They have danced in ugly sweaters, washed cars, and pleaded and lobbied to save St. Paul School in Burlington City.

In only a few weeks, the grassroots appeal has raised nearly $125,000, half of what the 144-year-old parish school must raise or else be forced to close for the 2015-16 school year.

With a few weeks remaining in the campaign, advocates are optimistic that they will raise $250,000 by Jan. 15 and keep the Burlington County school open.

Students enjoyed breakfast with Santa at the school Tuesday before early dismissal for their holiday break.

"We're determined. We're all convinced that it is going to be a Christmas miracle," said principal William Robbins.

The Diocese of Trenton recently announced that it planned to close Holy Family School in Lakewood, Ocean County, and St. Denis School in Manasquan, Monmouth County, in June.

St. Paul could have closed as well, due to declining enrollment and fiscal difficulties, but parish and school officials decided to launch an aggressive campaign to raise money to stay open. The pre-K-through-eighth-grade school has about 144 students.

Students, parents, staff, and alumni have rallied around the theme "Save St. Paul School." They have asked businesses and residents in the surrounding community to make donations.

They raised $25,000 in the first week alone. A thermometer on the school's website charts the fund-raising progress. They will only have 10 days to meet the goal when school reopens Jan. 5.

"There were some numbers that were still hanging in the balance," said Lucy Tomczynski, whose two children attend the school. "I am confident that we will reach that number. My hope is that we are also finding those long-term solutions beyond this year."

Tomczynski said students raised about $9,700 at an ugly sweater dance-athon Saturday. A group of 10 parents donated $100 each for a conga line and danced to the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing," she said.

"It was important for them to know we support them," she said.

Two more fund-raisers are planned: a Zumba-thon at the school Jan. 3 and a beef and beer at the Florence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge on Jan. 9.

Robbins set the Jan. 15 deadline to raise the additional $125,000 to give parents time to explore other school options if needed. Registration begins that week for Catholic schools for the next school year.

In addition to raising funds, Robbins wants to boost enrollment to help the school become more sustainable. The school had about 500 students a decade ago. It was founded in 1870 and is part of the Parish of St. Katharine Drexel.

The diocese said it could no longer afford to subsidize schools to keep them open. This year, the diocese provided $1.6 million and covered insurance premiums.

"We're certainly praying for their success," diocesan spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett wrote in an e-mail. There are 43 parish and diocesan schools in the Diocese of Trenton, with about 17,000 students.

Tomczynski said eighth graders made a video message seeking donations. Other students signed Santa pledges promising to forgo some of their requested Christmas gifts to donate money to the school.

Donations of $50 or more will be refunded if the drive falls short, Robbins said. Individual contributions of lesser amounts will be donated to the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Burlington, he said.

"We're going to do it. People are determined that they are not going to let this place close," Robbins said.

For more information about the fund-raising activities, call the school at 609-386-1645 or visit

856-779-3814 @mlburney