A national observance
There are 132,656 private and public schools in the United States, according to Department of Education statistics. Of those, 6,980 are Catholic elementary or secondary schools. What sets these Catholic schools apart from the pack?
Three things, say educators, parents and community leaders: faith, academics and service. So, fittingly, the 2012 Catholic Schools Week theme focuses on these three priorities.
Children are taught faith – not just the basics of Christianity, but how to have a relationship with God.
Academics, which in Catholic schools are held to very high standards, help each child reach his or her potential.
Service, the giving of one’s time and effort to help others, is taught both as an expression of faith and good citizenship.
The annual observance starts the last Sunday in January and runs all week, which in 2012 is Jan. 29 through Feb. 4. Schools typically celebrate Catholic Schools Week with Masses, open houses and activities for students, families, parishioners and the community at large.
Catholic Schools Week became an annual event in 1974. It is a joint project of National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Source: NCEA website (www.ncea.org).
This year’s theme for Catholic Schools Week sums up what Holy Family School is all about, Principal Karen Moeder said. The theme is, "Catholic Schools: Faith. Academics. Service." which echoes the mission statement at Holy Family School,"We learn. We love. We serve."
Bishop John Brungardt basically delivered the same message to Catholic schools in the Dodge City Diocese, Moeder said. "The bishop stressed to make sure it’s a Catholic school. People should know right off the bat."
It involves a lot more than the art on the walls and a crucifix in every classroom. The goal is for people who enter the building to feel welcome, and to feel that Christ is present. It starts with how visitors are treated, how students treat their teachers and how they treat each other. It’s about respect.
Faith isn’t removed from a Catholic school; it’s embraced. And that leads to service.
"Our faith defines our mission," Moeder said. "Service to others is taught right along with academics."
Third grader Tatum Sander said one school service project is the monthly "Dress Down for a Cause." Students bring a donation and are allowed to wear something other than the school uniform. The students have supported causes such as Birthright, Kans for Kids Fighting Cancer Foundation and the Barton County Food Bank.
Tatum and her classmate Will Linenberger represent Mrs. Reif’s third grade class on the Holy Family School Student Council, which is new this year. One of their first projects was to add "friend benches" to the playgrounds.
"It’s a bench for people who don’t have someone to play with at recess," Will said. A person looking for a playmate or friend can sit on the special bench. "It’s our job to go to them first."
These two school ambassadors talked about some of the things they like best about their school, which included music class and library time. That morning in physical education class, Will had enjoyed a spirited game of Ultimate Dodge Capture (a combination of Dodge Ball and Capture the Flag). But he also likes using the computers. "We go on websites and sometimes we do projects for our classroom," he said.
"I like the teachers because they’re nice," Tatum said. "We’ve been doing a whole bunch of different things," including studying for the state assessment tests. Holy Family School is accredited by the Kansas Department of Education, and all of its teachers are fully certified.
Chris and Aidan Koster started sending their second-grade daughter to Holy Family School this year because they thought she needed more academic challenge. "It has been a really good experience for us," Aidan said. They also like the faith-based environment, sports and music program.
Melissa and Zack Prosser from Odin have two sons who attend Holy Family School.
"My husband and I feel the academics are excellent," Melissa said. "The spirituality, morality and discipline are very close to how they are taught at home. I love that the tradition of the Catholic faith is instilled in them. The teachers install values and traits that I want to see in my children. There’s no issue with God in our school; it’s encouraged. The thing my kids enjoy the most is the encouragement to serve others, to help those in need. They’re conscientious of others’ feelings, and I think that the school has helped foster that in them."
James and Ellie Doran also bring their children to school from out of town. The Dorans live in St. John, but she works in Great Bend. They first looked at Holy Family School because it offered all-day kindergarten and preschool before the public schools did.
"We visited the school, and I was totally impressed," Ellie said. "You could just feel that they were really interested in kids’ education, and their faith. They have a lot of love in those classrooms."
Students at Holy Family School come from all walks of life. It is not beyond the financial reach of any family that makes sending its children there a priority, Moeder said. "If you want a Catholic education for your child, we will help you find a way to give your child a Catholic education."
Holy Family School is located at 4200 Broadway Ave. in Great Bend. For more information about the school call 620-793-3265.