When you’re choosing a school for your child, I think it’s only natural for a parent to think, “What will my child get from this institution?” If you are considering private schools of any sort, the question of what you “get” for the cost of tuition will come up over and over. It’s definitely something that came to my mind.
But looking back on my sons’ experiences with Catholic schools, I don’t think what they “got” was really what mattered most. Instead, it feels like it’s what school asked my children to “give” that had the greatest impact on their education.
In the most basic sense, I knew Lansdale Catholic (LC), the AOPS school my sons attended, would ask them to “give 100%.” They’d have to give 100% of their attention and effort in order to reach their academic potential. But more importantly, my husband and I knew Lansdale would ask them to literally “give” something — to live up to the same ideals of community, compassion, and service that we’ve always strived for in our family.
The children would be highly involved in community service. In fact, it was required at Lansdale. And yet, as I saw in my own sons, many LC students went far beyond the minimum required service quotas provided by the school. The LC atmosphere was not about “checking the box” but instead about connecting students to real people who needed their help, and showing them the real change they could make in the world when they were willing to give their time and energy to a worthy cause.
I was so proud to watch my sons and their classmates work to raise $12,000 for the Make a Wish foundation; they truly went above and beyond. But I was even more proud to see them become personally involved in the life of Kevin, one of the Make a Wish Foundation beneficiaries. Kevin had a medical condition that kept him from getting involved in football, a lifelong dream of his. Thanks to the culture of Lansdale Catholic, the students were able to create an amazing experience for Kevin, one in which he was allowed to suit up and play with the team, and even score a highly celebrated touchdown. It was remarkable to see the school community become so involved in Kevin’s life.
My son Jack continued to participate in community service during his time at Lansdale, always seeking new ways to give back. After attending the Kairos religious retreat, his outlook on himself and on his concept of community was changed. He met like-minded teens there, kids looking for a way to build stronger connections with God and with each other. They became inseparable friends, and that friendship reinforced Jack’s desire to serve others selflessly.
In particular, the Kairos experience led Jack to join a mission program in Costa Rica immediately after graduation. It was an expedition to a very impoverished area of the country. There, Jack had the opportunity to meet and understand the Costa Rican people, hear about their problems, and directly contribute to their household and religious needs. He was able to see firsthand how “giving” could be more than a donation — it could be real change in another human being’s life.
My husband and I are proud that we chose an educational path for our sons that focused on “giving” instead of “getting.” We knew from the beginning that doing so would mean asking more, and expecting more, from their involvement in school, family, faith, and community. We weren’t always sure if that investment would be appreciated, but when Jack’s graduation yearbook arrived, we found a wonderful surprise. Without telling us, Jack had set aside space in the yearbook on the senior “Thank you to my parents” page.
“I’ve spent years trying to get you off my back, but now I realize you’re the ones who have always had my back.”
If that understanding was just the smallest part of what we had “gotten” out of choosing Lansdale Catholic, it would have definitely all been worth it.
Gina Kelly lives in Lansdale, PA with her husband Dan and their three sons. Their two eldest children are currently enrolled at 4-year universities after having graduated from Lansdale Catholic High School. Their youngest son plans to attend Lansdale Catholic in 2018.