Choosing a School
Q. We want Catholic education for our children, but we are torn between our modest, older parish school and the more expensive academy that seems to have all the latest that technology and sports have to offer.
A Take it from two former teachers: Brand-new buildings aren't the things that grab us. Elaborate computer labs are nice, but they're not at the top of our list. What we're most concerned with is our children's faith formation and character development. In short, where will they grow closer to Christ?
Don't get us wrong. We're definitely concerned about academics. Caroline is a self-professed study nerd who loved school and always did well. (Tom somehow did well with much less studying!) But, in the long run, these things truly are secondary. What will bring our children the most happiness and fulfillment in their lives is knowing, loving and serving the Lord and his Church. And so we must provide an education whose aim is exactly that. Pope John Paul II said as much: “The ultimate goal of a Christian education is salvation in Jesus Christ.”
That's why our default position must always be set on Catholic education, no matter how impressive the public or private school down the road looks. Our first choice must be the Catholic school, unless there is a serious, compelling reason to go elsewhere – such as, for example, a special-needs child who would be better-served at a specially equipped school. (And, of course, we consider home-schooling Catholic education as well.)
The best people we know are Catholic school teachers. The ones tucked away in smaller schools in smaller parishes sometimes are thought of as lesser than their counterparts in private schools or the bigger parishes, but please, let's dispel that notion. Catholic educators must have the very same credentials as any other but serve for less pay and with fewer aides. People willing to make sacrifices in order to do God's will? Just the kind of people we want our kids to be around.
What else to look for? Talk with other parents in the school. Are they excited about the place? Do they share your values? Can you relate well with them? Remember, these will be the families of your child's friends.
Peek your head in and notice what teachers have on their walls. What they choose to display and find inspirational is telling. Walk through the halls on a typical school day. Does it seem to be a disciplined, orderly setting? Are public events smoothly run? Attend a school liturgy. Is it vibrant and well-done? Are the teachers singing? How about the kids? And, of course, examine the curriculum and texts. Is the material orthodox?
Don't overlook that sweet little Catholic school in your neighborhood, be it old or small or less technologically advanced. You just may be missing out on a gem of an education.
Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.