Happy Birthday, Sarah!

I’ve loved her for almost 17 years at this point.

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Because from that first amazing moment that I found out I was pregnant with her…I was so deeply in love.

She’s my first child, my first daughter, my first everything. The first time I cried from a heart bursting with pride was watching her perform after a week-long theater camp. I’ve been amazed MANY first times over at this point. There’s a reason I often tag my Instagram photos #shesamazing. It’s because She. Is. Amazing.

She’s smart. She’s witty. She is a workhorse. She is strong. She is loyal. She is caring. She is sensitive. She is confident. She is everything I wish I had been when I was 16.

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She’s the best big sister. She’s responsible and compassionate She spends time learning about her siblings — what they like, what they don’t and what makes them “tick”. She is fierce in her protection of them and isn’t afraid to make it known.

And she’s so amazing that I have a hard time taking credit for any of it. She’s so amazing that raising her hasn’t felt like as much work as I always thought it would be. She’s so amazing that to know her is to love her in every sense of that cliche.

I could never write words that would be enough to describe how much I love her.

I am honored that God allowed me to be her mother. It continues to be one of the greatest joys in my life.

Happy Birthday to my girl, Sarah.

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You’re a strong, beautiful young woman.

Nothing can stop the force that is you.

Happy Sweet 16, my girl.

Our Catholic High School Decision Has Been Made — 3 year old unpublished post

Well, look at this: I found this in my drafts. I wrote it THREE YEARS ago, but never published it. Part of me wants to change some words here and there, but then…these were my thoughts then. A few things have changed (see the bottom of the post for my thoughts), a few things have stayed the same. At the time this was written, only one of my children was set to attend public school and now all five of them attend public school.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and publish (after I add my current-day thoughts to the end). As you read the next few paragraphs, please keep in mind that I wrote this three years ago and that there is more to the story at the end. 🙂

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Recently, we decided that our children will attend public high school. We’d been discerning diligently for the past 7-8 months, but the hope of providing Catholic high school education to our children had been on our minds for even longer than that. There were many things we considered as we discerned. I’ve been able to compartmentalize them into three main categories: the expense; the extra-curricular opportunities (sports, clubs, etc); and the environment (Catholic and otherwise). Our comfort levels with different aspects of all of those were based on our experiences. Craig attended Catholic school all the way through high school. I attended Catholic school from grades 1 through 8. After that, I attended public high school.

For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on the financial expense of providing a Catholic high school education. It seems, unfortunately, that Catholic high schools in most of our country have gone the way of being “Private Schools with Mass.” The tuition to attend the Catholic high school in my area is pretty close to what it costs to attend any other private high school in our city. It might be a little less expensive (by $1000-2000) but when you’re talking $10-12,000 per year, that’s not that much of a discount. Many families like mine – those who have accepted alarger-than-average amount of children, often expand the family beyond theability to provide Catholic education through high school. I’m not even going to touch the college expense. My kids will know from the get-go that paying for college will be largely on them.

To hear many Church leaders (Priests, Bishops, etc) speak, you would think that the Catholic Church wants to provide a Catholic education to anyone who wants it. And I do think the desire is there. The problem is that a Catholic education is exclusive to those who can afford it, and sadly, many families cannot justify $10,000+/year tuition for four years for each kid in high school for a family the size of mine. I also know of families smaller than mine, for whom the Catholic education is out of reach. I know of families larger than mine that make it work, too. I think that’s great and God has blessed them abundantly for their sacrifice.

Our diocese is building a new Catholic high school about an hour southeast of where I live. I signed up to contribute to this effort. I made a 3-year-commitment of 1% of our take-home pay for this campaign. At the time, we were still thinking that our kids could perhaps attend Catholic high school. But now that the decision has been made to send them to public school, I can’t help but note the irony that I am helping pay for a new Catholic high school to which I can’t even afford to send my kids.

There has been much said to me and around me about the financial assistance available for Catholic high school, but the reality of the matter seems to be that there just isn’t that much to go around to everyone who needs it. Even if the first year was made doable, the following years could crush us financially, and once your kid has started going somewhere for high school, you really don’t want to move them, so we’d be stuck if we started…at least for our oldest. I’ve heard that endowments for the private schools in our city are much bigger than what is available at the local Catholic high school, which only puts added pressure on the finances (of both school and families).

