It’s Catholic Schools Week, so I pray you’ll indulge me. We’ve been Catholic school parents for more than a decade and with five kids currently enrolled, high school to kinder, we’ve learned a few things along the way. I think it’s important to note that my husband and I are both products of the public school system (I’m the daughter of a public school teacher!) and we have many, many friends who are successful homeschoolers. This isn’t meant to shame or put down any of them. We have seen our children grow and thrive in the Catholic school environment and it’s my hope you might find the same with your family.
Let’s throw it back all the way to middle school and play a little true/false, shall we?
MYTH #1: Catholic schools are only for rich kids.
I can personally say this one is definitely not true. Truthfully? Catholic schools are for any kid—regardless of income. It’s the question I get the most, “How do you afford to send your kids to Catholic school?” For starters, here’s 23 tips on making it affordable. But, my best advice? Go talk to the school principal before you decide if you can make it work for your family or not. There is likely tuition assistance, deferred billing or other options. Don’t just pull up the school website, search for tuition rates, and then start shaking your head. I’m certainly not saying every family can afford Catholic school, but before you cut and run, set a meeting, offer it to prayer and see what God has to say. There is a high school in our diocese that follows the Cristo Rey model of a corporate work-study program to pay for tuition. It’s quite remarkable and it’s paving the way for kids of every socioeconomic background to become first-generation college students, all while gaining invaluable work experience. In addition, our diocese conducts an annual event to raise money for each of our 22 schools. They have provided nearly half a million dollars in tuition assistance since 2009. Maybe yours does something similar.
MYTH #2: Catholic schools only focus on elite academics.
Are academics important in Catholic schools? You bet they are. And, it’s probably the statistic that gets the most press. Around 99% of Catholic school students graduate and 85% go on to post-secondary education. But, I will tell you as much as I’m loving that my kids are challenged academically (in the healthiest of ways), the reason we scrimp and save to send our kids is because of the whole education they’re receiving. Service is a huge part of our children’s education model and I love that. Because, truly, you can’t educate a child’s mind and forget about her spirit and her body. They are intimately woven together. When our preemie began his first day of kindergarten, his teacher, who had been with us since his birth, squeezed my shoulder and said, “Mama, he’s gonna be fine.”
MYTH #3: If nuns or priests aren’t teaching, it can’t have a strong Catholic identity.
The second most asked question is always, “Is there a priest assigned to the school—or—Do nuns teach?” Y’all, there is an important observation we must all understand. Spirituality and faith are not exclusive to priests and religious. Are they enhanced when a sister or priest walks the halls or teaches the classes? Yes. But they are not mutually exclusive. Some of the teachers that have changed my children, rocked their worlds and brought them closer to Christ are lay people. It is the preparation of the teacher’s heart that matters most, not the clothes she wears or title she has. Ask your principal what the academic and spiritual requirements of teachers are and there you will find our answers. The last several years we have been blessed with amazing Sisters in the classroom and mighty fine leaders of priests at the altar. But it has been the living rosaries, the saint projects, the service initiatives, the community building, adoration hours and the prayer time that has forged an indisputable Catholic identity in my school and in my children.
MYTH #4: Catholic school kids live in a bubble and aren’t exposed to the ‘real’ world.
I would argue that because my children attend Catholic school they are better prepared to tackle the world’s inequities. Let’s be clear, though. Catholic school does not equal a substitute for my role as a parent. School simply reiterates and further explains what we do at home, as a family. I cannot expect my children to learn service if we don’t practice it at home, nor will they learn prayer, kindness, love and acceptance if we don’t provide those life lessons under our roof. Bottom line? We are active participants and equal partners with the school in forming our children. We make a good team when we both do our part. I’m not afraid to call my principal when I see an area of improvement (trust me) and I expect them to provide me with great resources and a phone call when I need to step up my game, too. Our kids are only living in a bubble if we allow it.
MYTH #5: Catholic schools are only for Catholics.
Each year, Catholic schools save taxpayers approximately $24-billion based on the public schools cost. $24-billion. It costs Catholic schools around $5,200/student per year and public schools are racking up around $12,000/student. So, yeah, we’re doing more with our students, using less money. And, you might be surprised to hear that a growing number of non-Catholics are seeking a faith-based education for their children in a Catholic school setting. I’m proud not only that our schools are forming solid citizens and being good stewards of our tuition dollar, but that we’re seeking to form faith-filled young adults, regardless of religious upbringing. I’m seeing, first-hand, the fruits of a Catholic school education and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Kathryn Whitaker. Learn more about her here.
This post was originally published here and reprinted with permission from the author.