Sadness for an Old School

Since our soon-to-be First Grader will now be attending a Charter school, it has been a great sadness for me that he will not be able to have the same Catholic School experience as our older son. Why?

1. Being able to talk about God. It is a lot easier to pass on the Faith when you can converse openly about God. Where you can pray. If someone is sick, the class prays for them. Heaven forbid that should happen in a Public School! And actually it is probably a good thing they don’t, since they might pray to the “Goddess,” or Allah, or teach the latest New-Age, quasi-Asian religious technique. Yes, I know that is an unpopular opinion among my other devout peers, but society is actively anti-Christian. Anything but Judeo-Christianity is preferred. I personally prefer my child learn to pray and talk about God correctly then learn it from people who find Christianity (or Catholicism) evil. We had Mass every week in our school. The priests and nuns were active there. Saints were seen (in statue form) and actively discussed. There were crucifixes! The older kids actually opened Bibles **gasp**. You can’t do that in a Public/Charter school, because, you know…the Bible is hate speech.

2. Love. The signs in the First Grade said “God is Love.” The kids cling to the teachers with love, which is actually allowed to be expressed. Now, maybe in public school a hug is still allowed – who knows, but here Love was everywhere. My son’s 8th grade class, of 14 kids, did a fund-raiser for Cystic Fibrosis and made $1500. They collected hundreds of gifts for needy children for Christmas. Yeah, you can still say that word in Catholic School. The class adopted a family for Christmas and went, with their teacher as Santa Claus, to their house with dozens of gifts – toys, supermarket gift cards, clothes, etc. It was a very special event. This family had nothing and it was important that they receive love too.

3. Family atmosphere. In our small school, which not all Catholic schools are, of course, everyone knew each other. My kindergartner knew the names of the kids in middle school, and vice versa. Dismissal was over in 10 minutes. Teachers were able to really give kids more attention if needed. While big schools can have bigger sports teams and amenities, and can pay teachers better, small schools are a family. Kids don’t get “lost.” Teachers are really in contact with the parents. And parents are really expected to contribute of themselves. It is not good enough just to say, “Oh, someone else will take care of it.” I think one of the reasons our school did not survive is that half of the kids were not Catholic, and their families were not committed to the parish and the school. Many were there by state scholarship for needy families. Most of the committed parishioners moved to newer neighborhoods and our school was not the same again. I also think the K-8th Grade set-up is best. It seems to keep the kids grounded. They have to take a leadership role in the school and are expected to have responsibilities. Middle schools don’t seem to have that same expectation.

Of course, this is my view. I’m sure many will say I’m just sentimental. That their experience was not positive, or their school was not run with charity and love, etc. But our experience has been positive and I’m sad my little one will not experience it. But we are determined that our new school will get our best, and that we will help our son to get the best education possible. Really I think that is all we can do.

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.