Catholic School Education: A lasting family tradition

coloring pencils

coloring pencilsNancy Metcalf enjoys hearing about her grandchildren’s daily activities at Trinity Catholic School in Oswego. She loves that they are creating memories, but it’s the older memories surrounding the school, when it was known as St. Paul’s, that brings Metcalf back to a time when she was Nancy Covell and just a child herself.

   “It was a family tradition to attend Catholic school back then,” stated Metcalf, a native of Oswego. “My mother attended St. Mary’s [in Oswego] and my brother and I went to St. Paul’s. It wasn’t something you discussed with your parents back then; you just went.”

   When it was time to consider schools for her own four children, Metcalf looked no further than her alma mater. “I sent all four of my own children to St. Paul’s and now it’s my grandchildren’s turn to go, although now it’s called Trinity Catholic.”    St. Paul’s Academy opened in Oswego in 1930, but due to lack of enrollment in other schools within the area, St. Paul’s merged with St. Mary’s of Oswego and Holy Family of Fulton in 1999. Classes continued to be held at St. Paul’s and the school was renamed Trinity Catholic.

   Trinity Catholic is one of 22 diocesan schools within the Diocese of Syracuse dedicated to academic excellence and development of the strong moral conscience of the more than 5,000 students attending pre-K through high school. Students are encouraged to embrace the values and ideals of the Roman Catholic faith which will enable them to meet the challenges and demands of a changing world. The diocese is also home to Christian Brothers Academy (CBA), a private Catholic Lasallian junior and senior high school in Syracuse and Holy Cross Academy, a private Catholic school in Oneida.

  Metcalf chose Catholic education for her own family based on the commitment to both academic excellence and religious values. “I liked the fact that the kids could say their prayers and talk about God and their religion,” said Metcalf.

   Metcalf herself later became a public school teacher and said she was often criticized by friends and neighbors for not putting her own children in public school. But Metcalf held her ground, believing her children benefited from not only the academics, but also the peaceful environment.

   “I worked as a substitute teacher for a while at Trinity and it was special just being there,” stated Metcalf. “I had a wonderful feeling the moment I walked in the door. All the kids were always smiling and they came up to hug me. It was great.”

   Three of Metcalf’s ten grandchildren currently attend Trinity Catholic. According to Shawn Metcalf, 8, a third grader at the school and his brother Sam, 11, a sixth grader, it’s “very cool” that not just their grandmother, but their great-grandfather, dad and uncles once attended the school they now go to every day.   

   Sam’s favorite subject is social studies and he’s certain that subject was his Dad’s favorite too, but Shawn disagrees: he believes his father’s favorite topic was art. The one area the boys agree on is their father’s extracurricular activities. Both boys are sure their father enjoyed basketball and they now play for the school’s Leprechaun basketball league, which, according to their grandmother, was the same league their father played for as a child.

      The Metcalfs are just one of many multi-generational families throughout the diocese that have passed down the tradition and importance of Catholic school education to the next generation. Like Metcalf, the draw for many families is the teaching of moral values coupled with the principals of the Roman Catholic faith and a strong emphasis on academic success.

   Dr. Leo Massaro, a native of Camillus and a dentist in the Liverpool area, attended CBA and felt strongly that his children would benefit from a Catholic education, especially in regards to faith building, in their formative years.

   “It’s important to have faith as part of the educational learning in the elementary years,” stated Massaro. Of his four children, one is enrolled at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, one at CBA and two at St. Mary’s Academy in Baldwinsville. “Religion is part of educational learning you can’t ever get in a public school setting,” stated Massaro.

   Dr. John Costello, an ophthalmologist who attended St. Patrick’s School in Oneida as a child, agrees with Massaro. Costello currently has his two younger children at St. Patrick’s; his two older children attend CBA.

   “I had a good education through Catholic schools, as did my brothers and sisters, but my Catholic education also gave me a strong foundation that helped make me the person I am today. This [education] is a positive [aspect] of my children’s development and I believe it will make them better citizens and give them good values to lean on as they move through life.”

