By Daniella Rodriguez
“The work of Catholic education is a work of hope and love which helps individuals to be ever more human, leads them ever more fully to the truth, instils in them growing respect for life and trains them in right interpersonal relations.” – Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Saint Saviour High School is celebrating its hundredth year of educating and empowering successful young women during a time when many Catholic schools are closing their doors.
According to the National Catholic Educational Association, as of 2016, there are 6,429 operating Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States, a sharp decrease from the nearly 13,000 Catholic schools that functioned in the early 1960s at their peak. While it is an incredible feat that Saint Saviour has thrived throughout the years, and continues to excel in its mission of challenging its students to reach their fullest potential, it should be made clear that the closing of America’s Catholic schools at such a rapid rate affects us all.
A Catholic education takes a holistic approach to schooling young people, fostering the growth of the whole person, psychologically, emotionally and ethically. By gradually developing both the intellectual and spiritual capacities of every student, a Catholic education administers to all the needs of the human person.
Students who attend Catholic schools have the opportunity to learn under supportive teachers. The nurturing atmosphere enables students to mature individually and socially, thereby fostering healthy, lasting relationships. These relationships can make all the difference in influencing young minds, especially those of at-risk youth.
Catholic schools have done and continue to do exceptional work educating and improving the lives of underserved youth and minorities, allowing them to achieve more than they might without the support and one-on-one attention that Catholic schools provide.
The Decline Effect
A study by Carol Ann MacGregor at Loyola University New Orleans shows that students who attend Catholic schools are more likely to perform better in school and on standardized tests, graduate high school, and attend college compared to their public school peers.
Catholic schools positively impact the lives of young people who might otherwise experience lives of hardship if they were to attend the overpopulated and underfunded public schools in their school districts. The decline of Catholic schools would critically hurt many families and neighborhoods. By saving these schools from closure, we will guarantee the continued availability of educational opportunities for all.
Rising Costs Are Critical
Despite the frequently documented benefits of enrolling children into Catholic schools, many modern parents are growing more reluctant to do so.
One of the most cited reasons for not giving a child a Catholic education is its rising cost. It’s no secret that sending just one child to a Catholic school can be a large financial sacrifice for many families to make.
Traditionally, Catholic schools have been staffed by religious institutes. Recently, however, the brothers and sisters who once filled a majority of educational roles at Catholic schools are dwindling in number as many retire and fewer join the communities.
As lay teachers fill the positions, they seek higher salaries and benefits to allow them to live comfortably in today’s economy, which in turn raises the cost of tuition for families.
According to MacGregor’s study, the average tuition in 2010 was about $4,000 at a Catholic elementary school and around $8,000 for a high school – a steep increase from the $100 that nearly 75 percent of Catholic schools charged in the 1970s.
As many of today’s parents find themselves struggling to afford the increasing tuitions for a Catholic school education, less children are enrolling in the schools while more are withdrawing.
Regardless of cost, the value of a Catholic education is priceless. Lauren Regan, a junior at Saint Saviour, expressed her love for her Catholic school.
“I attended public school until I came to Saviour. I wasn’t looking for a Catholic school at first,” she said, “[but] my mom wanted me to go [to one] because she thought I would get a better education there than at a public school. The public school in my area is pretty rough.
She wanted me to continue my religious education since the classes [that I attended at the church rectory] ended after eighth grade. I’m actually really glad I came to a Catholic school because my public school was too big and impersonal, and [in junior high] I felt as though the school in no way pushed me academically like Saint Saviour [does].”
The Director of Guidance at Saint Saviour, Ms. D’Emic, also shared her thoughts on Catholic education.
“I believe in Catholic schools,” she explained. “Almost any student would benefit from the solid foundations for education and faith that [Catholic schools] provide…students learn and grow in an ordered environment with emphasis on self-discipline, on respect for the individual, and on an understanding of Catholic teaching, coupled with respect for the religious beliefs of others. Above all, [Catholic schools] provide a forum for religious expression, which public schools cannot offer.
Furthermore, because Catholic schools can determine their own graduation requirements, [they] have the power to set the academic bar higher [for students].”
In response to the question of why the decline of Catholic schools is disadvantageous, Ms. D’Emic explained how Catholic schools have been and continue to be a model for solid education at a low cost.
“The cost of educating a student in public school is higher than it is in Catholic school,” she said, and went on to cite a study, published in 2008 on education in a NYC Catholic high school, in which author, Patrick McCloskey, claimed that nationwide, Catholic schools save taxpayers, annually, over $20 billion, after calculating what it would cost to educate their students in public schools.”
As Catholic schools continue to disappear, parents are left with fewer options to give their children a quality education. If these schools close, the students left behind will have no other choice but to attend nearby public schools that may already be underfunded and struggling to educate the students they already serve.
As we lose our schools, what will become of the next generation of students?
In order to ensure that future generations of children have access to the first-rate education that Catholic schools have been providing for centuries, efforts to recover, protect and strengthen Catholic schools must improve.
Daniella Rodriguez is a senior at St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope.