January 26, 2018

2018 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

High schools build up relationships with nearby parish schools

Sports camps are among the ways that Catholic high schools in the archdiocese try to make a continuing connection with students from nearby parish schools. Here, Josh Coons, a student-athlete of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, shares a tip during a football camp for third- to eighth­graders at the school in the summer of 2017. (Submitted photo)

Sports camps are among the ways that Catholic high schools in the archdiocese try to make a continuing connection with students from nearby parish schools. Here, Josh Coons, a student-athlete of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, shares a tip during a football camp for third- to eighth‑graders at the school in the summer of 2017. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Indiana’s state government has launched a series of initiatives over the last decade or more that recognize parents’ freedom to choose the best education for their children.

They include allowing children to enroll in public school systems beyond the one in which they live, creating charter schools, establishing tax credits for contributions to organizations that provide scholarships to private schools and, most notably, the state’s voucher program, which is arguably the most robust in the nation.

This empowerment of parents to use their freedom to ensure the best education for their children has created an educational marketplace in which schools must, in a sense, market themselves to parents and students, showing them how the educational experience they offer would be best for them.

Leaders in Catholic high schools across central and southern Indiana recognize this challenge and are responding to it.

“It is absolutely vital that we can get information on Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School out to the public,” said Kyle Powers, Cardinal Ritter’s director of admissions. “Our students do so many great things academically, athletically and in the community, and we want the city of Indianapolis to see how well prepared our students are for post-high school life.”

An important way that Cardinal Ritter lets the broader community know about the education it offers is by building up relationships with parish grade schools in the Indianapolis West Deanery.

This happens in a variety of initiatives, such as academic competitions among parish schools sponsored by Cardinal Ritter and having grade school students come to Cardinal Ritter on Halloween to go trick-or-treating from classroom to classroom.

Other Catholic high schools in the archdiocese work in similar ways with nearby Catholic schools.

“Building community is at the heart of a great Franciscan Catholic school,” said Diane Laake, president of the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg. “Our commitment to evangelizing, empowering and educating our youth is best achieved in a K-12 educational experience. We build on the foundation of faith established in our nearby schools, and provide the essential tools as our young adults make those critical decisions about the next phase of their life journey.”

Among the partnerships that the Oldenburg Academy has established is a program where academy students tutor students of St. Louis School in Batesville.

Samantha Sheets, a junior at Oldenburg Academy, was tutored in math by an academy student when she was a student at St. Louis.

“It was extremely beneficial and helped me score higher on my tests,” Samantha said, adding that having been helped in that way makes being a student now at Oldenburg Academy “more special because I now have the opportunity to return the help that was given to me while I was a student at St. Louis.”

Laake said that having relationships with nearby schools through tutoring and sponsoring academic competitions enhances the education it can offer.

“When students serve as an Oldenburg Academy ambassador in any of these programs with our nearby schools, they serve as role models,” she said. “This responsibility inspires them to always be and do their best. Often, it also helps to reveal a skill or talent they may possess, such as public speaking, teaching, organizational skills or writing. It helps to ensure that they experience being part of a larger community of faith, too.”

Nancy Buening, principal of St. Mary School in Greensburg, appreciates the relationship St. Mary has with Oldenburg Academy, especially in the academic competitions in which St. Mary students participate, and thinks it is a way to help her students see ways to continue their Catholic education.

“Any time you can get students working with others or performing in front of an audience, you are building on skills that they will use for a lifetime,” Buening said. “We support Catholic education and want students to know that there are other alternatives. I feel like it is a way we can extend our mission even when they are no longer in our building.”

Building up community is part of a Catholic school’s identity. So fostering relationships with nearby Catholic grade schools isn’t just a marketing ploy for Tyler Mayer, vice president for institutional advancement at Bishop Chatard High School in the Indianapolis North Deanery.

“It is our responsibility as a member of the North Deanery to share our resources,” he said. “If we have the ability to share resources that will enhance the educational experience of students across the North Deanery, then we need to do everything we can to collaborate with the parish schools … .”

Bishop Chatard does this by allowing deanery schools to use their facilities free of charge for extracurricular activities, helping schools in setting and implementing technology plans, offering a wide variety of summer camps and workshops, and welcoming parish youth ministers to visit with students from their parishes in the school’s cafeteria on schools days.

While Chatard maintains such programs to assist deanery schools, Mayer said they also enhance the educational experience it can provide to its high school students.

“Our unique relationships with the parishes and schools of the North Deanery allows a level of support that can be found nowhere else,” he said. “Bishop Chatard, in large part due to the unique relationship with the North Deanery parishes and schools, offers the strongest college preparatory academic program and faith formation experience for most students and families.”

At the same time, Mayer and other leaders at Bishop Chatard recognize that, with many other high quality private and public high schools close by, they can’t presume that families and students will choose their school.

“We have two goals for each student that comes to Bishop Chatard: college and heaven,” Mayer said. “There are many great choices in regard to high school. However, they are not the same.  Each school has a different approach and focus and, therefore, a different culture. Bishop Chatard offers a genuine Catholic education.

“It is our responsibility to reach out to as many families as we can and provide them with a genuine understanding of who we are, and what we are all about.” †

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