When I was asked to write a short essay on why Catholic schools are important in 2014, I, like any good educator, decided to cheat. I asked Notre Dame Catholic School’s 8th Graders to do it for me. I told them that a list of reasons was due the next day (“No, you don’t have to write in complete sentences this time (AND ONLY THIS TIME!); yes, it will be a grade…”).
Now, I know our kids. They are faith-filled, joyful, kind, respectful, energetic, and very bright … but they’re teenagers (AHHHH!). I didn’t know what to expect, though I figured soccer and basketball might be prominent among their responses.
When I was growing up, parents worried about things like MTV and AOL Instant Messenger. Those things are ancient history. Between iPods, iPads, and iPhones, the very nature of identity – of “I” – has changed. Facebook has co-opted the idea “friend.” Twitter invites us to “follow.” We shut out the real world with our headphones and bury ourselves in user-friendly, intuitive interfaces.
Such, at least, is what we “adults” grumble about (“Well, sonny, when I was your age…”). The Church, however, is doing something quite different. The Pope Tweets! Our own Bishop Melczek is on YouTube (if you don’t believe me, Google it)!
But what does this have to do with why Catholic schools are so important today? Why am I not writing about pre-marital sex and crime and gangs and the economy and terrorism and poverty and empty pews…? On the other hand, why am I not talking about high standardized test passing rates and college matriculation and rigor and discipline and innovation?
Notre Dame’s 14 year olds (“AHHHH! Teenagers! Run!”), given complete freedom to talk about what is important to them, focused on these themes: Faith, Family, Vocations, Morals, Service, Caring, Gratitude, Learning, Connectedness, and Future.
We don’t give our young people nearly enough credit. They are more than aware of all the struggles and troubles in the world. They know that something isn’t right. They know that there is more out there. There is a thirst for love and joy and connectedness. There is an energy and a vibrancy and a vitality. There is an honest innocence. There is a yearning for Truth (note the capital “T”).
Our young people are telling us exactly what they need and value, and it happens to be the Gospel. Today’s youth – the youth with iPhones and headphones and Facebook and Twitter (and maybe even the youth with intentionally messy hair, though I’m not sure about that) – are hungry for the Word of God, for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and for life-giving relationships with one another.
It’s time for us adults to plug-in, log-on, and get connected – or, dare I say, reconnected. Catholic schools are important in 2014 not because there are troubles all around us. Catholic schools are important in 2014 because there is hope all around us, and hope does not disappoint.
Benjamin Devin John Potts, Ed.M., is the Principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana. He is also a member of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program's eleventh cohort. For more information on the Remick Leadership Program, please click here.
Notre Dame Catholic School is a ministry of the Notre Dame Catholic Community that fosters learning through an unsurpassed faith-based education and prepares young people for extraordinary lives. For more information on Notre Dame Catholic School, please click here.
“On May 30, 2014, we will be graduating, but we will leave behind many memories, but not our friends. Some of us will travel on to high school together, others will go to different places, but we will all remain the Class of 2014. Jaguars for life.” Eighth grade graduation speaker, St. Jude School
“Without the teachers here at St. Jude, I would not be the person I am today, thanks to their patience and consideration of their students. They are always trying to make our school a better place through the growing of our Catholic Faith.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“Our faith is important because it shows who we are and what we believe in. Certainly then, we should make sure our faith is strong in God! Prayer is significant in our lives, yet most people forget to pray. People should pick out a time to pray; praying once in the morning and once at night is good. Praying the rosary is also essential when we try to keep a close friendship with God.” Sixth grade student, St. Jude School
“In the end, attending a Catholic school like St. Jude can provide a great education and moral foundation for one’s future. The teachers care about every child. The students care about everyone’s feelings and how they can help.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“We have learned to have unity and dignity through these teachings from our daily religion classes. We have also learned to accept each other’s differences and not discourage them, but embrace them.” Eighth grade student graduation speaker, St. Jude School
“Not only do we have an exceptional education program, the teachers also make it fun to learn. Each quarter, students get to choose an elective such as Mock Trial, Physical Fitness, Forensic Science, Photography, and many more.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“The only word I can use to describe 8th grade is sprint. I say this because my 8th grade year went so fast that I couldn’t even tell where all the time was going. I learned a ton, and I have made a ton of friends I will remember forever. But here I am, across the finish line. And I can honestly say I’ve had the time of my life running my own personal marathon here at St. Jude School.” Eighth grade graduation speaker, St. Jude School
