Parents are passionate about Catholic schools - Catholic Courier
Diane Walsh, who currently has four children attending  St. Ann School in Hornell, volunteers at the school whenever she can. Above, she lends a hand Jan. 22 in the preschool class of her 3-year-old son Kodiak (center). Diane Walsh, who currently has four children attending St. Ann School in Hornell, volunteers at the school whenever she can. Above, she lends a hand Jan. 22 in the preschool class of her 3-year-old son Kodiak (center).

Parents are passionate about Catholic schools

Some families devote lots of time to ensure their kids go to Catholic schools.

The 40-minute commute Amie Nicola and her daughters take twice a day is one literal example.

At 6:45 a.m. each day, Nicola and daughters Angelina and Amelia begin the drive from Mount Morris, Livingston County, to Hornell, Steuben County. Angelina is a fourth-grader and Amelia is a kindergartner at St. Ann School. Amie Nicola works Monday through Thursday as a dentist in Hornell.

In the car, Nicola reviews homework with her daughters, and they talk about their days.

Although they return home by 6:15 p.m., making their day nearly 12 hours long, Nicola said the trip is worth it to ensure that her daughters attend a Catholic school. She is passionate about the Catholic curriculum, small class sizes, personal attention and parental commitment her family found at St. Ann in Hornell. These features are the reason that her family chose St. Ann instead of a public school after Holy Family School in Dansville closed in 2008.

"In public school, if you are speaking about religion, prayers or God, you are told it’s not the right place to do it," Nicola said. "We don’t want to have to come to that."

That’s why Nicola was one of a group of parents who worked hard to try to keep St. Ann open for the future. The school, which has had falling enrollment and rising deficits, was earmarked to close at the end of the 2009-10 school year unless it could raise additional funding for the 2010-11 school year and increase its enrollment. A final decision on the school’s future had not been announced as of press time Jan. 29.

"The parents are very committed to the school," Nicola said. "We would do anything to keep it open."

Parents promote schools

Their commitment is why parents across the diocese are being tapped to market Catholic schools to their friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners as an educational investment — and a bargain.

Some St. Ann parents spread this message during recent telephone fundraising drives for the school. Diane Walsh of Hornell is among a group of parents who have made phone calls to parishioners and supporters on behalf of the school.

Walsh has 12 children, including six who attended St. Ann and four who are students there now. She said she is eager to talk about St. Ann because of her long experience as a volunteer in the school’s lunchroom and classrooms, and her close relationship with faculty and administrators.

"To me it’s a wonderful thing that I am able to go to the school at any point in the day and see my child in the classroom," Walsh said.

Walsh said her family members have made some sacrifices to be able to keep the children at St. Ann. They haven’t been able to take big family vacations in the past few years, and they cut out such extras as eating at restaurants and going to the movies.

"They understand, because the money has to go to the school, plus all the regular bills on top of that," Walsh said.

Other parents say they also put a Catholic-school education first.

"It’s just about prioritizing," according to Lisa Sexsmith, who has two children at St. Ann School: first-grader Emily and preschooler Abby. "I don’t think we’ve given up anything except that we don’t eat out as often."

Both Walsh and Sexsmith said they attended public school growing up, and their husbands, who attended Catholic schools, helped to convince them to send their children to Catholic school as well.

Once her family was connected with the school, Sexsmith said she was impressed by the teachers and the level of parent involvement that is encouraged at St. Ann. She is a member of the parent partnership board, has participated in several fundraisers at the school and has gone on many field trips with her children.

"I talk with teachers on a daily basis when I drop (off) and pick up the kids," Sexsmith said. "I like having that kind of contact."

Education comes first

Cissy LeBlanc of Scottsville said she also appreciates having daily contact with the teachers of her three children at St. Pius Tenth School in Chili: fourth-grader Jacob, second-grader Caroline and preschooler Audrey.

"I’m in the classes at least once a week," LeBlanc said. "I see how the teachers are educating the whole child and how they bring religion and God into everything they do, and how they have the kids show them respect, and show respect for their peers and for themselves."

LeBlanc said one major strength of the school is the dedication of St. Pius Tenth Principal Stephen Oberst, who was principal when LeBlanc attended the school herself. She also attended Sacred Heart School and Aquinas Institute, where she met her husband, Jeff, who attended the former Holy Cross School in Charlotte.

"For us, it was never an option of Catholic vs. private (school for our children)," LeBlanc said. "The values were instilled in us from going to Catholic schools all our lives."

That’s the reason the LeBlancs willingly pay tuition, she said.

"Education comes first, and then if stuff is left over, we take it from there," LeBlanc said. "We will sacrifice a vacation in order to maintain this. It’s such a priority for us."

She also pointed out that parent commitment at St. Pius Tenth doesn’t end with tuition payments. At the beginning of each year, the parent committee articulates goals for the year, and St. Pius Tenth parents immediately work to fill needs, said LeBlanc, who headed up the committee for three years.

"It’s amazing the amount of parents that are willing to step up and do it and get involved," she remarked.

Parents amazed at opportunities

Even though her 5-year-old daughter, Brooke, has been at Avon’s St. Agnes School for less than a year, Kim Arnold is already an involved St. Agnes parent. She is such a believer in the school that over the next several weeks she will speak at several area parishes about the benefits of a St. Agnes education.

About a dozen St. Agnes parents like Arnold have been tapped this year to speak about the school at area parishes, said Dr. Gerald E. Benjamin, the school’s principal. This year and in past years, the school gets a number of calls from prospective parents following the parish talks, he said, adding that current parents are effective marketers for the school because they speak from the heart and provide facts to back up their experiences.

"They have been such a wonderful voice box for the school, illustrating with their anecdotes just how involved they are," Benjamin said.

Arnold said she has seen evidence that her daughter is growing intellectually by leaps and bounds. For instance, one day recently, Arnold’s kindergartner insisted on reading to her mother, rather than having her mother read to her.

Arnold also has become a fan of school uniforms. In addition to eliminating peer pressure related to clothing, she said used uniforms cost less than ordinary clothes, allowing her family to save money.

Another high point of the St. Agnes education is the school’s fine arts program, she said. This program recently brought renowned soprano Amy Cochrane and other top vocalists to perform at a Christmas concert at St. Agnes Parish. Brooke was left wide-eyed when she attended a performance of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at Nazareth College, her mother said.

"At a young age, she’s being exposed to things I never was exposed to myself until I was older," she noted.

She said she has told several parents who have said they regret their choices of other schools that it’s not too late to switch to St. Agnes.

"It’s a huge investment in your child’s future," Arnold said.

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