Catholic Schools Week: Help Your Child Get the Most from Life and Education

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by Lisa Cooper

Holding our children for the first time, we are overwhelmed with love, our desire to protect them and to see them experience the lives God has planned for them. As we watch them grow, we feel more and more the weight of responsibility to help them get to heaven—of returning to God these precious souls He shared with us. We strive to afford them with every opportunity to better themselves, to grow in character. We want them to be successful, gaining admission to college and providing for families of their own one day. But often our measure of success falls short of God’s expectation, and so too does our idea of the type of education our children need to get there.

The best education offers much more than academic rigor and opportunities for scholarship. Our children need an education that not only requires excellence of them in the classroom, but also nurtures them in an environment where they are formed as full persons, ready to make a difference in this life.

For generations, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have relied on Catholic education to equip their children with the academic challenge and faith formation essential for success.

Academics: As with any good education, this journey begins with a strong academic foundation. We want our children to be prepared and confident by the time they finish high school, and a Catholic education is the surest path to that end. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 99% of all students who attend Catholic schools graduate, and 86% of them graduate college. On a local level, Catholic school graduates are doing more than earning their way into the nation’s top universities; they’re earning scholarships and credit hours in the process.

But any education pointing only toward the direction of a diploma misses the mark. Fr. Jerry Daigle, Chaplain at St. Frederick High School and diocesan Church Vocations Director, said,  “A good education will teach a lot about the natural world, laying a strong foundation in the arts and sciences, but a Catholic education goes beyond that to help us understand the ‘why’ behind that knowledge.”

Celeste Lirette, a junior at Loyola College Prep, echoes Fr. Daigle as she describes her own involvement in the classroom. “The education I get at Loyola focuses on thinking about things according to their higher purpose. Yes, we learn biology and math, but we examine what we learn in the context of God’s order and plan.”

From an educational perspective, studies show that students who are able to explain the “why” behind a concept are more likely to use and build upon that knowledge. From the vantage point of faith, students who are able to understand that “why” as it relates to God’s purpose are far more likely to stay rooted in their faith throughout their lives.

Community: Ask students what the most important component of their school experience is, and they will probably point to their friends. A Catholic school environment is most likely to provide students with a sense of belonging. Jackson Khur, a senior, says of his experience at Loyola, “I like being part of a smaller school. It feels like a family. The classes are smaller, and I have better access to all my teachers.”

The sense of closeness among Catholic school students isn’t unique to Loyola. Fr. Daigle said of St. Frederick, “We see less conflict. Students are kinder to each other.” That kindness is due in large part to the responsibility to care for each other which comes naturally as students spend each day praying, working and playing alongside one other.

In fact, being part of a smaller school also generates benefits both in and out of the classroom. Two separate studies named in a recent Education World article, “Credit small schools with reducing the negative effects of poverty on student achievement, reducing student violence, increasing parent involvement and making students feel accountable for their behavior and grades.”

Students in Catholic school communities are expected to practice those aspects of the faith which draw them to serve each other. “We aren’t just forming good citizens,” said Fr. Daigle, “we are letting the Holy Spirit flow through the hallways, forming disciples for Christ—and that’s what changes the world.”

Faith: While faith would seem the most obvious talking point with regard to a Catholic education, few realize the significant role Catholic teaching plays in the daily formation of students. Catholic schools support a student’s faith in addition to what they learn at home. As Fr. Daigle points out, the spirit is an important component of the human person, and Catholic schools are uniquely equipped to provide students with the tools they need to be fully formed, intellectually and spiritually.
Infused into every expectation, prayer, teaching experience, act of service or kindness on a Catholic school campus is the reminder of the great “why.” Catholic school students are undergirded with a faith that propels them through their daily lives with a sense of purpose.

Discussing the influence of faith in her everyday student life, Lirette said, “I am able to look at the world through the eyes of faith and discern right from wrong much more clearly because I am encouraged to see everything through faith.” She continued, “Being in Catholic school has protected my faith and has also helped me overcome my fear of standing up for what’s right.”

Campus chaplains also play a crucial role in stirring the faith in Catholic schools by making themselves, and consequently the faith, relatable and accessible in daily life. Whether eating lunch and laughing with students or offering counsel and comfort, priests help bring faith to life in the halls of Catholic schools. Students not only appreciate the presence of priests on campus, they have come to rely on them – turning to these mentors to answer their questions and hear their confessions. They get to see priests as ordinary guys living their faith with joy.

“Having chaplains on campus humanizes the priesthood,” said Fr. Daigle. “Seeing the joy of the priesthood, someone who enjoys life and loves people, allows the Holy Spirit to speak more loudly to those who are actively discerning a vocation.”
The benefits of Catholic education are not exclusive to those students who are Catholic. Students enrolled in Catholic schools, regardless of denomination, find their faith sharpened and supported through Catholic education. Jackson Kuhr, raised in the Baptist church, says his faith has grown stronger because of his interaction with students from different faiths. “We thrive on being part of a community of faith,” Kuhr said. And that community of faith is exactly what Fr. Daigle calls the Catholic school experience. “When all of these faiths come together in one place,” said Fr. Daigle, “it teaches us to worship together as a community of faith in an academic setting.”

Success: The ultimate end of any quality education should be the success of the student. But what constitutes success? Is it the ability to make money and to buy things for ourselves and our families? Do our greatest expectations for our children rest in where they will go to college? Or live? Or work? Rather than ask where our children will be, shouldn’t we also ask who they will be?

Fr. Daigle challenges us to look at success through a different lens – the lens of God’s expectation for us. “Catholic education,” he explained, “gives students the tools for success and shows them how to use those tools to build the society that God wants to build – one where we use our gifts to benefit one another.”

While countless Catholic school alumni have become extraordinary leaders, almost all of them consider what they have done for others as their true mark of success. And they will readily tell you that the seeds of their greatest successes … were planted in Catholic school.

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