Choosing Catholic School for your Child

This post is a contribution from our reader community.  Please help others choose the right school by sharing your story.

By Kristin Luebbert

One of the school choices available to parents in the Philadelphia area is Catholic School.  Catholic schools in Philadelphia come in several forms:  The most common (and least expensive) are the parish schools.  Each school is run by and maintained by the individual parish church–the parish priest (and perhaps a board) does the hiring, and although they follow a curriculum set by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, quality and programs vary wildly.  Teachers may or may not be certified.  They may or may not be advanced classes and extra-curricular clubs and activities offered.  Some schools offer after-care, some do not.  Parish schools are primarily for members of said parish and charge an “in parish” tuition rate and an “out of parish” tuition rate.  As an example, a Fairmount parish school charges $3,400.00 per year for parishioners and $4,170.00 per year for non-parishioners. Members of the parish also receive a discount if they have more than one child attending the school.   If you are not Catholic, or are a member of a different parish, you will pay the higher tuition rate.  Private Catholic schools such as Waldron Mercy in Lower Merion or Holy Child Academy in Drexel Hill are open to all Catholics (and others) and usually charge a higher tuition (Waldron and Holy Child are between about $9,000.00 and $12,000.00 depending on grade level) and are more like a traditional private school, except with the Catholic aspect added.

All races and denominations are welcome at Catholic Schools, and many Philadelphia Catholic schools are racially and ethnically diverse. Parents must understand, however, that religion is taught to ALL children attending.  The whole school will go to Mass at least once a month, participate in religious processions and festivals, and attend religion class each day.  There is no “opt out” of religion classes for those who are not Catholic.  In my opinion, (and my children have attended both Philadelphia Catholic and public schools over the years), Catholic schools are best for people who culturally or spiritually identify as Catholics or Christians, because otherwise the required religious component becomes bothersome.

My children are late high school and college age, but they attended both Catholic and public schools in Philadelphia.  When they were of elementary school age, I have to admit that I did not seriously consider my neighborhood public school.  The neighborhood zeitgeist was somewhat against it; I later wished I had at least visited.  However, as Catholics, we also wanted the convenience of religion classes and sacramental preparation being taught in school.  Since our parish school was (and is) integrated, my one concern about sending my children to Catholic school (diversity) was alleviated.  Both my daughters left Catholic school after fourth grade to attend Masterman because my husband and I wanted more challenging work for them.  This is not to say Catholic schools are not challenging, but we wanted more than was being offered at the time.  My own parish school has since added some advanced classes in response to parent demand.  After four years at Masterman, both my daughters were accepted at Masterman and several other magnets for high school.  Interestingly enough, they both chose to return to Catholic school and attended Hallahan Catholic Girls School.  When my older daughter asked to attend Hallahan, I resisted at first.  It did not occur to me that a child able to attend Masterman for high school would turn it down.  However, we discussed it as a family, attended the open house at Hallahan, and my daughter was very happy and well-educated there.  Her younger sister made the same choice four years later and will graduate in June.  My lesson learned from the high school choice experience was that children need to be a partner in that decision.  Attending open houses and visitors days as well as talking to parents and current students are the best ways to find the best school for your child.

This post is a contribution from our reader community.  Please help others choose the right school by sharing your story.

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