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Why Catholic Parents Send Their Children to Public Schools

November 29, 2012

I have had some interesting discussions with Catholic parents who send their children to public schools.  Some choose a public school because of convenience:  the school is nearby so their children can walk to school and come home for lunch.  Because their children are getting to know other children in the neighbourhood their play dates are nearby and they get a strong feeling of connection with their community.  These parents also value their children getting much needed exercise that is the envy of any parent who has to drive their child to a distant school.  These parents value living local, fostering community connections and being less vehicle dependent.  When I ask if they worry that their children are not having their Catholic faith nurtured at school, they say that they believe it is the home environment that matters the most in nurturing a child’s faith.

Other Catholic parents choose to send their child to a public school because of a special or well respected program not available in the Catholic system.  I am thinking here of the Victoria School of Performing Arts — I have spoken to Catholic parents who have their children on their wait list.   These parents are not concerned either about their children losing their faith because they believe that they are doing a good job of nurturing their child’s faith in their home and parish.

Others like myself and my husband chose to move one of our 3 children to a public school for social reasons.  It was a difficult  decision because ECSD is where we feel our children belong because we are strong, practicing Catholics.  We were confident though that his faith would not suffer because we are regular church attendees and always involved in one way or the other in our parish community.  We also actively practice our faith at home and continue his catechism instruction with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Home Study program.  We know we made  the right decision for him because he is much happier at school and is also doing well academically.

Just as an aside, I would like to work with the Archdiocese of Edmonton to provide a support network for Catholic parents who have chosen a public school for their child. When I worked in Timmins, Ont. as a Pastoral Associate at Nativity of Our Lord parish, Catholic parents with children in the public system met once a month to go over their homework from the CCCB Home Study program. I would like to at least ensure that Catholic parents who have their children in public schools know that this program exists for them.

And then there are the public school children that come over to the Catholic system for one reason or the other.  I have spoken to many a public school supporter who thought they could not send their children to a Catholic school because they were mistakenly told they had to be Catholic to be accepted.  Once I helped clear up this misunderstanding, they were more than pleased with the result–they were grateful for the Catholic school that made them feel so welcome and helped their children grow as spiritual beings.   I feel blessed that I was able to steer them in a direction that was so life giving for them.

What I have learned in this adventure of parenthood is that parents do whatever it takes to help their children feel accepted, fulfilled and at peace.  I have also learned that God can show up any where in a child’s life — God cannot be put in a box or a school or a particular school system.  As a graduate of the public school system myself (my home town was too small to have a Catholic school) I know that my Catholic parents and upbringing had a lot to do with the career path I chose and the strength of my faith today.  I know too that when I began attending St. Michael’s College — the Catholic college at the University of Toronto — I was relieved to meet so many Catholic young people like myself actively practicing their faith and living their lives as true followers of Christ.  I felt stronger in my faith because of their friendship and support.

It is my hope that my children too will experience this kind of support of their faith in our Catholic schools.  It is one of the reasons why I am involved in my sons’ school on the Catholic Education Committee and why I am wanting to run as a Catholic School Trustee in the Fall of 2013.

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