This is the second in a series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education. In the first column I established the foundational presumption that all Catholic kids deserve an authentic and thorough Catholic education and that parents are primarily in charge of making sure this happens. There is a smorgasbord of school systems and approaches out there to help parents educate their children; parochial, public, private, preparatory, homeschool, charter, non-Catholic Christian, and Montessori, just to name a few. But, which one is right for your family? Here are four practical steps to take in making this decision.
The first step in choosing the right educational situation is to commit the decision to prayer. Any parent with a child already in school can testify to the life-altering influence exerted over a child and therefore the entire family by school schedules, homework, co-curricular activities, and classmates. If we open our hearts and minds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we will have much more peace during the process and about the final decision, and that decision may very well be a better one.
The second step is to make a list of our educational desires. What do we really want for and from our children's education? At a minimum we need to consider the opportunities for Catholic spiritual and intellectual formation, opportunities for physical and social development, intellectual rigor, tuition cost, our own child's special needs, distance from home, prospects for musical, artistic, and dramatic experiences, and whether our child will be safe. Once our list is drawn up, we need to prioritize it, because no single school system will be capable of meeting all our desires.
The third step is to take stock of our family's assets. These assets include time, energy, expertise, money, personal knowledge of the Catholic faith, friend and family support networks, and space in our home. Which of these are we willing and able to invest in our child's education?
The fourth and last step is to gather information about the schools in the region by talking with families who have children in them and by visiting the schools.
Once we have completed the first three steps, we are ready to rank each school system we visit according to our list of educational priorities. It's completely normal to be unsure of what we want for our children's educational experiences, especially if they are just reaching kindergarten age. In this case, it might be best to start visiting schools and talking to other families to get a sense of what is available before we make our list of educational desires. Once we've done our research and have selected our top school, we can determine if we have and are willing to spend the time, energy, expertise, money, etc., needed to enroll our child in our top choice or if we are going to need some help. It is important to say at this point that there is no "one-size-fits-all" educational system for every child at every grade level, and that it is okay to change systems, if need be.
Over the past twelve years five of our children (our sixth child is still developing in my womb) have been involved in seven different school systems in three different states. These have included small Christian schools, a Catholic grade school, a public school, homeschool, and a Catholic high school. I, myself, attended public school from kindergarten to college. Because of this I can tell you in all honesty that there is no single perfect school system, classroom, or teacher. It really is a smorgasbord, and parents really do have choices. As Catholic parents our one, common factor is the responsibility to make sure the essential areas of Catholicism — heart, hand, and head knowledge of the Faith — are somehow incorporated into our children's learning. Pairing these three types of knowledge with the developmental stages of childhood, heart and hand knowledge are the primary consideration for elementary school and head knowledge becomes increasingly important as they advance to junior high and high school.
Over the next four columns, on the basis of our family's experience, I'll try to present practical ideas for families with kids in, respectively, Catholic schools, non-Catholic grammar and middle schools, home school, and non-Catholic junior high and high schools