This week, January 30-February 3, marks Catholic Schools week around the country. Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you that there are special indulgences for choosing Catholic school over public or home school. The truth is, no one option makes you more Catholic than the other. It’s always the spirit in how you live your choice, not what choice you make.
With eleven collective years of Catholic schooling between my three children (with two more yet to enroll), I’d like to share the top three myths about a Catholic school education and what led our family to choose it for our five children.
MYTH #1: A Catholic education is only for rich families.
Really?!? I’ve never considered myself financially rich. Spiritually, yes, but never financially. The cold, hard truth is we view the tuition payments as a necessary and regular expenditure, much like that of our water bill, our grocery bill and our tithe to the church. For us, it is not a “oh, that’s nice to have” but rather a prayerful choice we make every day.
MYTH #2: My kids get the same education in public school or at home.
This is a tricky one. If you’re just sending your children to Catholic school so you can say they attend a “private” school, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. For the same reason if you drop your children off at religious education class and place learning the faith solely in the hands of their RE teacher. In a recent letter to the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences, they had this to say about religious education in schools:
“Parents, having given life to their children, are their primary and principal educators (cf. GE 3; John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio [FC], 22 November 1981, 36; c. 793 CIC; c. 627 CCEO). For that reason, it is the responsibility of Catholic parents to look after the Christian education of their children (c. 226 CIC; c. 627 CCEO). In this primary task, parents need the subsidiary help of civil society and other institutions. Indeed, “the family is the primary, but not the only and exclusive educating community” (FC 40; cfr GE 3).”
Amen, I say! We are not an island when it comes to religious education. Be an active participant. For us, Catholic school is merely an extension of what they hear on the weekend at Mass and during the week at home.
MYTH #3: Catholic schools are really just a fancy version of a private school.
No doubt there are some Catholic schools that fall on the “private” end of the spectrum more than the “Catholic” end. That’s why I say: choose wisely, just as you would with anything in which you enroll your child. Meet with the principal, observe a classroom setting, ask questions of a current student and family, log on to the school’s website and get a feel for the community, attend a school Mass. Make your decision an informed one. This is your child’s future, your decision should reflect the enormity of that choice.
I can tell you that making the leap to send our children to Catholic school was made long before we ever had children. When they began school, I’ll admit looking at our tax bill and the tuition bill made me a vocal proponent of school vouchers. However, that is another blog post! We knew to be fully committed to the school and to a Catholic education, we had to make it a priority. We’ve forgone fancier family vacations, newer cars, eating out on a regular basis and numerous incidentals. The thing is, we haven’t really missed any of those things. We get creative on family outings, our cars get us from point A to point B and eating at home is so much healthier for our pocketbooks and our cholesterol levels.
For those families that say the only thing holding them back is finances, I say, go talk to the principal in person. See if there’s a way to make it work, perhaps spreading out the tuition payments or applying for tuition assistance (there is NO shame in that, folks) could be an option. As a result of this past weekend’s Celebrating Catholic Schools event, schools in the Diocese of Austin are slated to receive approximately $70,000 for tuition assistance.
It is our sincere prayer that the daily presence of Christ in the classroom is helping form our whole child—mind, body and spirit. They are being academically challenged, far and above the state-mandated averages. Our class size and smaller school makes that possible. They are challenged physically because every child that tries out is placed on a sports team. We are also vocal proponents of the “Play Like a Champion” curriculum, created by Notre Dame University, that fosters a Christ-like attitude when coaching, participating and cheering for athletes. Their spirit comes alive in the classroom. The small details of the crucifix hanging in every classroom, priests and sisters walking the hallways and teaching in the classrooms, weekly school Mass and classroom prayer do not go unnoticed.
One story in particular has always touched me. A young elementary student was upset after receiving a low grade on a test. His teacher, seeing his anguish, knelt beside his desk, grasped his hand and prayed with him. Above all other reasons, that is the one that encapsulates our decision to choose Catholic school. For in that moment, Jesus’ compassion entered the classroom and never left. The ultimate Teacher is fully present in our children’s school. That is a precious gift in which no price tag can be placed.
If you’d like to learn more about Catholic schools in the Diocese of Austin, log on to www.csdatx.org for more information.