Diocesan News

Fontbonne Will Offer New Middle School to Students Displaced by Visitation Closure

Fontbonne Hall students in a classroom. Come September they will being sharing their campus with younger middle school girls. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

BAY RIDGE — The news that Visitation Academy is closing forever came as a shock to its students and parents, but there are plans to open another Catholic school in Bay Ridge that can offer them a port in the storm.

Fontbonne Hall Academy, a high school located less than a mile away from Visitation Academy, is making plans to expand its mission and create a middle school for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades from Visitation Academy.

The new entity, to be called the Visitation Middle School Program at Fontbonne Hall Academy, is slated to open in September.

Both schools are all-girls Catholic educational institutions. Visitation Academy, which has a total enrollment of 92 students, educates girls from 3-K to 8th grade. Currently Visitation Academy has 31 students in its sixth, seventh and eighth grades, said Megan McCombs, director of admissions at Fontbonne Hall Academy.  

The Sisters of St. Joseph, the religious congregation that sponsors Fontbonne Hall, has already given the plan a thumbs-up.

To help ease the transition for Visitation Academy’s girls, many of whom have attended the school since they were young children, Fontbonne Hall is keeping the Visitation name for the program and plans to hire Visitation’s sixth, seventh, and eighth grade teachers to teach the same classes in the new middle school program, Fontbonne Principal Rocco Gentile said. 

The middle schoolers will share the Fontbonne Hall Academy campus on picturesque Shore Road with the high school students, enjoying access to classrooms, the gym, the cafetera, the science lab, and other amenities. 

Gentile doesn’t anticipate the need to construct new facilities on campus to accommodate the additional students coming in. “We have plenty of room,” he said.

Fontbonne Hall Academy started to work on the middle school plan as soon as Visitation Academy announced that it was closing, Gentile explained.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘We need to do something.’ This is a moment for us to make sure that single-sex education continues to thrive in Brooklyn. We wanted to offer families and students an option to continue their journey to the greatest extent possible,” Gentile added.

According to McCombs, the school is already accepting applications for the new program. While the program will technically be open to any sixth, seventh, or eighth grader from any school, Visitation Academy students will be given first priority in the admissions process, she explained. 

There is a great deal of excitement — and relief — over the new middle school program, even among parents not affiliated with Visitation Academy, McCombs said. 

“As soon as the announcement was made, my phone was ringing off the hook with people interested in coming to find out about being a part of this program that we’re taking on,” she recalled. 

Visitation Academy announced on Feb. 5 that it will close at the end of the school year in June. 

“We know that this decision is heart-wrenching for our families and our students,” read a letter sent to parents. 

The Visitation Sisters, the religious order that sponsors the school, confirmed that they are closing the monastery located on the same grounds and ending their sponsorship of the school. 

In announcing the impending closing, the Visitation Sisters and school officials said they would assist parents in finding new schools in which to enroll their daughters, if they need it.

Fontbonne Hall Academy senior Julie DiCapua is a Visitation Academy graduate. While she is sad to see her old school close, she is excited that her high school is providing a new home for the younger girls.

The two schools are a perfect match, she said. “We’re very close. Visitation is like a little sister school to us. It transitions very well,” she added. 

DiCapua added that she is pleased for another reason. “I feel that Fontbonne and Visitation have the same values and goals,” she explained.