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The Graduate

Why Delone?

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(3/2012) People wonder, I think, whatís the point of going to a Catholic school? Why bother paying tuition for four years of high school to turn around and pay for four years of college? Isnít that a waste of money, especially considering that public high school is free? Well I believe that itís actually not wasteful at all.

I am a complete product of Catholic school. The only year of public school I attended was kindergarten. After that I attended Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, and a Catholic college. Now as a college graduate what am I doing? Iím teaching in a Catholic high school.

Given that Iíve chosen to not only chosen Catholic education for my own formation but have decided to serve Catholic education as an adult, I obviously think that Catholic schools have something to offer. I clearly think enough of my own educational experience to help make it possible for others. I think Catholic schools have a great deal to offer developing children and adolescents. But what exactly makes them so significant?

Well first of all, I think that Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to influence and affect who a student is. This is because Catholic schools are able to address God and his role in our life. This is a subject which public schools cannot touch because of separation of Church and state. The focus on the importance of this separation has seemed to grow over the last several years. The subject has graced headlines of newspapers over issues like the word "God" in our Pledge of Allegiance. Even a teacher saying, "take a moment of silent prayer" to remember a tragedy, like the death of a student or September 11th can result in a lawsuit.

But Catholic schools donít have this problem. As an institution they can freely mention God and so can their teachers. They can and do make God an integral part of a studentís education, which it seems to me, is really what education is all about. An education isnít just about learning a series of facts and skills; itís about developing knowledgeable, moral, and respectful citizens. Education is about building character as much as it is about learning knowledge. And that is where Catholic schools excel. They can unite facts and morals to help form complete people. Because they are allowed to talk about morals and respect, they can present things like morality not in an abstract way, but as part of the religious foundation that Catholic schools build and promote. They can then give concrete examples as to why morality is important and what it means.

In todayís world especially I think itís important for teens to have frequent conversations about morality. They frequently watch shows on MTV like "Jersey Shore" which promotes terrible behaviors without consequences. Characters on the show drink to excess, do drugs, and have sex constantly. You donít have to be Catholic to know that you donít want your child emulating one of these people on the show. You want your high schooler to learn responsibility and healthy living habits. Unfortunately their "entertainment" isnít teaching them that.

In order to fight against this behavior, adolescents need positive role models who are just as clear with their positive actions as the Jersey Shore cast is with their negative behavior. Students also need conversations about morality and how to live a fulfilling, healthy life. This is a topic which Catholic schools donít shy away from. They encourage students to take their moral actions seriously. They engage students on moral and social issues that they will encounter through their entire lives like, abortion, euthanasia, genocide, racism, hate crimes, poverty, and more.

But a foundation in morality is not the only things students in a Catholic school are exposed to. They also get an education on scripture, Church teaching, and Church history. These things form the basis for the discussions on morality. They help set these students of a modern age into context. We, today, are only a tiny fraction of the people who have come before us. This of course is a message also delivered through history classes, but as any teacher knows, repetition is essential.

Lest you think that at Catholic schools we sit around and discuss morals all day, we follow a stringent curriculum. Catholic schools cover all the same main courses that public schools doóEnglish, history, science, math, language, and technology, in addition to religion. However, they are free to focus on the methods which they have seen before their very eyes to be successful, instead of following things the state tells them are successful. A huge example of this is the idea of "teaching to the test". Many public schools get funding depending on how well their students perform on standardized tests. Poor test results mean little funding, so administrators put pressure on teachers for high scores, and teachers put that pressure on their students. There is a great emphasis on teaching to the test, or teaching the material that is guaranteed to get good test scores.

The problem with that is that it allows little time for spontaneous questions or diversions from the set material. Your students are asking to learn more information about a topic youíve mentioned? Theyíre curious for more? Too bad, it wonít improve their test scores, so you canít devote time to it. Also, creative things like art or creative writing are often neglected because those skills canít be tested.

In Catholic schools none of this is an issue because we donít get state funding anyway. We donít have to teach to the test. This means that when my freshmen asked to read some of Danteís Inferno in our poetry unit, we did. In fact we spent 2 weeks on it, and while we read and talked about it they were silent as mice. They also asked wonderful questions ranging from Danteís conception of hell to the theology behind it to history to even questioning why certain things were included. From what I could see they enjoyed the poem immensely, got a lot out of it, and they felt some ownership of the class because we did what they asked to do. If I was in a public school, there is not a chance that I would have been able to do that, and I believe that students are the ones to lose out.

In Catholic school we are able to have some flexibility to do what we know and see is best for the students as opposed to what lawmakers, who likely havenít ever taught a day in their life, tell us is best for student learning. If we donít get money from the state, then where does our money come from? Well it comes from tuition and fundraising. Some state money is provided for things like textbooks, but we largely support ourselves. This means that we operate with very little money. Many public school districts are swimming in funds. They have things they donít need, use, or really want laying around. But Catholic school teachers know how to stretch money and make wise purchases so that not even a single cent is wasted. I think this is a great testament to teachers and administrators who are creative and resourceful and also a great lesson to students who learn that resources are not unlimited.

Catholic school teachers do not just go without limitless classroom budgets, they also take a cut in salary to work at a Catholic school. Salaries for Catholic school teachers are just 75% of what they would earn at a public school. To me, that says youíre getting a force of teachers who are truly dedicated to what they do. They believe in the fact that morals and religion are emphasized to the students. Not all teachers at Delone are Catholic, and the students they teach arenít all Catholic either. But, the important part is that students and teachers alike are allowed to discuss what religion means to them in their life, how it has affected them, and just the fact that it exists. Catholic schools are not barred from mentioning a huge part of living; they can teach that life is not a free-for-all. We cannot live it as we please. We must respect others, love them, and make it part of our mission to help the underprivileged.

Are these lessons you want your adolescent to learn in school? Do you think morality and life attitudes are important? Then consider a Catholic education at Delone High School today.

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan