The gift of a Catholic education

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For many years now, the closing of my weekly newsletter states ... Thank you for entrusting us with your most precious gift ... your children!

For over 25 years, I have been a teacher, academic advisor, assistant principal, and principal within the Archdiocese of Boston. I have seen the impact in enrollment and the closure and mergers of schools, specifically as a result of the Catholic high school models evolving from grades 9-12 to 7-12.

At one point in my career, I experienced the Catholic 7-12 model, and to be honest, there is no greater gift than the benefits of a preschool through grade eight education!

While the resources of a small Catholic elementary school cannot compare to a large high school environment, our students thrive spiritually, academically, and socially due to personalized attention, activities, and opportunities shared. We help them grow spiritually through service activities, liturgical dance, retreats, and leadership at Mass. Academically, each student thrives as a result of our small class size, interdisciplinary teaching, advanced coursework, and academic support. Social skills and confidence grow tremendously when participating in a variety of enrichment activities, including karaoke, dances, corn hole tournaments, and trips to LaSalette; activities like cooking, art, band lessons, and our spring musical; extracurricular athletics such as cross country, basketball and running club; and domestic and international travel opportunities to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Guatemala. St. Paul School provides all of this and more!

During our first morning back from Christmas break, I witnessed the embrace of a preschool and grade five student, and when that same preschool student reached me, she exclaimed with much excitement "That's my big buddy!" The bond amongst our students simply cannot be replicated and these positive role models/ leaders become an extension of one's family. Our students are encouraged to lead by example and care for others.

The greatest asset in our Catholic preschool through grade eight program is exceptional teachers! Their dedication to their profession, students, and school cannot be measured. These teachers know not only their students but all of the students enrolled in the school. Each day, they arrive at school eager to not only teach the students in front of them but to learn and try new things. Every student is challenged with high expectations and new opportunities and encouraged to celebrate their achievements.

Teachers are not afraid to "think out of the box" and work not only with each other but in partnership with our parents. Teachers are consistently striving to include their students' parents on the educational journey of success and their energy is focused on goals and challenges of the developmental level before them. Our students achieve because of the dedication and partnership of our small community.

There has been much national research comparing educational models and highlighting the unique benefits of a kindergarten to grade eight program. This research reveals students have higher self esteem, stronger leadership skills, higher grade eight test scores, and greater levels of participation in extracurricular activities. Benefits also include parent connectedness, the opportunity for siblings to create lifelong memories, a strong sense of community and much collaboration in a kindergarten through grade eight school.

It is difficult to witness and heartbreaking for the teachers when a grade six student is applying to a 7-12 Catholic institution. We know we cannot compete with all of the physical plant bells and whistles but the most challenging of late has been a negative message from the grade 7-12 model that students will not get in at ninth grade. This is simply not true, and in all my years of Catholic school leadership, never has an eighth-grade student not been accepted into ninth grade in a Catholic high school.

Ask your Catholic elementary school for their graduation statistics. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised with the acceptance rates and unique scholarship offerings shared with those entering Catholic high school in ninth grade. Our goal as educators should be setting up our students for success and the best learning and developmental environments possible. Catholic elementary and high schools do work well together and provide the most successful foundation for students to thrive when we focus on the development of our students.

As parents pursuing the best school experience for their students, please keep in mind these closing thoughts. Will your age 12 / grade seven student be building developmentally appropriate social bonds in a setting with those 18-20 years old? Will this new model allow your students to be a leader, take risks with exploring new opportunities, and feel comfortable in the classroom to speak out? Are they being put into an environment that may increase their anxiety? Why not let them grow in the environment they are already accustomed to and thrive in?

I will end as I started ... There is no greater gift than the benefit of a preschool through grade eight Catholic education!