What do you know about Catholic education?

By: Christine Navarro, Development Director

Many people have questions about Catholic education and may have misconceptions about schools from earlier decades.

Some people may shy away from looking into a Catholic school for their children because there are so many unknowns. Are there any Catholic schools nearby? Can non-Catholics attend and are they welcome? Does a Catholic school prepare students for a public high school? Will my child encounter any sisters like one hears about – with the rulers, for example? Are Catholic schools as expensive as other private schools?

Are there any Catholic schools nearby?  Yes. 

In the Gig Harbor / Port Orchard / Bremerton area, there are two Catholic grade schools: St. Nicholas in Gig Harbor and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton. Tacoma has several Catholic grade schools as well as Bellarmine Prep, a Catholic high school run by the Jesuit order of priests and brothers. St. Nicholas is located in a square area created (roughly) by Stinson Ave., Pioneer Way, Rosedale St. and Edwards Dr. The school is actually invisible from the street if you wonder why you have never noticed it.

Can non-Catholic students attend and are they welcome?  Yes. 

Non-Catholic students have been welcome in all Catholic schools with which I have been associated. Many Catholic school students, if not Catholic, belong to other Christian denominations although I myself have encountered Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh students. All students do learn about the Catholic faith and attend Catholic worship services so parents do need to see if they feel comfortable with this since this aspect of school is inseparable from the rest of the program.

Most Catholic grade schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle (Western Washington area) are connected to Catholic parish churches. Some schools give lower tuition rates to members of their parishes because parish members are asked to support the church financially already. This can sometimes give non-Catholic families a sense of being outsiders even though this is not the intent. This past year, St. Nicholas started a flat tuition rate which means families pay the same amount for their children whether or not they are parishioners.

Is so much emphasis put on religion that the other subjects are neglected? No. 

While religious instruction is an important part of the school curriculum, Catholic schools are accredited just like public schools. Every six years, Catholic schools complete a self-study, receive a site visit, and are accredited by the Western Catholic Education Association (WCEA) that accredits schools in ten Western states and Guam.

Students learn from professionals with teaching credentials who present curriculum that is similar to the local public school. St. Nicholas students go on to succeed at Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools as well as Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. They then most often attend rigorous college and university programs. The St. Nicholas middle school teachers make a concerted effort to see that graduating students have a foundation in all subjects so that feel comfortable in high school classes; strong writing and critical thinking skills; organization and study habits; leadership and public speaking experience; as well as service opportunities.

Will my child encounter the legendary sisters with the rulers?  No. 

Though many Catholic school students (myself included) have loved the sisters they encountered, the ones that get the "fame" and attention are the ones who rapped a few knuckles in their days. Sadly, there are fewer sisters, brothers, and priests in our schools today although the lay people who teach in the schools are excellent and strongly committed to the schools' mission. Catholic school teachers are held to the same conduct standards as their public school peers.

What about tuition? Is tuition so high that I should not even bother looking at it?  No. 

Catholic schools do charge tuition as they are not funded by federal, state, or local government. While it is impossible to make a blanket statement in this area, Catholic schools are often less expensive than the private schools in the area. Catholic schools have been committed historically to giving students with fewer financial resources opportunities educationally. Because Catholic school teachers earn less than their public school colleagues, schools ask families to help them fund raise, and generous donors give, Catholic schools not only try to keep tuition low but also offer as much financial aid as they possibly can. This may mean that some Catholic schools do not have all of the frills of other public or private schools, they have mastered the most essential scholarly components. It is definitely worth seeing what aid might be available and then deciding whether or not the price is feasible.

Christine Navarro