Catholic Schools Are Special Places to Be

by Dr. Thomas Chadzutko

AS WE PREPARE for the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, we must pause and reflect upon why the Catholic elementary and secondary schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn are very special places of learning for the students enrolled in them. This year the  National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) has chosen as its theme for the year: “Catholic Schools – Faith, Academics, Service.”
Here within the Brooklyn Diocese, we are blessed to have Catholic schools and academies that exemplify these characteristics by providing students with a quality Catholic education. Essential to providing a quality Catholic education are the following: sustaining of the mission of Catholic education, the essence of providing students with the necessary skills to be successful in the future (academic excellence), dedicated administrations, faculty and staff and recognizing that Catholic education is an essential part of the diocese.
The mission of Catholic education and our Catholic faith is paramount. Our schools/academies are places of evangelization, of complete formation and of service to others. Faith and morals go hand in hand and our Catholic schools/academies work to ensure that everyone who enters is treated with respect and that the values and virtues of the Gospel message are part of the fabric of the school.
In his address to Catholic educators, his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth.”
In our Catholic elementary schools and academies each day, we witness and experience an environment that is built upon Gospel values and virtues. Catholic identity permeates all aspects of the school/academy community and is at the forefront of all that we do.
What are some of the ways we encounter the living God in our schools/academies? When you talk to pastors, parish priests, school principals, academy directors and teachers, you always hear about the religious experience students have throughout the year: weekly and monthly liturgies, feast day prayer services, service to others, student of the month based on values and virtues, and of course, daily religion class. The presence of our pastors and parish priests in the schools help to further develop the important relationship between parish and school. The school/academy is a vital part of the parish community.
As Bishop DiMarzio wrote in his Pastoral Letter: Be Not Afraid, “Our Catholic Schools need to assist our parishes in professing a common faith in Jesus Christ as well as develop the desire that all come to know and share in God’s life through Christ’s Body, the Church.” To attain a full understanding of our faith, “our Catholic school administrators and teachers should partner with parents in educating the whole child spiritually, academically, physically and emotionally.” Our faith is the cornerstone of our schools/academies and our students are the future of our Church. We must continue to encourage them to be bearers of the Good News.
Academic excellence is also vital to the success of our students and they are performing very well on the New York State assessment tests in math and English language arts. Key to this success is that our students are being provided with a well-rounded academic program that allows them to develop their thinking skills and apply what has they learn to real-life situations. In addition, use of 21st-century technology within the classroom setting allows students to develop skills that will prepare them for high school and beyond. Students do well because of the partnership with home and school/academy and the hard work and dedication of teachers.
Educational growth is not limited to our students. Each year, principals and teachers in our Catholic schools/academies participate in numerous professional development opportunities sponsored not only by the Diocese of Brooklyn but by other city, state and national agencies. We must recognize the efforts put forth by the teachers to provide students with quality Catholic education. Principals work tirelessly with their teachers to maintain and enhance the quality of Catholic education offered to the students. Each year new programs are added and new learning opportunities are offered. Principals and teachers also work with parents, the primary educators, to prepare students for the challenges of the future.
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI stated in his address: “that the reputation of Catholic institutes of learning in this country is largely due to yourselves and all involved in Catholic education.”
It was once stated that: “Faith-based schools provide a good solid academic foundation for children. They also help children understand the importance of discipline and character.” Our school communities develop students for the future, not only in religion classes but through the school day and in all subject areas. Principals and teachers strive to develop the whole child. Take a look at the philosophy/ mission statement for your Catholic school. Most clearly state that the children are taught to respect the rights others, that administration and teachers foster a positive self-image in their students and that we work with parents to help students to develop confidence that they can succeed.
Catholic schools are an important part of not only the Diocese of Brooklyn but the entire United States. We have many challenges but need to work together to make our Catholic schools: vital, viable, excellent and enduring. We have much to offer in our Catholic schools and it is through the dedication, hard work and untiring efforts of priests, principals, teachers, staff, parishioners, parents, and students that we continue to keep Catholic education at the forefront of all that we do.
Always remember that in all we do in Catholic education, “Christ is the reason for the school. He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes. He is the model of its faculty and the inspiration of its students.”