“I am ready to open the door in front of me that leads to undecided choices and unique discoveries to be unearthed from the folds of time. I must leave behind the comfort of St. Jude School, and while the friendships that I have now may grow dim, I will create even stronger bonds as I move on. The journey through the door of life will be a tough one at times, but without the love, care, hope, and happiness that this school has shed upon me, I wouldn’t have had the strength and courage to turn the knob that leads to my future.” Eighth grade graduation speaker, St. Jude School
“In all of my classes, the teachers do an exceptional job explaining and helping the material to stick in our growing minds. All of the members of the staff are extremely kind and ready to help. They set great examples every day and are definitely a help along my educational journey.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“St. Jude School is special to me because we learn about God and when I grow up I want to be a priest. Another reason I am glad I go to a Catholic school is we can pray. I will be good and listen to show I am thankful for this gift.” Second grade student, St. Jude School
“Here at St. Jude School, we have many after school activities. For example, there is volleyball, Academic Challenge, Homework Club, cheer, and our latest is the St. Jude Newspaper Club. There is also Drama Club for grades three and up. This year’s production is Beauty and the Beast, and every year, the Drama Club works so hard and does such a wonderful job.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“Great schools are a rare blessing. And I have had the honor of attending such a school for the last seven years.” Eighth grade graduation speaker, St. Jude School
“We also have electives at St. Jude! My favorite period of the day is our elective period because we can choose what elective we would like to have for the quarter. Some electives are Photography, Extreme Makeover, Forensic Science, Mural Painting, Game On, Cooking and so many others! It’s fun to learn something we wouldn’t usually learn in a normal school day. An we are not in the elective with just our grade. Sixth graders, seventh graders and eighth graders can all be in the same elective class! It really gives us a chance to become friends with people in other grades! Students in grade three through five also get to take electives at St. Jude.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“I know this is a special gift given to me because I can learn about God. Another reason I am glad I go to a Catholic school is religion class. I will listen closely to show I am thankful for this gift.” Second grade student, St. Jude School
“St. Jude offers different language classes. For grades K-3, our Mandarin teacher teaches about the culture and language of the Chinese. Grades 6-8 go to Spanish once a week and some students have Spanish every day of the week. We also have after school Spanish for preschool through 5th grade .” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School
“Strengthening my Catholic faith today starts a foundation for the future. I want to keep this legacy for my children. One way I can make it happen is to just participate. I can start by listening in mass…I will try to follow God’s word. I will start with making sure I follow the Ten Commandments every day. Strengthening my Catholic faith will make me stronger and a better person that will continue as I grow older.” Sixth grade student, St. Jude School
“A Catholic education is important because it keeps God in our schools. It strengthens the values of family and faith, and it has a ripple effect on our society. When God is at the center of education, a child receives a strong foundation of religious morals and values. With these morals and values, children can put their faith into action and become positive role models for society. There are many ways to put faith into action. Youth groups like Jude*s Kids are one way that enable students to put faith into action and make a difference in society.” Seventh grade student, St. Jude School
“In order to leave a lasting legacy for future Catholics, a good Catholic education is necessary because it ensures emphasis on prayer, service hours, and religion class each day. If prayer is really stressed to students, a great environment will be present mentally and physically in schools. Similarly, the service hours that we do will create a legacy of acting as God and for God in a holy way. Lastly, our religion class that we have once a day allows our students to really bond and connect with God together in a group setting. Overall, a Catholic education is important because it helps us develop our spiritual self and set a good example for generations to come!” Eighth grade student, St. Jude School
“At St. Jude School & Preschool, we also have a program called Extended Day, a place where children can go after school, if their parents are unable to pick them up at 2:30. At Extended Day, we are fed a well balanced, healthy snack, we are given quiet time to get some of our homework done, and we are given some time to play outside or in the gymnasium. Here too, we have an amazing, caring, and patient staff with us to help us in any way they can.” Seventh grade student witness speaker, St. Jude School