It's Catholic School's Week! My kids are excited for the fun activities planned at their wonderful Catholic Schools, mostly the dress down days :) Phil and I are huge supporters of Catholic Education, as we literally work in it to be able to provide it for our kids. We'll always be poor, but our kids will be well-educated. We think Catholic schooling is so important at every age. As parents, we understand that no matter where we send our children to school, we are their primary educators. If the school is teaching them something that goes against our beliefs or values, we are there to guide our kids back on the right path. But by putting them in a good Catholic school, we don't even need to worry about this - everyone is on the same page. The goal is to educate our children to get them to Heaven.
Deciding where to send your sweet toddler to preschool can be an excruciating choice. You want them to be loved and cared for and taught in the same manner that you would teach them. You want a teacher who scoops them up and gives them a hug instead of worrying about bureaucracy and the rules about touching a child. When I worked in a daycare in college, we weren't allowed to hug the little children. It was so sad and I broke the rule daily. They're sweet little kids who need to feel safe and loved! Their little minds are being formed, and these years are the best for getting in great theology lessons with simple songs, prayer time, stories, etc. The preschool kids love their faith (become like little children!) and eat it up with a spoon. My preschoolers sing songs to Our Lady under their breath as they color a picture of a Cross. They're going to be singing, they're going to be coloring, they're going to be read to....why not make it faith based?
Catholic Elementary School:
Elementary school provides a place for kids to get a great foundation of their faith in a bubble. These kids are ages 5-11 and even though they are aware that there are many types of people in this world, they are surrounded by like-minded students and teachers. It is NORMAL to start class with a prayer. It is NORMAL to say grace before lunch. It's NORMAL to go to Mass weekly and know how to participate. It's cool to be picked to read at Mass, or serve at the altar, or chosen to play the role of Mary in the Nativity play. Their faith is just integrated into every other aspect of education for them, and they are such little sponges, they just soak it all up. These years build such great habits for life.
Catholic Middle School:
The awkward years ;) I've found these middle school years to be fun. The kids are old enough to start thinking for themselves, but innocent enough to still listen to their parents and teachers, for the most part. Our middle schoolers learn so much about being leaders of the school and all of the qualities that it entails. They can become members of the National Honor Society, Student Council, and tutor younger kids who need help. Middle schoolers learn how to lead by example as St. Francis said. They are given a little more freedom but expected to be responsible with it. Catholic schools use these years to train their students to know their faith and serve others. The teachers help navigate the students through relationships and puberty and other challenges.
Catholic High School:
I think if I was only able to send my kids to Catholic school for a short period of time, it would be for high school. These years are so formative!! Here, the Catholic faith is taught not only in Theology classes (mandatory all four years) but in our Campus Ministry Club, Pro-Life Club, at prayer time in the Chapel before a sports game, during First Friday Adoration, at morning prayer over the intercom, at morning Mass in the Chapel, in weekly Confession opportunities, in the many, many service opportunities provided to them. We raise money for veterans, local homeless shelters, and food pantries. Kids go to the March for Life in DC, they volunteer at a farm that provides meals for homeless, they sort through clothes and toys at a company that donates to those in need. Students can travel to Honduras or Africa to serve the poor, they give up their Spring Break to serve the local community members who need it. They have spent their lives learning the lessons of our beautiful faith, and now they are ready to carry it out. The rules and discipline in Catholic high school make it easier to stay on track. Uniforms promote modesty and a sense of belonging. They will be able to reflect back on their morality class lessons when it comes time to make a big decision in the future. While these high school students are still normal teens, they are learning how to act for the rest of their life. They are being taught how to live as Catholics.
I'm going to speak from my own experience here, because that's all I know! When I was in (Catholic) high school, I had a close group of five friends. I chose to go to a Catholic college (Franciscan University) and the other four did not. They all lost their faith. While I was meeting potential spouses that wore scapulars (swoon!), went to daily Mass and frequent Confession, and prayed with friends, they were partying and meeting the wrong type of guys. While I was being taught by professors who vowed to teach in line with the Catholic Church, they were being taught by liberal professors. Now, I know that going to a secular college doesn't guarantee a falling away from faith, and enrolling at a Catholic college doesn't guarantee a path to sanctity...but the risks are real. When young adults are able to leave home and "discover themselves" there is a lot of questioning involved and we pray the ones answering them are giving them the proper ones. Colleges are a breeding ground for expanding minds and challenging opinions and that's good! But if not done in the proper context of our faith, it can be disastrous. By the point of college, if you have raised your kids to know right from wrong and given them all the tools they need to succeed, they can persevere, but they will be tested. Why not put them in an environment that helps them along their journey instead of pushes them away?
Catholic schools in many areas are suffering due to drops in enrollment that stem from a smaller population, the ability to afford it, and the lack of vocations. Without sisters who will teach at Catholic schools, lay people have to be hired (and paid) and tuition has naturally increased to cover the costs. Due to this, some families can't afford it and don't consider it an option. But I urge you to visit your Catholic school, see what it offers, and talk to the Principal about making it work. Catholic schools are here to serve and if there's a will, there's a way! I've seen it first-hand many times! Every parent has to decided what is best for their family, but if you haven't considered Catholic schools, I pray that you open your heart to it. It's been the best decision for our family, and we have sacrificed everything to make it happen.