What makes Catholic school so great? Why do I choose it for my own children? I attended Catholic school from first grade until high school graduation. I attended a public university, but have gone back to Catholic education for graduate school. There were several advantages to my education, enough to make it something I felt was necessary for my own children, as well as making it my life’s vocation as a Catholic high school teacher. As parents, we have different options in choosing learning for our children: home school, public, private, or parochial. Every one of these choices has its advantages, but I feel compelled to share my experience and why I am sold on Catholic schools. This is not to say that the other options do not share some of these benefits, I am simply positing that which my Catholic school experiences have brought me. My parochial education, as well as that of my own kids, has brought some wonderful things to our lives:
Freedom of expression: When asked, this is usually the first advantage a student will acknowledge. “I am free to express my beliefs openly,” says one student. As a Catholic student and Catholic school teacher, I can be my Catholic self. I proudly wear a crucifix and Miraculous Medal around my neck without any dispute or questions. We say Grace before meals without strange looks. I can pray before every class and I have icons proudly displayed. Students speak proudly of their Catholicism. They even invite me, as their teacher, to their Confirmations.
Community: We share Mass and prayer, daily, weekly, or monthly. We share in the Sacraments together as a group: Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation, in particular. We are recognized by our uniforms and even knowing someone attends a Catholic school binds us in a special way.
Discipline: On that uniform note, Catholic school students know all about rules. It is the number one complaint of current students, but one of the most valued assets noted by Catholic school graduates. Catholic school students are held to a behavioral standard, based on Catholic morality. There is a security in knowing that everyone around you is held to such a standard, so safety, order, and principles are priorities.
Tradition: Besides the obvious Tradition of the Church being a primary function of a Catholic school, traditions in other forms are prevalent. Our school has events such as First Reconciliation, First Communion, Morning Prayer, prayer before class, honors assemblies, father-daughter dances, mother-son events, Holy Week ceremonies, and the list goes on and on. The traditions create memories for students and bind them together as a Catholic community.
Family: Students, teachers, parents are all part of a larger family. We regard each other with tolerance in regards to all of our faults, blessings, failures, and virtues. Students are bound to each other and loved by their teachers. Students return to visit the school and alumni do favors for each other. (A former student even asked me to be godmother to her child.) We celebrate each other and our achievements and console each other in our grief. We also drive each other nuts—think crazy cousins or irritating siblings— but we also love each other like Christ asks us to, just like family does.
These are just a few thoughts about my experiences as a student, teacher, parent, and alumna. We find our school environment to be our home, a home where Christ is the focus and Heaven the goal.