Jodi Marlin
Jodi Marlin
Publications Manager
January 16, 2019 // Local

Catholic schools: The choice that builds a legacy of faith

Jodi Marlin
Jodi Marlin
Publications Manager

“Is it in a good school district?”

The question was among those that used to be standard for young couples looking to buy a home in a new neighborhood. Even before they’re born, parents tend to give considerable thought to the environment in which their current or future children will be educated. Finding a school in which they will thrive is a universal priority.

Around the turn of the millennium, a paradigm shift took place regarding the educational options available to families. In addition to the local public school district and parochial options, cross-district enrollment became permissible in public schools; charter and magnet schools also sprang up, and remote learning became a reality. Almost overnight, the landscape of primary and secondary education became a smorgasbord.

As the landscape changed, Catholic schools quietly continued to offer competitively academic instruction combined with spiritual formation.

In fact, not much has changed in the mission of U.S. Catholic schools during their nearly 300-year history. What has changed is the ability of Catholics and the general public to access it.

During National School Choice Week, observed Jan. 20-26, the options for children’s education will be reiterated and explained. It’s an opportunity for Catholic parents to reflect as well on what a primary or secondary education in a Catholic environment might provide.

School or parental choice is a critical issue for the U.S. for three primary reasons, according to Jeff Boetticher, head of the Secretariat for Stewardship and Development. School choice helps restore equality in the American K-12 education system, allows parents to exercise discretion in their child’s education and encourages innovation and improvement within educational systems.

“In many areas of the country, the school-funding formula is based in some measure on the property values of the area where the school is located. This has created a system where school quality and school resources directly reflect the socioeconomic status of a community,” he stated. “Therefore, wealthy areas tend to have high-quality public schools and low-income areas are left with poor-quality schools. Many families cannot afford to choose a residence based on school quality. School choice is one method that can separate a family’s income level from the quality of educational choices. available to them. It can level the playing field for low-income families to have safe, high-quality educational opportunities for their children.”

2017 Annual Bishop Appeal file photo

Catholic schools allow for a rigorous academic curriculum, coupled with the ideas and values of the Catholic faith,” noted Amy Johns, assistant superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. “It’s the best of both worlds. And thanks to programs such as the Indiana Choice Scholarship and scholarship-granting organizations, a Catholic education is affordable.

“In the world and culture we live in today, why wouldn’t a parent want their child to be nurtured in a Christ-centered environment with the ideals and values that they hold so close? Our Catholic schools can provide that environment so learning can flourish.”

Historically, the tuition cost of Catholic schools provided an impediment to some families. Today, however, there are a variety of means available to assist with that cost. In addition to the Indiana Choice Scholarship and SGO funds, school and parish scholarships and parish-based tuition assistance programs are in place. In fact, said Johns, there is more help available now than in previous years because more local assistance funds have been freed up due to the ICS and SGOs.

Having a curriculum that has the Catholic faith intertwined throughout all subjects are the positives and reasons to choose Catholic schools, said Johns. “Choosing a place where your child participates in religion class, attends Mass regularly, participates and prepares for the sacraments, has the opportunity to openly pray … what more could one ask for?” Catholic schools, she added, help nurture the mind, body and soul of a child and gives them the tools and knowledge to be “citizens of two worlds.”

The Beth and Heath Bearman family is Catholic. The couple have six children, all of whom their parents wanted to send to Catholic schools. On a city firefighter’s and nurse’s salaries, though, and with the size of the family, it wasn’t feasible.

“We learned about the school choice scholarship when our oldest was a sophomore in public school,” said Beth. “Our first two graduated from the public school system: Our third child, Reyna, asked us if she could attend Bishop Luers. She was very interested in the show choir.” After touring the school and shadowing, they knew it was a good fit. Reyna struggled the first quarter, but the teachers caught her up quickly. 

“The following year, our fourth child was struggling at her middle school we decided it was a good time to once again tour a Catholic grade school and see if it would be a good fit for her. Rica attended St. John the Baptist Fort Wayne for eighth grade …  the extra one-on-one attention really helped prepare her for high school.”

The couple’s youngest two children, Remi and Enzo, came to St. John the Baptist in third and fifth grade: They are now in sixth and eighth. For all four of the children the academic expectation was challenging at first, but they have adapted.

Rica and Enzo still struggle in some ways, “but we don’t regret our decision,” said Beth. “The atmosphere and small class sizes have  been irreplaceable. The daily Catholic teachings and weekly Mass have impacted their lives immensely. The children really enjoy this aspect of their education.”

Across Indiana alone, there will be 981 events and activities held in observance of School Choice Week, all independently planned by schools — including some Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend — or organizations or individuals. Find details about who’s participating in the week at schoolchoiceweek.com/map-celebrate.

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