Choosing a high school is a daunting task for parents. In Cincinnati, there are many traditions surrounding the choosing of a Catholic high school such as family tradition, location of the family to the school and the gifts and talents of the student to name a few. While each parent has a set of priorities guiding the final decision, I would like to offer some priorities from the inside of the high school window looking out. These priorities have the potential to help you find the best school for your child.
Faith and its development is critical during the high school years. These are the years students reflect on the world around them with a more critical eye. The world is giving a view that is becoming more and more in opposition to traditional family values and, in the case of a Catholic school, often the antithesis of what we believe. The question parents need to ask themselves is what do we believe? What do I want for my child when it comes to their spiritual and faith life? Not all schools are equal when it comes to values. While all schools attempt to teach some kind of values to your child, a parent really needs to look deeper. Is your child being taught the “values” you believe in or is your child being taught the “values” of a world that continues to pull away from what is good, right, and holy? Catholic schools have at their mission, the teachings of Christ, the love of God and of neighbor. Each Catholic school also has a different charism. Most of the high schools in Cincinnati have a religious order that either owns or supports them and so the high school shares the charism of that order.
As a parent, it is important to know the charism of the order and the mission of the school. Your child will be brought up in this charism. Each Catholic high school should have at its aim to bring each child into a relationship with Christ and in the Catholic faith. Does the Catholic school you are investigating have this as its mission? This is a good question to ponder as we believe the parents are the first teachers of their child so the parent should take a deep look into the faith activities and campus ministry at the school.
Does a child have to be Catholic to attend a Catholic high school? No, certainly not. Catholic schools have been opened to those of other faiths for many many years. Catholics believe in the dignity of every human person and we believe many families appreciate what great schools we have. Catholic high schools have students from many different faiths, and while most tend to be Christian there are those who are not. You will need to be mindful that your child will be taught about the Catholic faith and will attend many kinds of Catholic services. What a great opportunity for your child to reflect on his/her relationship with God and others! There is nothing like a strong faith development and character development program to help your child thrive throughout their entire life!
Human Formation of a teenager into a young man or woman is critically important. The high school years are when a teenager is making decisions about be a leader versus a follower. The right high school staff and environment can help a teen break out and try something new. Therefore, the right environment, teachers and families who attend the school are very important. Does the school you are considering have opportunities to grow your child into a leader? These opportunities should be inside and outside the classroom. A classroom that is too much lecture does not allow the student to stand before his/her peers to demonstrate leadership by giving a presentation or debating a topic. Asking questions of other parents and students of each school you are investigating is important. Also ask about how the classes are run, does the school promote independency, rigor, fortitude, and a strong leadership programming in and outside the classroom? What about the other families whose children are attending the school? Do they hold the same values as your family? While there is no perfect place, when your child is visiting another family’s home, would you feel good about entrusting your child to these families? The friends of your child will be very important and so will their families, as your child will be transitioning over these four years from seeing you as their primary relationship, to their friends being a very strong relationship. Sometimes during high school, the parent/child relationship can become strained. If the families of the school your child is attending hold similar beliefs, your child will need see a conflict and will not feel the pressure to choose between you as parents and their friend. Often times, families forget this until the conflict arises.
Athletics are part of formation as well. With the strong athletic programs that our Catholic high schools have in Cincinnati we find parents bringing their child to a particular high school because they believe their child will be the next star or the field/court. While this could very well be true, this is very rare. We love our sports as they bring together the high school community and bring some life and spirit into our schools. The reason we have athletics, however; is not because of this, sports are really about forming the whole child. Not every child will be part of the debate club or the theater team, but many will be part of a team sport. Sports are about discipline, perseverance, diligence, and character. In choosing a high school, there are many questions to ask about the athletic program. If you want your child to play a sport, it will be important to check the cut policy. If your child is exceedingly skilled you may not have to worry about this question, but if your child has moderate skills, but really loves playing a sport and you would like your child to play, a smaller school would have better possibilities for playing rather than being cut or sitting the bench. If your child likes to play, but would not make the cut at a bigger school another option may be a club sport. It will be important to know the options upfront.
Academics are also very important and I am sure every parent wants a strong academic program to prepare your child for life. Parents can look up every high school to compare the number of students going to college, but there needs to be a more critical look than just this. What kinds of colleges are their students attending? Is the school primarily a college preparation school? Then, the expectation is that its students should be attending higher quality colleges. The more elite a high school, the better college a student should be able to attend. And what does a parent do for their child who may struggle with academics during high school. Does the school have the proper support for your child? We must admit that not every child is in the top 10% of their class. Some students truly struggle or just need some support from time to time. Is there tutoring before and after school? Does it cost money? How available are the teacher to help the student? These are all good questions for a parent who has a student in the school. What do the other parents say about this? Another good question is: are the teachers and administration available for me to talk to when I have a question? If I tend to email and call the school often about concerns, will I be communicated with in a timely manner? Or if I only call if there is an emergency, how does the school make sure I know what is happening? Do the teachers send out newsletters or is there a school new line?
How is my child going to learn inside and outside the classroom? Each high school normally has many different ways to learn. Are there academic clubs as well as sports? Do the classes venture outside the classroom with programs in science, math, and so forth? The excellent Catholic high school should have many ways to learn, perhaps there would be an academic club, mock trial, writing contest, poetry contest, and other ways the student can demonstrate their leadership and academic achievements. What is the talk of the school leaders and teachers about their academics? Is it followed up by results?
What about career education? Is your child more suited to starting a career after high school? While most Catholic high schools are now pushing for their students to attend college, we know this is not the path for all students. Some students may need a year or two after high school to work in a career before determining their next step. Some students would benefit from a vocational experience during high school such as medical, dental, technological, etc… so they are ready to start work with skills and experience under their belt. If your child may need this option, this is an important consideration. Does the high school you are considering have any options in this area? Does the Catholic high school have agreements with local career centers, career colleges, are their internships during high school? In other words, how is the high school prepared to help your child be career ready the day he/she graduates?
Just remember when choosing a high school for your child, these are some of the most important years of their lives; faith, formation, and academics make the difference. The Catholic schools of Cincinnati are some of the best in the United States. Cincinnatians are blessed to have so many choices for their children, but this can bring stress to parents as they try to figure out what high school is best for their child. Fear not, each school also wants what is best for your child as well. The administrators and staff will answer all your questions because we want your child to thrive in high school and beyond.
On behalf of Royalmont Classical Preparatory High School, I wish you the very best as you discern the best high school for your child.