Catholic School v. Charter School

One of the most difficult decisions in the saga of our Catholic school closing
(read Part 1 & Part 2) is our decision to go to the Charter school that is being set up at our old school.

In one way it was easy, we don’t have the money. Our older son is beginning Catholic High School next year. Two tuitions were not feasible for us. I’m, for the most part, a stay-at-home mom. I have been very committed to that decision. I occasionally work part-time, but I think that in the trade-off between more money v. more time, more time wins. Of course, so many women can’t make that choice because our society is ever more increasingly hostile to single-income families, but we have been fortunate that we could do it. Our kids have never been to theme parks and they have survived. And I will be taking more free-lance work now that both kids are in school.

The hard part of the decision for me is the loss of Catholic school in our 6 year old son’s life. Catholic school is special. It is the loving, small school, family environment. You can talk about God there. You can read the Bible. “Jesus” is not a dirty word. Prayer is expected. Love and Charity are expected. To do your best is expected.

Is every Catholic school like this? Definitely Not. One school near us, the one everyone says is just excellent, and has a huge waiting list, is very successful and has all the awards – is very cold. Everything is about money – how much you make, how you make it, who you know. I visited it years ago and the whole place felt snooty. The sports teams are very good, but also very proud, and not in a good way. They act superior to other teams, looking down on them. Those who are not well-off are not welcomed. I was very uncomfortable just going to Mass there. But our school was not like that, and we are spoiled.

What about Public School? Well, not all public schools are bad. Just like any other school, parents have to look out for their kids. The teachers and the area are very important. More affluent areas have middle-class to upper-middle-class students who are usually guided by their parents to put an effort into learning. And education is, for the most part, encouraged. Not all areas are like that.

Truthfully, it is the “Middle School,” that I worry about the most. Some of them are cesspools when it comes to behavior. One girl in my son’s graduating class was in public school until 7th grade. In the middle of the year her parents moved her to our 4K-8 Catholic school, and she will be going to Catholic High School in the fall. Why? Sexual activity in the hallways of the supposed “good school.” Last year, a public middle school in the next county had one student murder another in the bathroom.

A friend of mine went to her local middle school with her son on a field trip a few years ago. This was to be his new school the next year. She was shocked. She lives in a very affluent area. The kids acted like they were in prison. Not a smile anywhere. The principal kept on telling parents what a “safe school” it was. The ethos was awful, and she knew she had to do something. The next year she homeschooled him and the following year he went to a Catholic school.

Now that I’ve given my opinion on why Catholic school is so good – what is not so great. Well, I think sometimes the academics can be better. It depends on the school and the teachers. I’m told that public schools try to make learning more fun, less worksheet dependent. And our charter school follows that. Catholic schools are always fundraising. Always begging for money, even the more well-off ones. There is the tuition, then fees, all the supplies you need to buy. Public schools have buses – for better or worse and more options for before & after care.

When I began 6th grade my mother took me out of our Catholic school and put me in the public middle school because she could not afford the tuition. This was 1976. I was a good student and would have done well anywhere. I was bored for a year, though. I had to listen to kids read aloud who….read….like….this… I was frustrated and the kids were meaner, but I survived. We had some cool classes though: silk screening, wood shop, home economics, swim class. The library was bigger, etc. And that is still true I think. Public schools are for the most part, except for very affluent private schools, much better funded.

If you have a special needs kid you will probably be in Public School. Whether your child is gifted or autistic, they will get more of what they need there. Not that it will be perfect, you have to fight for everything your child needs, but by law you will probably get it.

My prejudice against Public Schools is the liberal bent. The handing out of condoms and all the sexual goings on in public schools. The violence in some schools. The drugs and weapons. The laxity of discipline. The kids – and parents – who just don’t care. The one thing about both religious and charter schools is that you have parents who care. Parents for whom education is important and that makes a difference. In the high school my son is zoned for, only 70% actually graduate, and of that number only 44% go to college. In the Catholic high school he will be going to – 99% of the kids go to college and the other 1% go to military academies. Now which school do I want my kid to go to? Who will be his friends? His girlfriends? His future contacts? What will rub off on him? The kids there are drug-free (they have random testing – the kids voted for it.) It is as safe as a school as can be.

