To read all the posts from this week: Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, Making Catholic School Affordable, Catholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the Convert).
If you’ve ever said any of the following, then this series is for you.
“I just can’t afford Catholic school for my kids.”
“There are so many things to think about when applying to Catholic school. I don’t know where to start.”
“How do I find my place here at school?”
This week, our nation celebrates National Catholic Schools Week and I thought it was timely to share why we chose it, how we afford it and why we love it. We’ve had at least one child enrolled in Catholic school since 2006. Four children enrolled and eight years later, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL
There are private schools and then there are Catholic schools. And, I think we all know the difference. For us, we wanted an environment that focused on the whole child – mind, body and spirit – and one that made religion a priority. That was a deal breaker for us. After doing site visits at three different schools during school hours we were able to narrow down our options. We spoke to the teachers, asked hard questions (just ask the Admissions Director we interrogated!), interviewed the principals, attended the school Mass, spoke to families at each of those schools and then we prayed. Tomorrow, I’ll share the ten questions I think every parent should ask before applying. Ultimately, the school you choose will not be perfect. But, can you live with her imperfections and thrive in her environment? No school is perfect. But, dive in, volunteer and get to know other families. If children are our greatest asset, shouldn’t the place they attend be the recipients of your time, talent and treasure? Yes. The answer is yes.
This has to be the #1 question I get when someone hears we have our children in Catholic school. It’s typically followed by, “What does your husband do for a living?” And then I laugh because Scott and I have worked in the non-profit world since we graduated college 15 years ago. Now, we’re a single-income family with some additional income through my freelance business. The most invaluable piece of advice I’d like to impart is this: Don’t make the decision you can’t afford it until you talk to the principal. There’s tuition assistance, deferred billing, money-saving tips from fellow parents, lifestyle changes and so many other ways to make it affordable. When a principal knows you have a passion for Catholic education and they see you are willing to do what is necessary to make it a reality, there is often a way to make it work without sacrificing your financial future. May it require you to make some difficult decisions? Most likely. Will you ever regret them? Probably not.
Practically speaking, here are a few ideas to make Catholic school more affordable.
- New vs. Old. Buy used uniforms through the school’s uniform resale program or seek out parents with older children who are looking to clean out some closets full of old uniforms. Nobody said your kids have to wear brand-new uniforms! We don’t buy a week’s worth of uniforms, either. My kids wear their uniform multiple days before it hits the wash. And I’m not too proud to admit it.
- Ask for help. Ask to pay the fees over a period of time. If you can’t meet the school’s deadline, set a meeting with the school administration and/or the business manager and find a payment plan that works with your financial resources. I’ve found that asking makes all the difference.
- Be informed. Go to an information session and inquire about all the fees – tuition, uniforms, field trips, extracurriculars, class parties, etc. Write them all down, along with their due dates and then plan ahead for the school calendar year. It ensures that the February re-enrollment fee doesn’t sneak up on you, just as you’re paying off Christmas debt or scrambling to pay your tax bill.
- Give to the school. I know you’re thinking, why would I give of my financial resources when I’m trying to make ends meet? Remember, you don’t have to support every school fund raiser. That’s advice from my development officer husband. Pray about the fund raiser you love the most, give to it, and then don’t feel guilty when you take a pass on the others. For reals.
LOVING WHERE YOU ARE
The first school we attended still holds a very special place in my heart, as do the friendships we made there. When our youngest was born, we opted to find a school with a shorter commute and we landed at an equally awesome place. As a dear priest reminded me lately, “One must bloom where you’re planted.” You can sit in the corner and complain about the uniform company, the carline procedures, the gala projects or the curriculum focus OR you can log off your email and put yourself to work making change happen. When we enrolled at our new school, we immediately noticed the school lacked the community atmosphere we enjoyed at our previous school. So we did something about it. And you know what happened? We made actual friends. Like, the kind we invite over and have a lovely dinner with. When you offer a solution, be willing to make it happen.
Are there some school things that require the intervention of the principal or superintendent? Yes. But, mostly, I’ve found that the changes you desire reside within you. Positive energy begets positive energy and negative energy just brings the party down. If you find yourself unhappy day after day, ask yourself the question: Will changing school environments make the problem go away? If it does, then get to hunting for a new school path. If not, get yourself to the school office and start being an instigator of change.
What do you love about Catholic school? Surely you have some great advice. I’d love to hear it. And for those of you not enrolled in Catholic school and you want to be, what’s holding you back? I’d love to help.
Tomorrow, the 10 questions every prospective Catholic school parent should ask.