This is the third of a three part series on our choices regarding schooling our children. You can read the first two parts here and here.
I started thinking about Catholic school on the periphery in October/November of the year Sarah was in Kindergarten. It was at that time we moved to our current parish. I was acquainted with a mother of 6 (at the time) who had her children enrolled at the school there. She and I had talked about their schooling decisions. Theirs was one of the first large families I'd encountered in some time that had chosen Catholic school as opposed to homeschool. I had been curious about that. She explained that she and her husband had considered homeschooling, but that through prayer and discernment felt called to educate their children in a Catholic school. This family sometimes attended the same Rosary prayer groups we did. And I realized that this was another family we could look up to. We could learn how to be a holy family.
This mother invited us to visit her parish on a Sunday because they always have donuts after the Sunday masses and we would be able to meet other families with their children in the school. She spoke highly of the pastor and about availability of Sacraments to the children. She spoke positively of all the teachers and other families and of the principal (at the time, a Religious Sister). When describing the tenor of the parish, she used the phrase "faithful to the magesterium" a couple of times, and based on my experience at our first parish, this was important to me. She encouraged me to check it out and to see, as she knew, that my children would be in an authentically Catholic environment every day at school.
We began by attending Mass. Our decision not to put our children in the school of the original parish had been made by attendance at Mass at that parish. The Mass at this parish was...well, it was Mass. Nothing added, nothing taken away. The Tabernacle was front and center on the altar (even though our current one is a vast improvement over what was there when we first attended) and not off to the side, or down the hall or anything like that. The hymns were traditional, which we preferred. We attended for a few months before deciding to talk to the pastor about joining.
We didn't plan to send Sarah to school there, though. For one thing, it was quite convenient that a bus took her and brought her home every day. And she had made friends already at her current school. Uprooting her after just attending Kindergarten didn't shout out as the right thing to do. But even though we weren't going to enroll Sarah, we changed to this parish as it was closer than the parish we'd been attending.
Part of my reluctance to research Catholic schools was based on the idea that I doubted we could afford the tuition. However, I found out that the parish school was truly parochial (meaning: parish supported) and decided not to let that be a deciding factor at that time.
After we'd been members of the parish for about 6 months, we were having donuts after Mass when I started to look around the Parish hall. I looked at the things they had up on the walls. I noticed the kitchen area. All of a sudden it hit me that this must be where the school children ate lunch. There was a big sign up on the door that listed "rules" for the lunch room and it included "We pray before and after the meal."
Just as I noticed this sign, Sarah piped up and said, "Look Mom, they pray before and after they eat lunch here!" I looked at her and asked her what she thought about that (keep in mind...she's 5 at this time). She just said, "I think it's a good idea. We pray before we eat at home."
Yes. Yes we do.
On the way home from church that day, Craig and I discussed and agreed to look into our new parish's school as a viable option for educating our children. The first pleasant surprise was the parochial status of the school. We were already tithing. Tithing had been a staple in Craig's and my faith life from the time we had become more serious about our faith. Nothing would have to change financially for us to move Sarah to the parish school.
When we inquired about the school with Monsignor and the principal, we found out that all the teachers were Catholic, the children prayed throughout the day, religion class was taught daily, there was a weekly all-school Mass, the children (all grades) attended Adoration weekly and YES! they had room for our daughter in the first grade. :)
They had a computer lab (very cool), the classrooms had Smartboards (state-of-the-art), they taught all the basics -- Readin', 'Ritin' and 'Rithmatic--along with science, social studies, music and P.E. The school was less than 10 years old and there was also a preschool. It had at least as much (academically) as the public school and sometimes more. But the main things for us were: Mass (we'd prefer daily, but we're grateful for weekly), Adoration, frequent opportunities for confession, daily religion and frequent prayer.
After the tour that summer, my serious and sweet girl, Sarah said, "Mom...this is nice and all, but I want to stay at my school." Aww, of course she did. All of you probably understand how difficult it is to be unable to give your child any and every thing her heart desires. The decision to uproot Sarah was not an easy one. But it was the right one. And now, it is almost like she'd never attended another school.
Of course, I was nervous. My daughter would be the new girl. What if she didn't make any friends? What if teachers and other parents didn't like us? It was a leap of faith to take the plunge and move Sarah. Besides, most of my worries had nothing to do with our "main things."
Yes, the transition was a little rough. Sarah was new and she joined a class where just about all the girls had been together since preschool. Thank God for the wonderful parents of the other children in her class, though. Seriously. As nervous as I was trying to get to know them and learn about their children (and expel some of my own demons regarding my childhood in Catholic school), several of the moms extended a lifeline to me and smoothed the transition. By the start of the second semester, I think we were all feeling "at home" in our new school.
We continue to support the school and now have three children who attend. It feels like a family. Some changes were inflicted by the Diocese almost two years ago that were difficult to take and very sudden. Some families chose to leave the parish and school. We thought about it, albeit fleetingly. But in the end, the "main things" were still in place.
Mass, Adoration, Sacramental Life and Prayer have always been and continue to be a central part of our children's Catholic education. As long as that's the case, we'll keep them there.
Every so often, when I allow myself to think about high school and whether we will send our children to the Catholic high school in the area (incidentally, named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America), I can feel myself slipping into considering other things like Academics and College Prep and whether it's on the list of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America and I have to stop myself. Because even if a school comes highly recommended for academics and even if it supposedly does the best job of preparing kids to go to college and even if it is on the list of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America...even if it hits all of those marks -- if a school does not satisfy those "main things" that drew us to Catholic education in the first place, then it won't be THE RIGHT environment for our family.
It is here that I feel I should state my philosophy on education. I believe that probably as much as 90% of education happens at home no matter where the child attends school. Yes, the kids learn things at school, but they learn 90% of most things at home. I think they learn that school is important based on whether school is important to parents and whether it's made a priority at home. I think kids learn that reading is important when they see their parents read.
Kids learn their faith at home, too. As a matter of fact, I think the biggest influence the children have with regards to faith are parents regardless of where they are spending their schooling hours. A kid can be taught a belief system by their teacher, principal, a sister or a priest over and over again...but the child will usually carry on the faith he sees modeled in the home.
This is why we're open to public school again, should the "main things" not be met by a Catholic school environment. Even though the kids attend weekly Mass, Adoration, partake frequently of the Sacraments, at school...it really wouldn't matter much if Craig and I were not supporting that at home. Conversely, even if the kids were to attend public school and NOT have weekly Mass, Adoration and Sacraments (at school), they COULD still have all of that because Craig and I would work to provide that. (Before we switched parishes, I had been looking into finding a place to take Sarah to Mass once a week before school.) Craig and I can ensure our children have frequent opportunities to go to Confession and Adoration, too.
All things considered, it's a huge bonus that we're able to find a Catholic school environment that helps us so freely with raising our children in our Faith.
Our environment is not without it's problems. Every school has them. But this isn't about the problems, that can be a post for another day. I think it's safe to say that every parish and every school (like every family) has its positives and negatives and everyone has to find the right environment for their family.
In the end, even though we didn't put a lot of thought into it before the first day of our first child's schooling, we ended up in the right place. In general, my thoughts on schooling haven't changed all that much...however much they might have changed on the details. I'm thankful that we're blessed with our school and I pray we'll maintain this environment through all of our children's schooling. We feel like we ended up "at home" with Catholic school.