So now we move to Charter schools. Are all charter schools great? Most definitely not. A Charter school is a public school run by a private entity and granted a Charter by the state. They can teach they way they want and can have better discipline. All require parental involvement – i.e. service hours. If you don’t behave you have to leave. We have 389 charter schools in our state with 100,000 students. Several have been closed down. Of course, some of that was because of bureaucratic problems or poor funding, but others were not good. Other Charter schools, however, are “A” schools and do very well. Our city runs a Charter school system, and one third of the kids in the city go to those schools. You can only get in by a lottery system.

The Charter school company that is taking over our school buildings has 14 schools already. They are very well respected “A” schools – very professionally done with excited and motivated administrators. Their mission statement is very similar to a Catholic school. In fact, most of the administrators were educated in Catholic schools. A friend of mine who teaches at one of our city-run charter schools says our new school is very good. But, of course, no religion can be taught there since it is a Public School. There is the difficulty I’ll address next time.

Our School is Closing, Part 2

Well, the school is closed. Except for moving out, which is happening for the rest of the month, all the regular activities have ended. The end of school was hard, it was like one long death. As the end came we had one sad event after another. First there was the Saturday mass for the parish and school, where current faculty & staff, and those who have been involved since it’s beginning, were remembered and thanked. There were speeches, of course, and the tears.

Then there was the traditional “Pass it On” school Mass where the 8th graders essentially “pass the baton,” symbolically of course, onto the Kindergartners. Both were dressed in their graduation gowns and it was nice, but I could not help but think “Pass on what?” the whole time. There was nothing to pass on, but it was the tradition and a nice photo opportunity, especially since both of my sons were in it.

We had the 8th grader’s graduation party one night followed by a graduation Mass the next night. The party had lots of food, awards and family memories. It was a lovely celebration of what great kids this class had. Many of them have been there since they were three or four years old and the class is very close. It is amazing what fun simple pleasures are – musical chairs, laughter, dancing, cake, and watching these young people blossom.

During the party in the cafeteria I noticed pictures posted from the 53 years the school existed. I kept looking for pictures from my class years ago, but did not find any. What I did notice was a picture from what looked like a graduating class from the 80’s. 56 kids. This year’s class had 14. My son mentioned that the first row in the picture had as many kids as his whole class. That pretty much says it all about why we are closing.

When they announced the closing, after the initial shock, there was a drive to save the school, which I personally thought was a waste of time and energy, but I helped because I was asked to do so. I was not very enthusiastic, I’m afraid. The school did not get to this situation overnight and it would have to be a miracle for it to stay open. Enrollment would have to double, there would have to be a tuition increase and lots of donations. That was not going to happen. Why would parents put their kids in a school that would probably close? Parents could not pay the tuition we did have, which was the cheapest in the county, and with the economy they were not going to pay an increase. And writing to Bill Gates & Oprah Winfrey, as some were doing, was not going to save the school either.

I think the biggest question for parents is “Where do we go now?” “What school to go to?” Some parents immediately removed their children for other schools. For us, the first thing was to get into another Catholic school ASAP for the next year. I immediately called other schools to be added to their waiting lists. I asked around about the several different schools in the area. And during the registration period toured some schools. We registered at one of the schools that we thought would be excellent for our son, even though we knew the tuition and other expenses would be difficult for us to do, but we would try. We were just very grateful to get in. The Archdiocese was asking those schools to give us the same tuition as ours did for a couple of years. The school and the people there are nice and very welcoming and helpful. There is lots of discipline and I think he would be happy there.

But…then our pastor announced something unexpected. Our school could become a Charter school. It was a shock and I did not know what to think. Eventually, the details were hammered out and the charter school, which is an established organization with several successful schools in the area, is going to take over all seven of the archdiocesan schools that are closing this year, plus one that closed last year. Several of our teachers are supposed to be hired. My husband and I discussed it as more details were revealed and it became an option for us. With the economy being so bad, and our finances, it was an easy, yet difficult, choice. Our son will be going into first grade at the charter school. But it also means our son will not be educated in a Catholic school. That struggle will be my next post.

Our School is Closing, Part 1

There is a lot of truth to the saying that you don’t know what you have until you lose it. That is particularly true lately in our parish school. Our school celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago. It isn’t a grand school but it is solid. Built when lots of young middle-class families were moving into an expanding area, it and our parish has suffered a decline of resources and people of means for several years. In essence, the middle-class people moved to better and brighter territory, and working class and immigrants with less means, less involvement, and different languages, moved in.

