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Defying the Odds

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 24 August 2017.

One Catholic School’s Journey to Becoming a Model of Educational Excellence in the Most Unlikely of Places

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For sixty years, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy has been working small miracles in a low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood of southwest Denver. Operating within a limited budget, the school has given children, many of whom society has labeled as ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘at-risk,’ the opportunity to discover their God-given potential, develop a deep love for learning, and a desire to achieve excellence as scholars and as young men and women of upstanding moral character.

When Jeannie Courchene became principal of St. Rose of Lima in 1999, the school was in physical disrepair and in dire need of renovations. Mrs. Courchene and the pastor began the long road to “cleaning up” the school, while also brainstorming ways to attract more students. They developed a marketing brochure that proclaimed, “We’ve turned old lumber into computer tables, cardboard boxes into window shades, and hundreds of at-risk children into high school graduates. It’s our modest attempt to follow a man who turned a few loaves and fishes into a meal for thousands.” These words capture the vibrant purpose and achievement of the students, parents, teachers, and leadership embodied by this Catholic elementary school.

Within eight years of Mrs. Courchene at the helm, enrollment had exceeded two-hundred for the first time in twenty years. Through her efforts to build relationships in the community and establish a development board to help stabilize enrollment and put the school in a more viable financial position, St. Rose of Lima was able to make many necessary improvements and become a model of educational excellence.

Because of their success, especially in serving the Latino community, St. Rose of Lima was featured in the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 publication, To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity. Seven years later, we revisited St. Rose to interview several members of the extraordinary team of people, without whom the school’s transformation would have never been possible.  

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