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Catholic Schools Week a reminder kids can thrive in religious schools

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By: Chris C. Nelson, Publisher

My mom always reminds me she wished she sent me to Catholic school. I’m sure she has her reasons, but I think it’s because of all the headaches I caused her and dad during my high school years.

Catholic Schools Week has wrapped up. It’s an annual celebration that started in 1974. This year’s theme: Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.
Leaders, educators, students, and families use this time for Mass, open houses, and other activities to showcase the value of a solid Catholic education. Whether you agree with that or not, a recent report shows that attendance at these schools is on the rise, with more than a million and a half students enrolled across the United States. While that’s the case for many, the smaller communities are suffering an exodus of students. There are many reasons why, but there are just as many justifications to enroll.

Catholic Schools Week has a special place in my heart. Those I knew would talk about all they were doing to celebrate the Lord as a Catholic community. My graduating class sent more than 20 kids to our local private school. A few selected from this group went on to become Valedictorians in my class.

Over the years, I’ve seen and felt the impact of the Catholic faith through my parents, their parents, and our broad family. It’s an important part of our lives and one that continues to shape who I am today. Many of my friends and family spent time at parochial schools. It’s a reminder of a firm foundation. But there are limitations, too, and smaller communities are asking you to consider the positive role a Catholic education could have on your family.

Why this type of education? Catholic schools are committed to academic excellence. There’s a spiritual aspect in all lessons. Service to others is emphasized, as it’s a basic tenet of the Catholic faith. There’s a strong focus on a solid moral and ethical education. Despite the success and positivity of such an impactful curriculum and faith-based education, times are changing. And in order to continue attracting families, we may need to update ways of teaching what may be a traditional, but outdated way of learning.

It’s no secret that kids learn differently today than they did just 20 years ago. Let’s integrate the old with the new. In order to compete, Catholic schools must offer innovative and relevant programs to meet the needs of modern students and families. For example, many Catholic schools have started to offer STEM programs, technology education, and other cutting-edge courses that are designed to prepare students for success in the 21st century. By offering these programs, Catholic schools can differentiate themselves from other types of schools and attract students who may otherwise have gone elsewhere.

Private school isn’t free. For parents, it can be tough to find the funds necessary to support their student’s education. Tuition is on the rise, family sizes are declining, and family resources are tighter these days. While there are scholarships, financial aids, and tuition assistance, there are still many who cannot afford to send their child or multiple children. It may be worth additional monetary adjustments in order to make the Catholic education available to more students. We need to take the focus off the money and instead showcase the rich education offered.

You can’t attract new students or impact families within the community without proper outreach and marketing. Driving enrollment depends on our multiple communication platforms readily at our fingertips. From social media, to community events, increasing awareness is an important part of understanding the value of a Catholic education. Recruiting young families into the Parish, empowering them to help make decisions, and creating leadership opportunities within the “organization” will help increase your chances of success. The digital world can show what’s happening behind the school walls and ultimately attract potential families. Let’s get our leaders to strategize and communicate the big picture goals.

Don’t get me wrong. Public schools can be a wonderful place to learn and for students to grow. For decades we have graduated amazing humans who go on to change the world for the better. I am grateful for the public education I received.
But I believe there’s still great value and a special place for a Catholic education. There are options and opportunities; and behind every great Catholic school, is a great Catholic community cheering those students through to graduation. Catholic Schools Week doesn’t have to be a once a year celebration, we can honor the work that happens in classrooms around the nation and the world, recognizing the value a religious foundation can have on students in our local communities.

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