One of the most familiar commentaries I have heard from older parishioners who have already put their children through Catholic high school is that it was worth the sacrifice. I have no doubt that if I were able to sacrifice a reasonable amount without hurting my family in the process, I would also find the sacrifice to be worth it, edifying even. I understand that the people who encourage me to send my children to Catholic high school and “trust God” and that “it is all worth the sacrifice” mean well. For them, the sacrifice was doable. I don’t know what most people make, what their financial commitments are outside of Catholic high school tuition and all that stuff. Therefore, I can’t give an opinion on whether the sacrifice they made and what would be required of me would be similar or not. I can only speak to our situation and believe me when I tell you that the amount of money I was putting away simply for Catholic High school was preventing Club volleyball, guitar lessons, ballet, among other activities that I had wanted to provide my kids. I was looking down the road and seeing 16 years of nothing outside of school-related activities and tuition in the budget and I was getting down about not being able to provide some experiences for my kids that I think are important to their growth.

An additional consideration for a family like mine might be that we’d be able to provide Catholic high school for one, but not all of our children. Saving the money I was to put towards tuition – for as long as I was looking at having to do that – was putting our family into a delicate position should a job loss occur or any instance that could happen causing either my husband or me to be without an income for any period of time. I’m talking – beyond the emergency savings – how could we continue to provide this if some tragedy befell our family? And even if no tragedy befell us, but life happened and the amount we’d saved couldn’t measure up to what was required – what if we faced the possibility that our children could not continue at the Catholic high school and we provided for one and couldn’t provide for all? Plus we have spaced our children to the extent that we will be paying for preschool for our youngest during our oldest child’s first two years of high school. Preschool is a necessity for us as it doubles as our childcare; our daily childcare expense won’t diminish until our youngest enters Kindergarten.

The balance in these things is critical in our relationship as a family, I think. Rather than face the insecurity of being unable to provide this for all five of our living children, it seemed the more prudent approach to continue to save the money knowing it could help provide things like Club volleyball, Swim team, music lessons, tennis lessons, and other extra-curricular activities that will provide value down the line. It seems more prudent knowing that money will be available to buy a new-to-us car if the time comes, without taking on the burden of payments. Perhaps we will pre-pay preschool tuition to get a discount. Perhaps the next round of orthodontic treatment won’t be such a hassle.

Once the decision was made, a huge load was lifted from my chest. Yes, sadness prevailed for a little bit. It’s hard to admit that you can’t provide your kids with their desires. And the disappointment in the fact that the Catholic Church can’t fulfill her desire to educate all those who would want to come to a Catholic school is still there.

Discernment

Did the Catholic Church intend to go down this route? I doubt it. The reality of the situation is that Catholic schools are no longer run by Religious (nuns or priests). Paying competitive salaries (and benefits!) for laypeople as teachers and administrators has driven the cost to the point that it is difficult to see a difference between a Catholic school and a private school. The main difference being that at a Catholic school, religion class is a requirement, a chapel/place for daily prayer is available and Mass happens on at least a semi-regular basis. Add to that the fact that Catholics in this country do not support the Church to the level required to provide a Catholic education to all. And – to be fair – most Catholics who are paying tuition to the rate of $10,000/year/kid feel the obligation to pay that and probably believe this IS their financial support for the Church. I know that if I were to pay tuition for Catholic high school, my “first fruits” contribution would most likely have to diminish to cover the cost. Obviously, that’s backwards because it turns my “first fruits” contribution into something else.

I do think something should be figured out. I think there is something wrong when a Church encourages the faithful to be generous and embrace new life into their marriages, but then shuts the door on those families when it comes to education. I know parents are the primary educators of children. Parents should not drop the kids off at the door of the Catholic school expecting all the magic to happen there, and at the end of 12 years, POOF! a well-formed Catholic with brains to match magically appears. But I also recognize my Church’s call to support Catholic education in all ways, including financial. A little more financial support as well as a bit of emotional and spiritual support from the Church with regard to this issue would be most appreciated.

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My thoughts three years later.