The new people and the established parishioners did not always understand or appreciate each other but over time have gotten along. Our finances have not. Our school, which should have 250-300 children to be truly viable, only has about 120. If we picked up our school and moved it 10 miles west we would have them coming out of the rafters, but our location, while not dangerous, is not desired and therefore we are one of the few schools in our area without a waiting list.

This is the school that I went to through 5th grade. The school I did my First Communion. And when my son became old enough, it was the school we chose. Actually, it was the only Catholic school without a waiting list, so we got in. Admittedly, it was not my first choice, but public school was not something we wanted for our child if we could do it. Later, when we had another son, he joined his brother at our school for Kindergarten. That was this year.

We did not know when school opened that this would be its last year. My older son was in 8th grade after having been there 10 years. And now I thought we would be there another 9 years. Over the years I had grown to appreciate the teachers and staff who really sacrificed to be there. They could have been many places but chose our school because it was truly a family and truly Catholic. It was not until this year I realized just how lucky we were and how much a loving family it was.

I came to this realization on the first day of school. It was my youngest’s very first day of school. I had been teaching him at home all his life and did not see the need for preschool since I stay home. He, of course, was familiar with the school and had been there frequently. He knew everyone and it was a nice start. But our entrance to the school was truly amazing.

We got out of the car to walk in and were met at the gate by Mr. Marvin. Mr. Marvin is a disabled volunteer with Cerebral Palsy, among other problems, and walks with a limp. But he is there every single morning, rain or shine, to greet the kids and make sure they cross the parking lot safely. “ROBERT!! WELCOME to your 1st Day of School!!!” he said joyously. We crossed the basketball court and passed by Coach…”Robert, it’s nice of you to finally join us! Welcome.” Then as we walked into the main gate of the school and were met by Sister Beatrice. In her wonderful Irish accent she greeted us, “Welcome to school Robert!” We continued on past the 4K door and there was the 4K teacher who gave him a hug and welcomed him as well.

By the time we got to the Kindergarten door, full of busy activity, I was practically in tears. What a blessing this school was. What a blessing all these people were. We were truly lucky to be in this family of God. Over the next few months I noticed little things, the rosary the kids were saying to keep them occupied at dismissal, the way the principal, who is a sister and can be tough as nails, was loving and fair to all the children and everyone thrived. The priest who came to teach religion to the little ones. All combined to create an atmosphere where everyone was loved and encouraged to grow.

Then, of course, the news came in January. The school was to close. The archdiocese just could not prop up the school financially any longer. Our school plus five others were closing. Later, it was quietly announced another school would close as well. I was saddened but not surprised, how long could the Archdiocese bleed money to keep these schools open? The pastor was not surprised. Many parents were, though signs were huge if you looked.

Upset parents and friends of the school made an attempt at saving the school. Fundraising, enrollment drives, and groups of women walking around the school praying the rosary each morning did not work. God’s answer was still No. So here we are. As I write this, the school will close in 9 minutes. There is deep sadness. Since January it has been like a long death. Like a man told he has just months to live. First the shock, then the hope to find a cure and now the Long Goodbye.

What comes next? How did our school and Archdiocese handle this? How did we handle it and what do we do now? That comes in my next post. It’s 3:00. School is out now.

Dealing With Scandals

Recently, a very prominent and popular priest in our diocese has caused scandal with a woman. He very possibly could leave the priesthood to get married. Of course, the press has plastered the story everywhere, and brought out the usual comments about abolishing celibacy. One national newspaper has even taken a poll about the church making celibacy optional, and has made sure to include prominently the comments of Catholics who profess support for the priest, his divorced girlfriend, and his choice. It truly is a sad time for the Church and the community. But how does this (and other scandals) truly affect Catholics? How does it affect you?

I’ve been thinking and praying about this today. How does this affect me as a member of the faithful? How am I supposed to react when scandals happen, as they always do? Truly, I hate to even mention it to anyone. I emailed my pastor to get his opinion, and have read a few articles, but it seems like such a sadness. Perhaps for some it is an opportunity to gossip and revel in every detail, or to use the scandal to further their agenda, but really it is time to pray for all involved in the scandal, including us.