   Strong values are something Costello, as well as many other parents, believe are one of the most positive trademarks of a Catholic education.

   “A strong value system with an emphasis on God in the tutorial process is something a public school can’t provide,” explained Costello. “My children are taught religion daily and I believe that makes a difference in their daily lives.”

   Nina Walters is the school nurse at Holy Cross School in DeWitt. Her husband Bob is the director of the diocese’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and they have five children. Three attend Immaculate Conception School in Fayetteville and two have already graduated from the school and now attend public school.

   “The only reason [all] our children haven’t continued on is the cost,” stated Walters. “It’s difficult when you have five children.”

   Cost for families, especially large families, is a consideration when it comes to education.

   According to the 2012-2013 Catholic Schools Report published in the fall 2013 issue of Pillars, a publication of the diocese’s Catholic Schools Office, the average cost per high school pupil was $8,403; the cost for elementary students was $5,779.

   Walters does feel the investment in the future of her children and the strong foundation her children are given in Catholic school is worth the cost.

    “Especially for grade school years, Catholic education has provided our children with a strong foundation of daily prayer, and learning their faith that sets them up for life — it’s vital,” stated Walters. “It’s also the same values we teach at home.”

   Walters herself went to Holy Cross and graduated in ’87 and feels her education also prepared her for life.

   “I graduated top of my class and developed core values that have followed me throughout my entire life.”

   Steve Potter, a classmate of Costello’s from St. Patrick’s graduating class of 1979, agrees that values and spiritual instruction are key reasons he and his wife chose Catholic education for their children, but the importance of skill sets and discipline also matter.

   “Catholic school provides a good moral base,” stated Potter. “Although I appreciate academics, I like the discipline and the moral development my kids get there. I’ve walked into a public school and there’s a lot going on, kids are walking around and there’s a lot of noise. You walk into St. Pat’s and you can hear a pin drop. That’s because all the kids are focused on their work.”

    Although the dedication of the teaching staff hasn’t changed since Potter attended school, the look of the teachers has.

   “When my mother attended St. Patrick’s, all the teachers were nuns,” explained Potter. “When I went there, most of the teacher’s were nuns; today, there are no nuns teaching at the school.”

   According to the Schools Report, of the elementary professional teaching staff, six were religious, 183 were lay professionals and four were clergy. At the high school level, two were religious, 113 were lay professionals, and one was clergy.

   Patrick Kinne, a teacher at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syeacuse, as well as a former Catholic school student from kindegarten to 12th grade, feels the encouragement he received  from his former teachers helped keep him focused on the future and on his faith.

   “I was allowed and challenged to grow academically, but more importantly my teachers nutured my faith and my personal relationship with Christ. That will always be the greatest gift that my teachers gave me and I only hope that I am able to encourage and nurture my students’ relationships with the Lord in the same manner,” stated Kinne.

   The Schools Report also showed that the diocese’s high schools enjoyed a 100 percent graduation rate and scholarship money offered to college-bound students totaled $18,453,905, indicating that seniors from Catholic schools were more than prepared academically to succeed in future educational pursuits.

   Tara Nolan’s three children attend St. Mary’s Academy in Baldwinsville. When it comes to morals, values, academics and life skills, Nolan is content with what she sees reflected in the education her children receive.

    “What I’ve seen at St. Mary’s in terms of a Catholic education, I don’t want my children to ever do without,” stated Nolan. “The teachers are wonderful, the way they incorporate education and moral lessons is amazing. This is the type of education I always want for my children.”

   Kinne, who has two children currently attending Blessed Sacrament School in Syracuse, feels the same way.

   “I will work to ensure that my children are able to receive a Catholic education. It is the best gift my parents gave me and in turn I would like to ensure that my wife and I are able to provide a similar education for Hannah and Alec. A Catholic education allows our children to receive an excellent education from loving and talented educators while also helping to develop their faith,” said Kinne.

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