The local Catholic high school has taken great pains to promote their support of larger families and the things they are doing to combat the high cost of sending children to their school. This support comes in the form of a tuition schedule that ensures a family with the third or fourth (or fifth!) kid coming through is not getting burdened with an ENTIRE third or fourth (or fifth!) full tuition. The way it was explained was that it would take into account that the older children will most likely be on to college when the younger children attend high school and, of course, it could be a tremendous burden on the family to be helping with college expense while also paying a large amount in tuition. This is wonderful and I’m so glad they are doing it! For the families for whom the financial aspect was truly the only obstacle, this will most likely tip the balance in the Catholic school receiving the attendance of the children in those families.

Once my oldest began attending the public high school, it became apparent that she had missed the opportunity to start on some activities she may have found enjoyable since she was in the Catholic grade school. Things like Student Council, Orchestra/Band/Choir, Drama/Theater and other sorts of activities that middle schoolers are able to explore without a huge cost to the family were not available to her. Sure, they could have been available to her if we, her parents, had been available to pay for and transport her to extra lessons. Of course the expense of money and time for that were not feasible for us.

Our public school district has wonderful programs and provides the opportunities to any child interested and even provides transportation home at later times for children involved in after school activities. (Dani’s BASA Bus — Before After School Activities Bus — dropped her off at 5:10 p.m.) Learning this sped up the decision to move all of our children to the public schools. It seemed easier to get them involved in things at an earlier stage in their academic years so they would have all the opportunity to explore and discover those things they would desire to be a part of in the crucial high school years where leadership and involvement are so important. Therefore, the financial aspect of our decision lessened with this realization.

Finally, what we can see in hindsight is that a larger school environment has been fabulous for each and every one of our children. At some point, we had thought a small school was the ideal. Lower teacher-to-student ratios lend to the thinking that the child receives more attention, leading to better academic results. However, our experience has been that our children thrive within the larger public school framework. There are more friends to make, more challenges to be had and a diversity that was not as ever-present in the Catholic school environment from which they came.

One thing that Craig and I thought was important — especially in high school — was for our kids to grow and learn in an environment where their beliefs and values might be challenged. We thought it was critical that this happen while they were still in our care and that this should not wait until they left home for college or to enter the military or to enter the working world. I know that as Catholics, we want to make the world as Catholic as we can. We are called to be in the world, evangelizing — by word AND deed — to bring Christ’s Love to all those we meet. Craig and I have watched our children do this in the public schools. Not only do they bring Christ’s Love to those they encounter everyday in a non-Catholic school environment, but they experience it from those around them. In the past, when the subject of sending our Catholic kids to public school had been brought up, it almost seemed like most Catholic parents considered it “a bad idea,” at best and “almost-cruel,” at worst, to subject their children to the public schools and those that inhabit them. Almost as though their precious little lambs would be devoured by those horrible wolves that lurked in the curriculum or in the more diverse, and especially non-Catholic population they would encounter.

I’ve been impressed with the education my oldest has received at the public high school. Sarah has had opportunities for Honors classes, AP class in sophomore year, and AP and dual-credit college courses coming up this junior year. She’s received a Varsity letter in academics for her Freshman year and is set to receive one for Sophomore year, as well. She had the opportunity to earn a Varsity letter in Volleyball as a Sophomore and is on track to earn more in the future for Volleyball. She has made good, solid friends — even though their background is so completely different from her own.

I was impressed with middle school, too. Kids grow up A LOT during middle school and need to be given the opportunity to learn some hard lessons during that time. Dani thrived in the larger middle school environment. She made friends almost from the word “Go!” and she has become independent and has learned so much about herself. She has discovered that others think she is a pretty fantastic person — she needed that! I mean, Dani has always been pretty confident in herself, but in a larger environment, her outgoing nature and kind heart took her places she hadn’t had the opportunity to go before.

Elementary school was fantastic, too. Helen grew up in 5th grade. And she was given the opportunity to do that with more kids to interact with and teachers pushing her out of her comfort zone a little bit (with a safety net!) Since 5th graders are the oldest kids in the elementary school, I think there are more opportunities for growth and responsibility than at the smaller Catholic school that has K-8. Helen leaves elementary school eager and ready for the challenges that lie ahead in middle school. The boys thrived, too. Dominic loves school — I don’t think he cared where he was in school — and made friends with the same interests he had — Minecraft, Angry Birds, Star Wars, Comic Books. Vincent was quiet and reserved, but received a lot of praise for always being kind to those around him and being a hard worker.

I know this got a little long, but when I found this old post, I just knew I had to publish it along with a few thoughts on “the now.”