HDYDI: Choose, Apply & Thrive in Catholic School
To read all the posts from this week: Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, Making Catholic School Affordable, Catholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the Convert).
If you’ve ever said any of the following, then this series is for you.
“I just can’t afford Catholic school for my kids.”
“There are so many things to think about when applying to Catholic school. I don’t know where to start.”
“How do I find my place here at school?”
This week, our nation celebrates National Catholic Schools Week and I thought it was timely to share why we chose it, how we afford it and why we love it. We’ve had at least one child enrolled in Catholic school since 2006. Four children enrolled and eight years later, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL
There are private schools and then there are Catholic schools. And, I think we all know the difference. For us, we wanted an environment that focused on the whole child – mind, body and spirit – and one that made religion a priority. That was a deal breaker for us. After doing site visits at three different schools during school hours we were able to narrow down our options. We spoke to the teachers, asked hard questions (just ask the Admissions Director we interrogated!), interviewed the principals, attended the school Mass, spoke to families at each of those schools and then we prayed. Tomorrow, I’ll share the ten questions I think every parent should ask before applying. Ultimately, the school you choose will not be perfect. But, can you live with her imperfections and thrive in her environment? No school is perfect. But, dive in, volunteer and get to know other families. If children are our greatest asset, shouldn’t the place they attend be the recipients of your time, talent and treasure? Yes. The answer is yes.
This has to be the #1 question I get when someone hears we have our children in Catholic school. It’s typically followed by, “What does your husband do for a living?” And then I laugh because Scott and I have worked in the non-profit world since we graduated college 15 years ago. Now, we’re a single-income family with some additional income through my freelance business. The most invaluable piece of advice I’d like to impart is this: Don’t make the decision you can’t afford it until you talk to the principal. There’s tuition assistance, deferred billing, money-saving tips from fellow parents, lifestyle changes and so many other ways to make it affordable. When a principal knows you have a passion for Catholic education and they see you are willing to do what is necessary to make it a reality, there is often a way to make it work without sacrificing your financial future. May it require you to make some difficult decisions? Most likely. Will you ever regret them? Probably not.
Practically speaking, here are a few ideas to make Catholic school more affordable.
- New vs. Old. Buy used uniforms through the school’s uniform resale program or seek out parents with older children who are looking to clean out some closets full of old uniforms. Nobody said your kids have to wear brand-new uniforms! We don’t buy a week’s worth of uniforms, either. My kids wear their uniform multiple days before it hits the wash. And I’m not too proud to admit it.
- Ask for help. Ask to pay the fees over a period of time. If you can’t meet the school’s deadline, set a meeting with the school administration and/or the business manager and find a payment plan that works with your financial resources. I’ve found that asking makes all the difference.
- Be informed. Go to an information session and inquire about all the fees – tuition, uniforms, field trips, extracurriculars, class parties, etc. Write them all down, along with their due dates and then plan ahead for the school calendar year. It ensures that the February re-enrollment fee doesn’t sneak up on you, just as you’re paying off Christmas debt or scrambling to pay your tax bill.
- Give to the school. I know you’re thinking, why would I give of my financial resources when I’m trying to make ends meet? Remember, you don’t have to support every school fund raiser. That’s advice from my development officer husband. Pray about the fund raiser you love the most, give to it, and then don’t feel guilty when you take a pass on the others. For reals.
LOVING WHERE YOU ARE
The first school we attended still holds a very special place in my heart, as do the friendships we made there. When our youngest was born, we opted to find a school with a shorter commute and we landed at an equally awesome place. As a dear priest reminded me lately, “One must bloom where you’re planted.” You can sit in the corner and complain about the uniform company, the carline procedures, the gala projects or the curriculum focus OR you can log off your email and put yourself to work making change happen. When we enrolled at our new school, we immediately noticed the school lacked the community atmosphere we enjoyed at our previous school. So we did something about it. And you know what happened? We made actual friends. Like, the kind we invite over and have a lovely dinner with. When you offer a solution, be willing to make it happen.
Are there some school things that require the intervention of the principal or superintendent? Yes. But, mostly, I’ve found that the changes you desire reside within you. Positive energy begets positive energy and negative energy just brings the party down. If you find yourself unhappy day after day, ask yourself the question: Will changing school environments make the problem go away? If it does, then get to hunting for a new school path. If not, get yourself to the school office and start being an instigator of change.
