Monthly Archives: August 2014

Catholic Schools are Community Jewels

Recently, a team of professors from the law school at the University of Notre Dame released a study suggesting that neighborhoods lose more than economics when a Catholic school closes.
That price, the researchers say, is community vitality.
Ok, I thought, but there’s a lot more to community erosion than closing Catholic schools. And then I had an experience where the reality of that study smacked me right in the face.
I grew up in the Catholic school system. Grade school, high school, college. Even grad school. My two beautiful girls are now enrolled in a Catholic school. My experiences have not been horrible as so many attest. No nuns ever beat me with a board, no priests or brothers abused me. Of course like anything, Catholic school isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that makes it different.
If you are part of any Catholic school, particularly elementary school or high school, it’s because you WANT to be. Not because it’s where you were “assigned.”
Parents, including parents who are not Catholic, send their children to Catholic school because they want an educational experience for their children that’s more than 123s and ABCs. And, dare I say, one that’s even more than catechism.
Parents who send their kids to Catholic school know it’s reality. It’s an investment financially, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s tuition, fundraising, time commitments, more fundraising, countless donations, and trust. It’s teaching by example.
It’s cliche, but it really is like a family, the way modern people think of it : You spend a lot of money and time to be with people you may not want to be with for the sake of your children and your own roots.
And that’s the rub right there – what the researchers may have been driving at. Community is not about candy and roses and everyone loves one another. It’s more about bearing with one another, no matter how you feel about them, for something worthwhile.
That’s what happens in Catholic schools. Case in point, sports and activities. In this fashion, Catholic schools have changed since my day. Many reasons have taken programs like football and cheerleading out of some schools. Mostly, however, schools don’t have the number of kids necessary to field two football teams and cheerleading squads anymore.
But kids and parents still want the opportunity to play. In our area, parents from various schools in the region (north, east, west, south) took the responsibility to pull interested players and cheerleaders from multiple schools into teams, chose volunteers to manage the teams and squads, manage and man concessions and administration, and built programs stronger than many of the old single school groups.
Parents did this. Parents who work day jobs, who have kids in other activities, who have babies at home, who care for ailing parents, who may not always want to spend time together, may not even know one another, do it so their kids can thrive and discover their talents. The ones who understand that community begins with strong confident kids say “why not?” instead of “do I have to?” or “I don’t have the time.”
Big deal, right? It’s football. But grade school football programs are also community engines. There are local photographers hired to take team pictures, local screen printers who do t-shirts and hoodies, vendors who provide concessions, venues that hold games, social events and banquets. Our team even offers space to a woman who makes jewelry in team colors. And it’s parents showing kids that they are important, and that everyone in the community has something to offer.
Community isn’t about having everything you want and liking everyone where you live. It’s much more about doing things you’d rather not on a rainy Saturday afternoon out of a sense of responsibility and necessity. It’s about forking over another $20 for candy or candles or wrapping paper so your child’s class can have a Thanksgiving play. It’s about hauling three cases of bottled water to a cross country meet because it’s your turn and sweating in the heat until that last kid crosses the finish line on a 90 degree afternoon.
It’s about giving kids something to do after school or on a weekend so they don’t have to find something questionable with which to occupy their time. It’s about sacrificing some personal pursuits to teach a future generation how people come together and strengthen one another. It can be about swallowing pride in front of your kids to show its important to find ways to work with one another.
This may happen in other institutions. But Catholics are particularly good at it. Like families, we certainly have dysfunction amongst ourselves. But our gift lies in pushing forward regardless of how problematic our inner differences maybe, and sacrificing when we’d rather not.
Kids – who in modern society so often get pushed aside, abused or overlooked – keep our communities vibrant and growing. Supporting and striving for the future of Catholic education is about more than economics. It’s about teaching another generation how to build a community people want to be part of.

Advertisements