Connecting strong academics with faith
By Jon Ross
When considering educational options for their children, many parents may overlook one popular option: Catholic schools. But there are a number of reasons why parents might want to consider a Catholic education for their child.
For parents who were raised in and are still active in the Catholic church, of course, grounding their son or daughter in the moral teachings of their faith can be extremely important. But these schools can offer benefits that may be attractive to parents who belong to a different faith, as well. Fortunately for those parents, the metro Atlanta area offers many excellent options.
Catholic schools function much like other independent schools. Teachers at these schools are certified and complete continuing education courses. And many are well-rounded professionals with experience in both public and independent school environments.
What’s more, many Catholic schools offer first-rate academic programs that give students an advantage when applying for colleges, in addition to high-quality athletic and extracurricular programs.
“We have a pretty rigorous curriculum,” says Brian Dooling, director of marketing and enrollment at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Office of Catholic Schools, which oversees 18 schools under the umbrella of the Archdiocese in the metro Atlanta area, Athens and Rome. (Not all Catholic schools in metro Atlanta fall under the Archdiocese’s jurisdiction.)
Two of the Archdiocese’s schools, Christ the King School and Holy Redeemer Catholic School, were named 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools, a distinction awarded each year based on academic excellence.
According to Dooling, the Archdiocese’s schools benefit from a 100 percent graduation rate, and its students achieve better test scores than their peers in public and independent schools. “We have excellent results with regard to getting our kids into the colleges of their choice,” he says.
That strong academic grounding is part of what appeals to parents who aren’t members of the church. Non-Catholic students make up about 14 percent of the student body at Archdiocese schools, according to Dooling.
Teaching the Faith
One of the main advantages of a Catholic education is that parents can rest assured that their children are being raised in the teachings of their church. While religious curriculum can vary, parents curious about Catholic education options can look at these schools as providing students with a weekday extension of the church experience. Students will graduate from Catholic high schools, and progress from religious elementary schools, with a strong foundation in Catholic teachings.
“Daily exposure to the Catholic faith is important to developing a strong religious foundation,” Dooling says. “Non-Catholic parents who choose our schools for their children cite the moral formation that their children receive and the importance of service to others, which allows students to live the faith they are learning.”
That moral formation is incorporated into every facet of a child’s education, says James Byrne, vice president of enrollment and operations at Marist School in Atlanta. Students receive an excellent education and benefit from an array of extracurricular activities from athletics to STEM-focused teams, all with a perspective that reflects the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
“I think what Catholic schools can clearly offer is a grounded set of moral teachings and emphasis,” he says. “It’s the focus on God and how that is connected in our study of math and our play on the football field. You can’t separate them.”
Marist, like other Catholic schools, encourages parental participation in a child’s religious education. “We want families where faith development is important to them, and might be as important as the other pieces that every school emphasizes,” Byrne says.
Academics and religion blend together at Catholic schools, but community service is just as important. During Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, Jerry Raymond, principal at Saint Thomas More Catholic School, devoted his time to helping his students complete a service-oriented project to help address the needs of less-fortunate Atlantans. Students spent that Thursday morning creating “blessing bags”—small sacks full of toiletries and snacks—to keep in their cars and pass out to the homeless.
Weighing the Cost
Academics and a strong moral center are important factors to consider. But for many parents, the cost of that educational experience can make all the difference. Those parents may be pleasantly surprised to learn that in some cases, tuition at a Catholic institution may be less expensive than at a secular independent school.
“The main misconception is that Catholic school—it’s not affordable,” says George Wilkerson, principal at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School, a K-8 school in Tyrone. Many different factors can go into a school’s tuition, including its size and the quality of its academics and other offerings, so making a direct, apples to apples comparison can be difficult. Still, a Catholic education may cost much less than parents might expect.
Also, like independent schools, some Catholic schools offer financial aid to help defray the cost of tuition. “We try to make [tuition] affordable to as many families as we can,” Wilkerson says, noting that students at Our Lady of Victory receive an average of $3,500 in financial assistance.
Finding the Right Fit
Once you’ve weighed the benefits of a Catholic school education and decided to go down that path, there’s still the matter of finding the right school for your child.
The best way to get a feel for whether a particular school is a fit for your child is to take a tour, says Raymond of Saint Thomas More. Your child can examine the academic and extracurricular offerings, and you can ask questions of the faculty and staff. Getting a feel for the academic curriculum, and the way the school teaches its faith, will help you get a sense of how the school might prepare your child for all aspects of life.
After visiting his school, “Parents realize that their child, Catholic or non-Catholic, will get a very good education here,” Raymond says.
For a list of schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta visit archatl.com.
For additional Catholic school options, see our list of Catholic school advertisers on page 105 in our current edition.