9301.