“What are the things your school values more than anything else?”
For a lot of parents, this might be a tough question to answer. I think, for many schools, there may not even be an answer. It’s not to say they are bad schools, just simply that they do not have a core set of values — a focus — that gives students there a sense of purpose and direction.
For my husband and I, this would be easy to answer. My youngest children all attend the AOPS school, Nativity of Our Lord. Every single day I am reminded of the values this school shares with its students, because they are so evident in every activity, at every grade level, and in the joy and enrichment my children experience there.
We have been blessed with six children: two who have graduated into high school, and four at Nativity of Our Lord. Watching my children’s experiences at this school across the last several years has given me incredible perspective into how universal the values at Nativity of Our Lord are — and why they really make a difference.
First, of course, is valuing a faithful atmosphere. It’s obvious this would be core to any Catholic school, but it’s more than just the facts and stories students learn during religious study classes.
There is an air of acceptance of faith, an openness that allows my children to talk about their faith freely and openly. Whether it is sharing their convictions, or bringing up questions, they can be themselves. They don’t have to hold back their thoughts; it’s an honest environment. They truly practice what they preach, something made apparent to me seeing the principal engaged at Sunday Mass at our home parish.
Nativity of Our Lord also values achievement. Again, it may seem obvious to say that about a school, but there’s a big difference between caring about academics on paper, and caring about seeing students work to achieve a goal they have set for themselves.
This is a school where students learn that they don’t “get” an A… they “earn” it. From the very start, they are given a goal to work towards, as well as the tools and support they need to reach it.
Certainly, among six children, not all of them have easily attained those goals. For one of my sons (who has an incredible learning attitude but has always struggled with standardized tests), Nativity of Our Lord pushed him to his best. He was able to break through his previous barriers on TerraNova testing and reach the standard for Honors Math by 4th grade. It was possible because the same value that we have at home — setting goals and working to earn them — is shared by our AOPS school.
All of this happens because of a school-wide commitment from everyone at Nativity of Our Lord. The teachers fully and truly love the children as if they were their own. They believe in my children the same way I do, and look for ways to challenge them while growing their academic and spiritual potential.
Those teachers also have the backing of an administration with the same values. When everyone from the school — teachers, pastors, the principal — at games, school plays, and in the community, I see they are leading by example. These people’s very presence communicates to our children that their educators have a real commitment to their personal growth.
That commitment, that personal selflessness, is the final value I’ve seen exemplified at our Catholic school. It’s something we teach at home, perhaps sacrificing the newest videogame system to ensure we have more than enough money for tuition. It’s something we knew we wanted represented at whatever school we ultimately landed on.
Settling on a school is not easy. But for me and my husband, values are how we judged what was right for our family. As simple as each of these instances may seem, they are beautiful examples of the values of Catholic education.
Felicia Hackman lives in Warminster, PA with her husband Rich and their six children. Their four youngest children attend Nativity of Our Lord in Warminster, PA.