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Private Maryland school fights to keep doors open after COVID challenges

Christ Episcopal School, in Rockville, said its enrollment fell by 30% at the beginning of the school year due to factors related to the spread of coronavirus.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — As the coronavirus continues to spread across the D.C. region, some local private schools are doing whatever they can to hold on. Christ Episcopal School, in Rockville, is asking the public to lend a helping hand.

Acting Head of Schools Nicole Stone said the institution is trying to obtain $800,000 in pledges by the end of January in order to operate next school year. 

RELATED: Montgomery County Public Schools delay return to in-person learning

Stone said coronavirus created a major financial difficulty for her school which teaches students from preschool through eighth grade, and the school was informed last year by its owner, Christ Episcopal Church of Rockville, that it may have to close due to its budget deficit. 

“We went into this new school year with a 30% reduction in enrollment and we were facing a large operating expense deficit,” she said.

Stone said some families decided to leave the school when it opted to start the school year virtually. It currently teaches students in person. Other families couldn't afford to pay tuition due to the financial challenges the coronavirus posed to parts of the local economy.

“COVID hits and wipes out the enrollment pipeline,” she said.

Stone said Christ Episcopal has raised about a third of its fundraising goal so far.

LEARN MORE: Christ Episcopal School's Fundraising Effort

There are currently 107 students enrolled in the 54-year-old private school. Over the last decade, Stone said Christ Episcopal has emphasized making sure it has a diverse student body, with more than 50% of the school’s students receiving financial aid; 60% of the student body is of color.

“So we really represent Montgomery County,” she said. “It's a microcosm of Montgomery County and that's what we're proud of. We provide that stepping stone for students of moderate means who normally wouldn't get the opportunity to be in these very small classes with high interaction from their teachers.”

The school has some ardent supporters too.

The Mamalians, of Potomac, have had two children graduate from the school. They say their third child is currently an eighth grader there.

“This school is very important to our family,” parent Cyndy Mamalian said. “We have been at this school for 15 years now and the community is a second family.”

RELATED: Teachers eligible to receive COVID vaccine in Virginia starting today

She praised the school for its unique learning environment and faculty. She said she was worried as to what could happen if it were to close.

“I'm heartbroken,” Cindy said. “You know, we really loved our experience at the school. Our kids have grown tremendously as a result of the teaching and the curriculum and everything else that the school teaches.”

Her husband Paul Mamalian echoed that sentiment.

“It is incredibly nurturing in such a diverse environment,” he said. “And it's one of the reasons why if you talk to families, you'll hear of people driving from all over to [the school in] Rockville.”

Stone said she remains optimistic the school can reach its fundraising goal.

"We've enrolled a bunch of new students this first week or so," she said.

The church released the following statement in regard to the school’s effort to keep its doors open:

“We are incredibly proud of the creativity, bravery, and perseverance shown by our school staff and families during COVID. Our leadership has taken every possible step to keep our school open while ensuring the safety of our students and teachers, including investment in specialized air filters and purifiers and the creation of socially-distanced classroom spaces. With all these precautions in place, we are able to continue to offer a child-centered educational program with in-person options for preschool through 8th grade. We hope that families looking for an engaging, warm community environment for their children during COVID will consider becoming a part of CES. Although COVID has impacted us financially and socially and we are currently struggling to know the way forward, what we do know is that we are a strong and resilient community committed to exploring every option to build an even better future together.”

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