In the history of the Church, there have always been scandals. Judas comes to mind, and of course, the priestly scandals a few years ago. There have been bad popes in our past. Truly, scandals occur every day in the Church. Most are small, but many have serious, deep repercussions, like the Reformation, a most horrible breach that separates Christians to this day.

It is how we deal with these scandals that helps us climb out of the pit of despair. If we try to pretend they don’t exist, or if we try to cover them up, more damage will be done.

What we need to do is keep focus. Focus on what Christ wants from us, what our responsibilities are. We have to keep our eyes on Christ. If we do that we will be OK. It is harder if you know people involved, but the most important thing to remember is to keep focus. What exactly does that mean? That means pay attention to the job at hand. If you have an apostolate, work harder at it. If you are raising a family, try to do it the best you can. In other words, pay attention to the life you are supposed to live and ignore things that don’t involve you. MYOB.

Mind Your Own Business. Now we tend to use that phrase to describe when people are interfering in others affairs, but if you use the term literally, it really means to pay attention to YOUR life and the things you can control. Don’t let the failings of others affect you and your life. You should certainly learn from others when they fall, or learn to be aware of certain problems that could come up. One example is when someone steals from the Church. You certainly don’t want to pretend that did not happen, but use it as an opportunity for putting in place certain controls to prevent it happening again.

But you can’t let a scandal distract you from your task at hand, which is to get closer to God. I think that the devil enjoys using scandals to distract us from what we really should be working on, which is spreading the Kingdom of Christ. We have to pray harder and deeper. Take more time out for prayer and talk to the Lord constantly throughout the day. Think of HIM, not the scandal, not the gossip, and you will progress on the road to God. Which, of course, is all that matters.

Why This Blog?

In 1995, when I came back to the Church, I knew very little about the Catholic Faith. I discovered that I, and others who grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s, had been educated in what I refer to as the “Kum Bah Yah School of Catechism,” named after the popular folk song forced upon us at Mass in the 70’s. We were taught that “God was Love” but not much else. We did not really know what the Church taught or why she taught it.

Fast forward 16 years. As I progressed in my faith, I had an insatiable desire to learn everything I could. I read every catalog, book and website I could find. In the process, I learned a great deal, and discovered fantastic resources that I felt I had to share with others. In talking with other Catholics, I discovered that there is a real need that people have in where to go to find out information. They want to know about serious topics, but also about prayer and how to have a “personal relationship with Christ.” Most people are clueless in where to even start. So, here I am to help you. I want to help you find the great resources that are hidden in the midst of all the “weeds.”

I am not a theologian or a religious. I’m a Catholic layperson. My goal in learning, and in sharing with you what I find, is to be true to the Faith. I have no interest in spreading false or dissenting information. I think that if you are going to be Catholic you should learn what the Faith really teaches and why. If you don’t understand a teaching then it is your responsibility to find out more about it, and to pray for that understanding. In the meantime, it is also your responsibility to follow that teaching, even if it is hard.

There are many people who say they are Catholic, but have a specific agenda. They are teaching others what they think the Catholic Church should teach, what they want it to teach, but not what it actually does teach. This agenda usually is driven by those who think the Church should modernize and “get with the times.” But Christ is the Author of Time, the Creator of Time. His teachings don’t change and won’t change. It is our job to find out what they are and follow them. Christ left us the Church to help us do just that.

I’m going to show you resources that can help you with your walk as a Catholic Christian. My aim is to help you, whether you are a convert, revert or experienced Catholic, find what you need, whether it is about Church teachings, or ways you can deepen your relationship with God. I’m also going to share with you my journey. I’ll tell you my thoughts and opinions if I think it will help you. We will not be discussing politics, or politicians, or current events. There are many others out there that do that very well. I’ll tell you which resources I think will be helpful (and faithful) concerning a topic, but I’m not going to add to the fray.

I will treat everyone who comes here with respect and I expect the same from you. Please do not post ugliness. If you would like to email me, my email is Marcy (at) LiveCatholic (dot) net. Please replace the “at” with @, and the “dot” with…well a dot. This format is used to prevent people from stealing email addresses for nefarious purposes. I’d love to hear from you.