February 14, 2020

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Center-city students succeed despite many challenges

Kimberly PohoveyAs I recently sat observing the students gathered in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass, I noticed a row ahead of me. The students from Central Catholic School in Indianapolis sat reverently with their hands folded, palms together, throughout the liturgy. I smiled and thought about what a blessing it has been for me to work with our center-city schools in Indianapolis.

A little more than three years ago, when I took my current position working on marketing and fundraising initiatives for archdiocesan education, I really had no idea what the culture or daily lives of our center-city students looked like. Central Catholic is one of five schools which comprise the Notre Dame ACE Academies, a consortium of our center-city Catholic elementary schools, owned by the archdiocese and operated in conjunction with the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education.

When I began my position, my first step was to visit each school and meet with its principal in order to better understand its culture, its successes and its needs.

Principal after principal told me the progress their students were making, their achievements, as well as their growing needs. They also schooled me in the daily lives of their students and families. I lived a mere 15 minutes away from several of these schools and had no idea the extent of the challenges their families faced.

After meeting with one principal, I returned to my car and cried. I remember thinking that I certainly never faced these challenges when I was in school, nor have my children. However, every day our center-city students carry emotional baggage we can’t imagine.

The situations they face are often a result of all the issues that arise from poverty. Many face food insecurity. Others deal with language barriers. They may worry about their family’s immigration status. Some deal with violence in their neighborhoods, or their own family. Others have parents working more than one job to support their family. In these cases, the children might have to accompany their parent overnight because there is no one else to care for them, and they then find themselves falling asleep during class the next day. I remember a principal telling me she had first-grade students dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Can you imagine being ready to pay attention and learn during school while worrying about and suffering from this host of emotional stresses? Yet, every day our students are expected to arrive to school on time and work to the best of their abilities.

The miracle is that our students succeed and achieve. What I believe makes the difference is that they arrive each morning to a dedicated and caring school staff who continually tell them they can do it. The goals of the program are “college and heaven,” and they are given the tools to strive for both. They are held to a high standard of excellence and behavior. And day by day, they celebrate growth on their path.

If you were to visit one of these schools, you would see the needs. But more important, you would see children who are polite, disciplined and smiling. I am always moved when I spend any time in these schools. Despite the challenges in their lives, they are happy and thriving in our Catholic schools.

I know many people question the voucher program, but I tell you that it is because of this program and the Indiana State Tax Credit Scholarship Program that families are able to choose a Catholic education for their children, and give them every hope for a successful future. Don’t we all want the same?

To help center-city students succeed, please visit www.i4qed.org.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of mission advancement for Archdiocesan Education Initiatives.)

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