By Connie Berry
When a kindergartner begins attending a Catholic school, his or her first concern is not likely to be the graduation rate for seniors of Catholic high schools — which, by the way, is a whopping 99 percent reported by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). The little student’s first worries are much more apt to be about making friends, just why all of his/her shirts should be white and what Mom packed for lunch.
Meanwhile, most parents of Catholic school children are well aware of successful graduation rates and that is just one reason why they chose to send their children to Catholic school. Even though nation-wide non-Catholic enrollment is approximately 15 percent, Catholic parents are still grateful to send their children to school where the goal is an education infused with Gospel teaching.
The U.S. Catholic bishops issued “Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium” at their June 2005 meeting. They reaffirmed their commitment to support Catholic schools while realizing the challenges facing parents — economic, cultural and societal challenges.
The bishops wrote:
“Catholic schools provide young people with sound Church teaching through a broad-based curriculum, where faith and culture are intertwined in all areas of a school’s life. By equipping our young people with a sound education, rooted in the Gospel message, the Person of Jesus Christ, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith, we ensure that they have the foundation to live morally and uprightly in our complex modern world.”
Not only are Catholic school students likely to graduate and go on to become “successful” by today’s standards, but they are also assumed to measure their success not by money or accolades, but by how they treat the least among them. A quick measure of this concept could be taken by looking at the amount of community service performed by Catholic school students. Visiting the aged sisters at the St. Anthony Motherhouse or collecting school supplies to send to an impoverished village in El Salvador is as much a part of the curriculum as spelling tests and times tables.
Sheila and Dave Martin have five children enrolled in Catholic schools in the Southern Tier, and even though it means fewer vacations and missing out on owning the latest model car, they are glad to make the necessary sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools.
“I went through the Catholic school system here and it’s our priority that our kids do too,” Sheila Martin said. “It’s important to us that our kids can go to a school where they can pray — before school and after school and go to the school liturgies.”
Martin pointed out that when the April 2009 shootings took place at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, she knew her children would be in prayer at school and they would be surrounded with support.
“There are crazy things happening in our world and it helps us as parents when we know our children are praying when they do happen. We know the school staff will be talking to them and explaining things as best they can.”
Besides the benefit of compassionate understanding, Catholic schools also offer a sound academic model. The Martins’ teenagers attend Seton Catholic Central High School where they participate in advanced placement courses, sports and chorus.
“They are all doing very well,” Sheila Martin said. “There is extra support if they need it and the teachers are great.”
Martin said that her children have developed friendships that she thinks they will keep for a lifetime.
“They have great friends and that is really important. They are friends with kids whose families are making the same sacrifice we are to keep their kids in Catholic schools,” she said.
Jennifer and Keith Redmore actually made the choice to send their children to Catholic schools before they were even born — in fact before the couple were even married.
“We decided when we went through marriage prep,” Jennifer said. “Our commitment to them as parents is to help them grow up in a faith-filled home and Catholic schools reinforce what we do at home.”
Their children attend St. Thomas Aquinas School in Binghamton. Jennifer cited an example of the encouraging atmosphere there.
“The kids had an assembly at the end of the year with a talent show. Any child in grade k through third could participate. Kids that age have a varying amount of talent,” Jennifer said. “I was so impressed when all the students clapped and cheered for each student who participated no matter what talent they exhibited. There were no snickers or giggles. They just really respected and encouraged each other.”
The Redmore’s goal is to keep supporting Catholic schools so that all of their children — numbering four and counting with another one on the way just about when the school year begins — are able to attend Catholic schools through their high school graduation.