What do you love about Catholic school? Surely you have some great advice. I’d love to hear it. And for those of you not enrolled in Catholic school and you want to be, what’s holding you back? I’d love to help.
Tomorrow, the 10 questions every prospective Catholic school parent should ask.
I would love for my son to be in Catholic school. He was for 2 years of preschool at our parish school and we loved it but at half the cost or kindergarten and no uniforms to buy we could barely afford that.
Also I felt really left out/ out of the loop at the parish school, because I was a working parent and I couldnt be there for many things. I still feel a little left out at his school now, but I am not only one of a few working mothers in his class like the past 2 years. Even when I would go to school I get ignored by all the parents who already know each other.
We decided a catholic education for our four kids was priority and only option. Does it take sacrifices? You betcha. We do not drive pricey cars. We do not have cable tv, magazine subscriptions, buy generic at the grocery store, stay out of ALL the fund raisers, “free dress day” passes and all those little things that cost extra dollars. We buy most of the kids clothes at consignment stores. Their school uniforms are bought used as much as possible. We get cheap haircuts, I do my own mani/pedis, we don’t eat out much..there are a LOT of ways to shave down the cost. Is it hard? In a sense yes, but our kids are happy and thriving. It is worth it to give them the best moral and academic education. If you want it badly enough, then you CAN make it happen.
Annie that’s an interesting observation. We are a two-working parent family and are leaning the opposite way for the exact same reason – the public school is extremely inaccessible to working parents while the CS is much more amenable with a better run extended care program. *sigh* can’t win.
Annie, I don’t think the clique culture is reserved for just CS, it can be found anywhere, unfortunately. I’ve found the best way to break into any new place is to get involved in an activity. It doesn’t have to be big and as a working mom, there are certainly way to find volunteer opportunities without it conflicting with your schedule or draining your time. You can always invite a child over for a playdate and get to know one other mom. Sometimes I think folks don’t think to reach out to new families because they get comfortable with their circle of friends while forgetting that they were once the “new people”, too!
I’m not sure how our parishes do it, but you must remember that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Maria Goretti are non-tuition schools. They are tithing parishes and, especially at St. Maria Goretti, since it started because of the demand for Catholic education, the parishioners are so proud of the school (A National Blue Ribbon School) and they do tithe. Our pastor (Will’s Godfather) always says the school is the most important ministry of our parish. I’m so glad my grandchildren have been, and are, enrolled in Catholic school. When I worked there, I loved the atmosphere! There were signs of God’s love everywhere AND I got a lot of hugs from the kids. It’s amazing! Blessed Catholic Schools Week to all!
We aren’t at school age quite yet, but our catholic school offers choices between full and half day kindergarten, half being much more affordable. And it also offers free tuition for the 4th child. Those are things to inquire about!
Great points! Our school offers tuition discounts, beginning with the second child. 10% for the second child and 15% for the third child +. Every little bit helps!
We love our Catholic School so much. I love that everything my children do all day is related back to the faith.
I think your advice of asking for help is so important. You never know what might be possible unless you ask. Our parish doesn’t have a school, and I wanted to send my children to a neighboring parish school. So I asked if there would be a way to get in-parish tuition rates without changing parishes. Next thing I knew, the two parishes had worked out an agreement so that all students from our parish could attend their school at the in-parish rate. Now a bunch of other families have been able to take advantage of this, just because I asked. 🙂
You go, Liz! Way to be an instigator of change.
This is so timely for me as we have a meeting at our parish school on Wednesday to look into sending Jack to kindergarten next year! I’m looking forward to your list of 10 questions to ask since we are in the process of coming up with questions. I was homeschooled from kindergarten on and Mike was in public school until 6th grade and then homeschooled so this is all brand new to us.
Tricia, we can relate. My husband and I were both public school kids so Catholic school was a whole new ballgame for us.
timely post as we just got the enrollment package for my daughter after church yesterday. I went to parochial school myself for 8 years and absolutely detested it. If Catholic education is what I had as a kid, then I am see nothing about it to embrace. We actually bought our house in a more expensive neighborhood to be close to good neighborhood schools because I was adamant that my children would not attend CS and now I find myself unable to commit to the PS.
