I love my daughter’s Catholic elementary school, and so does she. Like the mission statement of virtually every Catholic school since John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio was published, her Catholic school recognizes parents as the primary educators of their children. This community means it. This school organizes itself around and actively mirrors family life.
The children with siblings at my daughter’s school have more time together during school hours. They have recess at the same time and eat in the same lunch room. They pray together as a group three times per day. This familial way of arranging time during the school day also allows children to see the interactions of other sibling combinations, both good and bad, so siblings can recognize the blessing of each other and model their relationships toward virtue.
When I did the math, I was surprised to learn that my daughter and I are separated for 29% less time than at other schools. That’s 29% more time with me, learning the values that I want to teach instead of those that society-at-large wants her to learn. The school achieves this reduction by cutting out the conspicuous inessentials that have crept into the modern U.S. educational system.
Here are just a few of the many blessings my family has received during our time at this school:
1) The Playground
During my daughter’s Kindergarten year, I was able to embrace the opportunity to observe lunch recess at least once per week. I have witnessed all of the following beautiful things:
- I have seen crowds form around newborns as though they were rock stars.
- I have seen teenage and pre-teen boys mentoring younger boys.
- When I inquired into the nature of some very loud roaring between two groups, I was informed that they were playing the “lions against the Christians game.” Another mom nearby cheerfully chimed in, “I hope the Christians win.”
- Whenever children incur minor playground injuries, their siblings are immediately at their sides. Don’t bother to tell them that you’ve got it handled because they’re not going anywhere until they’re satisfied that their brother or sister is fully recovered.
- Most of the kids interact with adults successfully on a consistent basis, as opposed to larger schools where visiting adults are routinely ignored.
- Disputes, disagreements, and general unkindness do occur. However, the subject matter of the disputes is far more innocent than I have experienced elsewhere. Additionally, because the staff and supervising parents are immediately accessible and develop relationships with the kids and each other, situations requiring intervention are handled immediately. The children seem to interact with each other more like siblings and cousins, with all of the predominantly positive aspects unique to those familial relationships.
These kids know their Saints. Heroes elsewhere generally consist of actors, pop music singers, and professional athletes. For each of these children, a time of testing will eventually come. It matters whose example they turn toward when the chips are down.
3) Authentic Catholicism
This school is permeated with Catholicism. All of our beautiful traditions are taught, such as the power of Novenas and scapulars. Catholic teaching is not watered down—missing Mass as a mortal sin is discussed because it is true, and the parents do not object. Catholicism is not limited to formal religion class. Textbooks include references to God and our Church and are classical in nature, enabling this school to reclaim the intellectual roots of the Catholic education of years past.
4) Keeping Life Simple
Using this school as a model for other (diocesan) Catholic schools presents some challenges. Some of the accomplishments of the school come because its class sizes are limited to 15 students per grade, which is not readily replicable at other schools. Many families cannot arrange life around Friday at-home study days. Some families will want foreign languages taught before fourth grade. Others will decry the lack of sports teams and formal art and music classes. I find none of these issues worthy of sending my daughter anywhere else, and I considered all of them before placing her at the school.
As for sports, she plays soccer, softball, and basketball in community programs, and because we are not counting on college sports scholarships, she participates for fun and exercise while enjoying camaraderie as a team member. She is also improving her social skills by playing with kids she doesn’t already know..
As for art, one of my first experiences with another school mom was an invitation to join her children in a parent-led art class. The mom had taken a relevant course at the Phoenix Museum of Art and willingly shared the time she was spending instructing her own children with my children. Her lessons did not consist of craft projects, but rather of learning the basic elements of art, identifying styles of art, and memorizing some of the paintings of the masters.
As for music, the kids learn traditional Church hymns and practice singing in rounds. They sing and recite in a Christmas program. If I believe that my daughter needs more musical instruction, we will pursue it elsewhere using our Friday at-home study time.
The bottom line is that this school helps us achieve our goals for our daughter. This school works with us, the primary educators of our child.