Benefits of a Catholic Education
Local Schools Provide Excellent Education and a Moral Focus
By Jon Ross
When considering educational options for their children, manyparents 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.
The moral lessons at the core of a Catholic education are applicable to children of any faith or who may come from a secular household. In addition, many Catholic schools offer a strong academic curriculum as well. 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.
Fortunately, the metro Atlanta area offers many excellent options for your child.
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.
“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.)
Three of the Archdiocese’s schools— Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School, Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School, and Queen of Angels Catholic School—were named 2019 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.
At one Archdiocese school, St. Joseph Catholic School in Marietta, “Our students on average perform one grade level above the average student their age in the U.S.,” says Ann Frazer, director of enrollment and communications. “In the second grade, they’re really operating on a third-grade level.”
By the end of kindergarten, St. Joseph students “are writing full sentences with correct punctuation,” she says. “By the end of fifth grade they’re writing five-paragraph essays, and by eighth grade they’re writing full research papers.”
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, Dooling says.
Faith and Values
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, which is run by the Society of Mary. 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. “When you’re able to layer in the concepts of morality and ethics and talk about them in a formal way, that’s something that’s important to the development of children and the development of the whole person throughout their entire life. We want to treat others as we want to be treated. And that will inform the way that we learn history and mathematics and science and cultures around the world.”
At schools like Marist and St. Joseph, an emphasis on serving others makes up a key part of that moral education.
“Our middle school students are required to perform three hours of community service per quarter,” says Frazer of St. Joseph. “Both of my girls did their community service at a horse where they rescued horses.”
“We think service is a leadership quality for students to gain,” says Marist’s Byrne. “We want our students to work directly with people in need, whether serving at a community food bank or working with students with disabilities. We find that when you go and serve a meal and interact and build relationships with the people you’re serving, it changes both the server and those who are served. That creates a long-term transformation in our students that we hope will continue long after they leave Marist. The idea is to make service a regular part of one’s life.”
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 academic and other offerings, so making a direct, apples-to-apples comparison can be difficult. Still, a Catholic education may cost less than parents might expect.
And like independent schools, some Catholic schools offer financial aid to help defray the cost of tuition.
“About a third of our families are receiving some form of financial aid,” says Frazer, who notes that students at St. Joseph receive an average of $2,600 in financial assistance.
Marist also offers tuition assistance, based not on academic merit but on need. “It’s important for us to be able to offer a wide range of students the opportunity to come to Marist,” Byrne says. “Our range of awards goes from families who may need a small portion of that financial support to those that need the vast majority of it.”
Choosing the Right School
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. 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.
For More Information
For a list of schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta visit archatl.com For additional information on select Catholic schools, click here.