So how is Catholic school treating your family? That’s the question my husband and I have received a lot since enrolling our oldest child in Catholic school rather than homeschooling her this year. Given it’s National Catholic Schools Week and our chosen Catholic school also celebrates its 100th day of school, the time seemed right to offer a response to that FAQ.
The quick highlights? In short, my husband and I are very happy with our decision. We really (really!) like the school and are continually impressed with the principal’s dedication to providing a solid Catholic education for the students. Additionally, the parish priest has a strong spiritual presence over the school, and collectively, the school and parish are positively reinforcing the faith we are attempting to pass on to our children at home. More positives: small class sizes, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in the classrooms (which probably only means something to fellow CGS-enthusiasts!), the school Masses are reverent and joyful, and the school has been mindful in keeping our daughter engaged academically in areas where she’s accelerating. She is thriving as a whole person — spiritually, academically, and socially. It wasn’t that she was unhappy or struggling academically in the homeschool environment, it’s just she is an extremely extroverted child who l-o-v-e-s school, and it does my soul good to see how well this new environment suits her.
**It just took a bit of a journey getting to this point.**
As I reflect, here are a few thoughts that rise to the surface regarding our family’s educational discernment toward Catholic education. It’s not an indictment on others’ choices, simply a reflection on ours.
Don’t Try to Shove a Square Peg into a Round Hole
Our city and its Catholic culture has a thriving homeschooling community, and I have much admiration for the homeschool way of life. I had the ability to see, up close and personal, the positive values that homeschooling affords many families. Upon further reflection, what I really craved was a life full of holy leisure, and I felt homeschooling was the one and only pathway to get it. But as much as I love the ideal of homeschooling, it took two years of living it to understand that I was simply not being called to it during this stage of life. I tried every trick in the book to make it so — changing around our home environment nearly every other week, mixing up our schedule to keep things fresh, PRAYING HARDER! in hopes of receiving more homeschooling mom graces, and spending more time around seasoned homeschooling moms. In the end, God wasn’t calling me down this pathway and that life of holy leisure was nowhere to be found. It was more like a life of holy stress, as in holy cow, Lisa is really stressed out. The school we eventually chose was not even on my radar until the Holy Spirit knocked me over the head via an Undoer of Knots novena (more to that story here). I was so married to the ideal of homeschooling that I was going to make it work come hell or high water … making myself miserable in the process. And ouch, maybe my family, too. Whatever your situation, don’t be so married to your ideal that you miss the other great resources under your nose.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
There were family members who didn’t understand our decision to homeschool; now I have friends who don’t understand our decision to send our children to Catholic school. Education decisions are prudential ones between husband, wife, and God, so leave the extended family and neighbors out of it. At the end of the day, someone will have something negative to say about every option you consider. Do your own research, talk to trusted sources, figure out what’s really important to you, and then go ask good questions of qualified resources.
Not sure what questions to ask? Kathryn from Team Whitaker helped us get our thoughts churning. Here’s her most helpful post on 10 questions to ask when applying to Catholic school. Here’s her equally helpful follow-up of 5 questions Catholic school parents should be asking the principal.
While touring schools and interviewing principals, we structured many questions from Kathryn’s advice. Our experience with our chosen school has largely been what we expected because of the principal’s responses to them. He didn’t sugarcoat stuff simply to get us in the door writing tuition checks. Truthfully, he sold us by not trying to sell us. We had heard so many opinions about how watered-down the faith is in our local Catholic school system. We don’t claim each is a blue ribbon school, but with the one we chose, we have been very pleased with the Catholic experience. Bottom line, we had to do the research and interview schools ourselves. If you want to get to know someone, you don’t solely rely on what others have told you. Same goes for school selection.
I’m a student of the Benedictine way, and a key lesson I’ve learned from St. Benedict stems from his teachings on the vow of stability. Stability refers to the importance of community and commitment in life. For monks and nuns, it refers directly to a commitment to the monastery where they will live for the rest of their lives. We the laity are not members of a monastic order, of course, but we can still make a vow of stability to our families and faith communities. My husband and I were spiritual vagabonds for a few years, and that took its toil. We can look back and see how our journey makes sense (sort of), but now it’s time for us to settle in and commit to this new school community. There’s an inner peace with our decision that had not been present at any other point in the journey.
If you’re still in the exploratory stage about your children’s education, here’s a key point that took awhile to sink in: Don’t make a vocation out of discernment. At some point, you need to commit to something. This isn’t to say you can’t change plans if your chosen path isn’t meeting the needs of your family, but pray about it, and the Holy Spirit will show you. He will. He was showing me for a long time, yet I clung on to what I wanted. My inability to close some doors prevented me from seeing the ones God was gently opening for our family.
Shall I close with the same question I opened with: So how is Catholic school treating your family?
Copyright 2016 Lisa A. Schmidt