I’m curious about your school selection process. For me, I wouldn’t think of exploring other schools beyond our parish because then we’d need to switch parishes and lose all the community we’ve built up there over the last several years. But I have a lot of objections to our parish school. It’s one of the “best” in the LA archdiocese, but I hear it can be cliquey and I don’t like they way the select K students (they turn away kids from the parish, accept kids from out of the parish, and still have a 40 kid class). I also think the teachers are mostly very good, but some I know are glossy on the surface but do not have very good skills. The grade 1 teacher and music teacher left (they are married) because of administrative tensions.
So we’re in a bind I guess – there is one other CS we’d consider but we would need to switch parishes, something I don’t want to do. And then I’m not sure what CS really stands for when I see cliques and exclusivity among the kids and parents. I’m flummoxed. But I’m also ready to hit the ground running and effect change. My husband is too. So maybe it will be ok.
Karen, for the first three years in Catholic school, we drove 45 minutes to a parish-based school that wasn’t our home parish. We gained two amazing parish communities (the big benefit!) and never found that to be a problem. Every family operates differently.
Some schools are cliquey and some aren’t. I advised Annie, commenter above, to find an activity and get to know one school family. Sometimes that opens all the right doors. People forget to say “welcome” to the new folks because they get too comfortable. I’m a convert, so I can’t speak of CS of yesteryear, but I can tell you that the Catholic schools of today, particularly in our diocese, are nothing short of awesome. The culture has changed here, and I think it’s been for the better.
My best advice is to talk to other families at those schools, visit with the principal and pastor and then pray. God will lead your heart.
Thanks so much for the reply. I must sound really bitter! I’m generally a positive person and “bloom where I’m planted” but now that the school decision is not just far off on the horizon, it’s like the scab has been ripped off and the wound from grade school is super fresh and raw, and it has really startled me. My CS experience wasn’t the eraser-throwing stereotype or anything, but it was a terrible fit for me. I was a curious and animated kid, and struggled within the rigid, “stay in your seat and recite multiplication tables” format typical of CS. The school actually suggested to my parents that they switch me to public school or another CS that would be a better fit saying that I would be better served somewhere else but my parents refused.
I thought about your advice, I think I will explore at least one other CS near us (we don’t really have too many options, our part of town has great schools but is minutes from some tough neighborhoods) and I will make an appt to talk things over with our Deacon. He works in the local bishops office (LA archdiocese is subdivided into 5 regional bishop areas!) and can hopefully help, although his kids went to our school and he’s pretty biased.
Thanks again for your thoughts.
Kathryn, here is your comment or quote to highlight this week:
“Positive energy begets positive energy and negative energy just brings the party down.”
I have something of a question for you or your readers: how far do you drive to your children’s Catholic schools? I grew up attending public schools and I’m not averse to my children doing the same, but I’d like to at least consider Catholic schools. However, the nearest few are 30 minutes away, plus whatever time rush-hour traffic would add to the trip. Then when we get to the point of considering high schools, we’ve got just one Catholic school that’s 30 minutes away. The others would be closer to an hour’s drive, once factoring in traffic. I’m finding the prospect of such drives pretty overwhelming. Do many of you do them?
Julie, I have a friend who would drive 30-minutes one-way for a Catholic High School (one hour a trip back-and-forth). After the first year of doing that, she decided to get a part-time job near the Catholic School in order to cut down on the trip. She also had a younger son too, but he attended public school (she believes that each child is unique and while one child may flourish in CS, another may in PS, etc).
Julie, we’ve traveled 45 minutes and 3 minutes. Obviously, that three-minute commute is our favorite, but the 45-minute one was worth it because we ADORED our school. Many factors led to the change, but the biggest was the need to simplify life with a difficult pregnancy in the works. Life happened, so we changed course.
My best advice? Find a carpooling buddy (the school often compiles lists of nearby families). We did that our first year and it meant I only had to make the drive 2, sometimes 3, days a week. And in the process I made a really great friend!
This is the first school year my children are attending Catholic school, my youngest son is in Pre-K and my daughter is in 8th grade. We live 20 minutes away from our parish and school, so its a 40 minute drive round trip however my husband and I both commute over an hour to work (not county ride to school). I have “morning duty” and he picks up after school. While it seems like a lot of driving we don’t have any regrets. Both of them are flourishing in the school but given the choice my daughter would probably want to go to public school. She did from PK to 6th but I just wanted something better for her. Do what feels right for your family.
