Putting others first is not always easy, but it is life-changing. In Catholic schools, this means creating an environment where students feel safe and that they have stability and feel loved.
Catholic schools do not always have the best facilities or the shiniest new materials, but there is one constant that makes a difference: students are put first, and they are loved. As one student recently shared, "Home is the perfect word to describe how I feel about my school. I would not trade the time I have spent here or the connections I have made for anything!" This is not some soft concept; it makes an empirical difference, as evidenced by the recent National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) results. Love is a powerful force.
Recently released results of the NAEP were nothing short of staggering and demonstrate the power of putting students first. Ninety-two percent of Catholic schools were open for in-person learning, with academic performance staying level or increasing during COVID. In contrast, less than 50 percent of public and charter schools were open for in-person learning and showed declines in academic progress during this same period. Looking deeper into the data, the performance of low-income students was significantly better in Catholic schools compared to their public and charter school peers.
As a former scholarship recipient, a now senior at Boston College explained at a recent gathering of school leaders, "I do not think of growing up by my age, but by my teachers and grade." He went on to explain how, growing up, his Catholic school was a place of love and stability. Regardless of where he laid his head at night, he had a home in his Catholic school. He was loved and was told that he could succeed. This is the secret sauce to Catholic education -- love.
Love means putting others first. Love is not an excuse to let people slide by; in fact, it is just the opposite. Love demands that we challenge others to be the best they can be, to be all that God is calling them to be in this life. Catholic school teachers and principals respond each day to Christ's radical call, "Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another" (John 13:34). Each day, they put children and families first because this is what Christ demands of us.
Putting others first is not always easy, but it is life-changing. In Catholic schools, this means creating an environment where students feel safe and that they have stability and feel loved. From this foundation, academic, personal, and spiritual growth and development will happen.
There is much to celebrate during the holiday season, but there can also be much stress and anxiety. We hear each day from families worried about how they will afford a Catholic education for their child as inflation makes it harder to keep food on the table and their heat running. Thankfully, generous donors have provided resources to allow the Catholic Schools Foundation to respond to these emergent, stressful situations. Being able to respond to these situations gives students the opportunity to be in a stable and loving environment during a stressful time for their families.
Advent is an opportunity to reflect on the joy and hope of Christmas and is also a challenge to us to respond to the command of Christ to love one another. It is not always easy, but we know from the recent NAEP results and the testimony of students and families -- love makes a difference and changes lives.
Together, we change lives.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.
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