I did not attend a Catholic school. My brother and I were products of the public school system. In fact, my father retired after 28 years as a principal in a local school district and my mother, before she married, taught elementary school. My brother went on to teach at the high school level. His wife is a teacher of special needs students. And now their son has earned his teaching credential and also is a teacher. I guess teaching runs in the family, with the exception of me. I think I turned okay, but I wonder if I might have somehow turned out differently had I been educated in our Catholic schools.
In anticipation of Catholic Schools Week, an annual national celebration of Catholic education that this year runs Jan 28 to Feb. 3 in the 6,525 Catholic schools in the country, I visited many of our 41 schools and heard first-hand from the teachers, administrators, parents and students about their experiences. The overarching theme throughout my tour was that while Catholic schools excel academically and in many cases outperform public schools on standardized tests, the mission is to develop the God-given gifts of each child. Maybe your child struggles in math, but excels in music. Your student is supported with individualized instruction to boost his or her mathematics acumen, but your student’s musical ability is equally nurtured. Each child is made to feel special and valued.
As I visited various campuses it was clear to me that the children were in an environment that felt a little more like a family than what might be found in a public school. Classrooms were smaller. School uniforms made it difficult to distinguish cliques that may have been formed. Teachers and students prayed together and attended Mass once a week. There was just something different about the atmosphere on campus. And it felt safe.
From the diocese’s preschools, where two year olds are taught to make the sign of the cross, to the high schools were behavior boundaries are clearly marked, the Catholic School campuses I visited were thriving centers of faith, learning and, yes, fun.
If you’ve ever pondered sending your child to a Catholic school, this is the week to explore what they have to offer. A good place to start is occatholicschoolsweek.com