Each year Catholic Schools across the country celebrate who we are and what we do best. The National Catholic Education Association supports Catholic schools, which educate nearly 1.9 million students in 6,429 schools. Catholic schools can be found in large urban areas and small towns and rural communities and even in Clinton, Iowa. Catholic schools have been in existence in our community since the mid-1800s. What exactly is it that makes Catholic schools continue through the decades?
The most obvious answer is because families want them. When we ask our families why they choose Prince of Peace Catholic School for their children, they tell us that they want something different for their kids. They desire a faith-based education for their children. They desire an environment where kids understand that learning Gospel values is as important as learning math or English. Students develop the understanding that respecting others, both adults and their schoolmates and oneself, lead to a more successful and happier life.
I have heard several presentations by a great lady, Sister Carol Cimino, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Buffalo, New York. One of the topics of a presentation was spiritual development of children in Catholic Schools. She peppered her presentation periodically with the phrase, “Get’em into heaven, not Harvard!” I always chuckle when I hear that but it is truth. The greatest gift that we can give our children is to teach them to be decent human beings. At Prince of Peace we fervently partner with our families in this effort.
However, even though most of our students don’t attend Harvard after graduation, all of our students indicate that they will attend a community college, four-year college, university or enter the military. We have experienced a 100 percent graduation every year for the past three decades or more. Around graduation time, I always survey our graduates anonymously to learn what we did well and what we need to do better. There are several constant themes to their responses. “I learned how to manage my time. I learned how to study well. I know how to write a decent paper. I feel prepared for the next step in my education.” Those are the responses we consistently get. This feedback provides some assurances that as a school we did our job well. Our dedicated faculty works hard every day to promote success in students. Of course this preparation just doesn’t happen during the four years of high school. It starts with our youngest students!
Serving others is one of the Gospel values that students are taught in our school. Opportunities are available to all grades so kids learn that there is great reward and learning in helping to meet the needs of others. Our students have annual service days to help many organizations throughout our community. Students also fulfill service hours as part of their religion curriculum. Annually, approximately 2,500 service hours are given by our students each year. Giving of oneself is a very basic expectation for our children as part of their formation as Disciples of Christ.
Another reason that our families choose Prince of Peace is that there are many opportunities for their kids to participate in activities. Student government, clubs, music, drama and sports are all available to students. Kids are able to develop leadership skills both within the classroom and other activities. A welcoming and safe environment allows kids to try different things that they may otherwise not attempt. Being a leader at our school means being responsible, caring for others, setting an example of kindness, doing what is right and owning one’s mistakes. Kids are coached and encouraged everyday to build these leadership skills. Everyone has an opportunity for leadership!
This year’s theme for Catholic Schools Week is “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” At Prince of Peace, Catholic learning, serving, leading and succeeding are everyday experiences for our students. We serve children well in preparing them to be successful in whatever journey they take. All are welcome!
Nancy L. Peart is administrator at Prince of Peace Catholic School.