Since the first of our five children started attending grade school back in 2003, we’ve been a family committed to Catholic education. Because our faith is central to how we live our life, the idea that our kids could combine their academic growth with spiritual growth always appealed to us.
Despite living in an affluent area in San Diego that has great public schools, we felt strongly that our kids needed the Catholic school experience and that it would help us raise our children surrounded by the faith. We like the fact our kids could say “Merry Christmas” at school and attend Mass with their classmates each week. It’s always been that way, and despite the significant costs and sacrifices we had to make as a family, we never once thought twice about it.
But next week, my almost-12 year old son will make the move from five years of Catholic school to a large, public middle school and we’re feeling good about it.
It’s not that our idea of support of Catholic education has waned. We still believe in it and I pay a pretty penny for my oldest child to attend Catholic high school at this very moment. But at a time when education is getting more competitive at an earlier age, I’m afraid many Catholic schools are falling behind. While they remain strong in the faith, many are losing academic excellence and kids are not being challenged enough. That’s exactly what happened to my son.
When we moved to the Kansas City area from San Diego, we chose a Catholic school in the general vicinity of where we wanted to live. The school, it’s staff and
teachers were welcoming and we felt great about our kids attending. Even through the first year, things went great. My 8th grader was welcomed with open arms and what could have been a difficult year for a pre-teen ended up being an amazing school year where deep friendships were forged. Gone were many of the materialistic focus we saw in Catholic schools on the west coast and kids seemed to be at the right speed here versus in San Diego.
When my son moved into 5th grade, we noticed all of the other kids had homework but my son never did. Assuming the worst, we asked the teachers if he had not been turning in assignments. No, they said, he had just finished them during study time and he was indeed keeping up his A-average. No worries they said.
At first, that was a relief. But as the year went on, and he complained of doing math he had reviewed a few years before (a credit to the academics of the more secular-driven Catholic school he attended in California), we became alarmed. Numerous studies and data shows that if pre-adolescent boys aren’t challenged in school, they soon can become lost, uninterested, and fall behind. We wanted our son to be challenged and to continue to love learning.
With numerous teacher changes, and a lack of focus on math and science, we decided it was time to move him. It required 6 months of deliberation and discussion for us to get there but, ultimately, we needed to do what was best for our son academically. He is at a crucial point in his education – the point he’s being readied for the barrage that is high school. Even though it hurt us to think we had to abandon Catholic education for three years, we had no other choice for our son.
If you look at the history of Catholic education, it hasn’t been until recent years the schools have been considered elite private institutions. In fact, the genesis of Catholic schools was born from the inability (at the time) for public schools to provide a quality education for immigrant and poor Catholics pouring into American cities. That, and the fact Catholics have been discriminated against since first coming to America, the idea made perfect sense. The religious aspect of parochial schools was also appealing to a population that was closer to its faith then.
Today, Catholic schools are becoming victims of a lack of funding, a lack of Catholic identity and a sort of economic barrier for many to take part. Couple that with areas with great public school districts, and these very important institutions are struggling to keep their enrollments up. A note: this does not mean there aren’t great, faithful, and academically stellar Catholic schools – there are many. But the financial condition of many (due to low enrollment, low tithing in parishes, and even the legal problems associated with the abuse scandal) is putting the future of Catholic education in danger in America.
We’re sorry to have had to move our 6th grader away. At the same time, we’re excited to see our son benefit from the advanced programs in engineering, computer sciences and even music our local school district provides. We think he’ll be challenged and that will make him a better student. He’ll continue his religious education at our local parish during off hours. He won’t lose his foundation in the faith.
We’re also open to our three youngest boys (not of school age yet) attending Catholic schools. We only hope, if we do, we’re not faced with the same dilemma a few years down the road.