What’s right for your child?
This is the time when parents are pondering their children’s acceptance letters to local Catholic schools. Given that Long Island has excellent public school districts funded by taxpayers, the choice to instead pay thousands of dollars for a parochial high school education is one parents don’t make lightly. Both parents and students have a lot to consider, including whether they want to integrate faith into their education, adhere to a required dress code and learn in a single-sex classroom. Ultimately the choice is a personal one and every family has its own priorities.
“It’s an investment, but there are a lot of benefits to going to a Catholic school if it’s right for the child,” said Christina Buehler, director of communications at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington.
One consideration, Buehler said, is whether the parent and child want religion to be part of their high school experience. That is true for Julie Pellerito of Plandome, who has three children in Catholic school, including a sophomore in St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset. She said that Catholic school prepares children academically and spiritually, and her family’s strong faith helped them make the choice.
“The spiritual aspect in the learning environment is very important to my family and that is why we chose Catholic school,” she said. “Children have daily prayers, which they don’t have in a public school system. They also attend mass with the other grades, go to confession and learn to make sacraments.”
The strict discipline standards of Catholic schools were also important to Pellerito. “It teaches them responsibility and accountability,” she said. “If they are late for a class, they serve a detention. They have to adhere to the rules of the school, which prepares them for everyday life.”
Pellerito’s favorite aspect of her child’s school as a parent is the sense of community and safety it provides. “Everyone looks out for one another and knows each other. If someone is falling behind, the parents get involved. The teachers want your child to work to their full potential,” she said.
Another factor to consider is the Catholic school dress code, as they require students to wear uniforms.
“Students coming from a public school are used to picking their own clothes. But most new students quickly find out how much easier it is to wear a uniform because everyone is the same and they aren’t competing with one another,” said Margaret Myhan, president and a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset.
One of the other choices parents and students struggle with is whether to select a coed or single-gender school. Each has its own advantages.
Buehler said that a coed school like St. Anthony’s High School mimics the public school environment. “An all-girls’ and all-boys’ high school has its own benefits,” she said. “In a coed school, students are interacting with their peers that are eventually going to be their coworkers and it’s a familiar classroom setting for them.”
Myhan explained that an all-girls’ high school like Our Lady of Mercy is meant to empower young women. “Girls can excel in clubs, sports and extracurricular activities,” she said. “In the classroom, they can pursue areas like technology, sciences and math in which they may hesitate to take a leadership role in if they had boys sitting beside them.”
According to Myhan the curriculum is tailored specifically for young women and their faith. “The teachers are aware that these young women are coming into their own,” she said. “They structure the curriculum so students have the greatest advantage to express their opinions openly and to grow their own intrinsic values and interests.”
Like an all-girls’ Catholic high school, an all-boys’ Catholic high school differs greatly from a coed public school. Brother Thomas Cleary, president of Chaminade High School in Mineola, said it isn’t for everyone. “Some young men prefer it because a classroom with girls can sometimes be a distraction for them.”
Parents may also worry about their child’s transition from public to parochial school. According to Cleary, more than half of the students at Chaminade come from public schools and many will be going through the same transitions together.
“Over the years, we found that students need to learn how to structure and organize themselves when transitioning from a public school,” said Cleary. “To help them with this transition, we spend a lot of the first year teaching these students how to organize, study, discipline themselves and manage their time.”
According to Cleary, the school’s curriculum is more challenging than a public school and more is expected from the students. “The passing final grade at Chaminade is 75. If a student doesn’t pass at the end of the year, they can’t return the next year,” he said.
Even though the curriculum is rigorous, Cleary explained that it will help the students grow. “Our main mission is to teach faith and build up the values and characteristics of a Catholic gentleman,” said Cleary. “Our students transform into young men.”
While integrating their faith in an educational environment, Catholic school students are taught academic skills that can prepare them for exams and college. Myhan explained the classroom structure and studying emphasis is more rigorous when transferring from a public to a Catholic school.
“They learn in freshman class that they have to apply themselves in order to be successful and they learn study skills,” said Myhan. “Alumnae have come back and said what they learned here at the Academy made it easy for them to transition into college.”
Regardless of what choice parents and students make, Buehler said the emphasis needs to be on an environment in which they can thrive.
“It’s important that the student is in the right environment so they can succeed,” she explained. “It’s also important for the child and parent to determine what kind of school is best for them.”
If a student is comfortable in their school, they will get involved. “A majority of our students don’t go home after school because they want to stay and take part in extracurricular activities,” Buehler said. “They want to socialize and continue learning after the final bell rings, and be a part of our community.”
Attending a Catholic school can even launch a lifelong journey. Carol Dunning’s 18-year-old daughter graduated from St. Mary’s and chose to integrate her faith in an educational environment after high school.
“My daughter loved her experience at St. Mary’s High School. She chose to go to Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, to continue learning and including her faith in her learnings,” said Dunning.
Once you choose the right path for your family, you never know where it could lead.