I meant 7th grade, sorry. There is only one Catholic High school in our entire county but they do have a few locations through out the county for bus pick up.
While we don’t have children yet, we are concerned about the cost of Catholic education; the Catholic local grade school is over $8k just for tuition (“active Catholic rate”), not including application fee, field trips, etc. The main gala fundraiser has two ticket levels at $100 a person and $700 a person. The local Montessori Catholic-infused school is $11k just for tuition. As such, we’re already saving up for our children’s primary education but I’m also looking into taking some basic Montessori classes before children come and life is even more hectic in order to homeschool the little ones at least for a few years as we hope that I can be home to raise the children. Saving up in order to forgo a full-time job is also something we’re doing (and is a higher priority than buying a home).
Kate, depending upon where you live, tuition rates vary widely. Before making the decision based solely on finances, go talk to the school. Yes, even adults who don’t have children talk to admissions directors. They won’t look at you funny! Find out what assistance is available, what discounts the school offers and where you can cut corners. I have several friends who homeschool through eighth grade and then do Catholic school for high school. Whatever your family chooses, approach it with prayer and you’ll be led down the right path for YOU!
Thanks Kathryn! I’m glad that it feels that I’m looking at this holistically and following down a good path, your confidence helps immensely! I actually have spoken with the school and with parents there (my dentist being one too). I actually recommended that they try to establish relationships with the parishioners who may not be shopping for a school yet because someday they may and it would be lovely if they had strong supporters who wouldn’t think twice of enrolling. As for discounts, the school here only offers the active Catholic rate, no further discounts for multiple siblings, etc, as they say they are one of the lowest tuition rates in the diocese. I very much agree that tuition can vary widely; my hometown’s tuition levels are currently under $3k.
I must say that I’m a bit envious of the Diocese of Wichita in that it’s tuition free! Thanks again Kathryn, this is great advice (and why, even before kids, I’m reading and soaking in all this knowledge!!)
I am so glad you mentioned re-wearing clothes! I started intentionally doing that when I started working full-time, and it saves me so much grief. It cuts down on the number of items you need (such as uniforms) AND the amount of laundry you do, which saves water, electricity, and detergent.
(That was a little tangential for a blog comment, but I don’t have kids, so that’s what I’ve got!)
I really have to echo Kathryn’s sentiment that the financial aspect shouldn’t be a complete dealbreaker until you have spoken with the principal at the school! My mother has taught at a Catholic school for many years, and the principal there is very willing to make accomodations. Parents can even get tuition aid for serving the school in certain capacities. Granted, every school might not be so willing to help, but it’s important to look into before letting it dissuade you (and why it’s important to look into multiple schools)! Most schools would rather have another dedicated, Catholic family than not!
YES. A 1,000 times yes.
Kathryn, I’m not able to follow the link to your latest post “10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask,” although I can read this post…weird? But I am following this conversation and would love your insight if you could email me a copy of the post, that would be awesome!
I love this series for Catholic schools week. Our oldest is currently in first grade and attending Catholic schools. Our diocese funds the schools based on stewardship (time, talent, treasure) of the entire parish. It makes school affordable for many more families. Even though we don’t have to worry about tuition, I’m glad you wrote this post for those that think they can’t make ends meet. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask what kind of assistance or payment plans are available. A good school will be happy to help with solutions if they are gaining a family that is passionate about Catholic education. 🙂
If your school or parish has a scrip program, take advantage of it! Scrip programs buy gift cards (for local and national grocery stores, restaurants and merchants) at a discount and sell them at face value. The discounted portion (or part of it) offsets each family’s tuition costs. I run the scrip program at our parish and there are families that regularly earn hundreds or even over a thousand dollars in tuition credits. The most successful families ask there friends, neighbors and co-workers to buy gift cards for their family. It is your own personal fundraiser. If your school does not offer such a program, an easy way to get started is to use ShopWithScrip (www.shopwithscrip.com). SWS has videos on youtube showing how scrip works.
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[…] We chose Catholic school for many reasons. I think more people should seriously consider it and seek out ways to make it affordable, but I also realize that it’s not always the ideal, or best, solution for every family. Quite honestly, I don’t think you should beat yourself up, either, if you just can’t make it happen. While there are various schools of thought (see what I did there?) on tuition-free vs. not, all the way through high school vs. not and supplementing with church religious education programs vs. not – you ultimately have to put it to prayer. […]