The beginning of a new school year always brings a sense of anticipation and possibility – whether you’re a student, a parent or a teacher. In the Archdiocese of Washington, we have 98 Catholic schools educating more than 28,000 students. Our mission is to develop the whole person – mind, body and spirit – and we settle for nothing less than excellence.
In fact, last year, Saint John the Baptist in Silver Spring was our newest Blue Ribbon School, and Principal Sheila Martinez of Our Lady of Victory School in the District of Columbia was awarded The Washington Post’s Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.
As Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, wrote in his 2008 pastoral letter, “Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence,” our schools are defined by their Catholic identity, excellent academic programs, affordability and accessibility. Based on these tenets, we developed comprehensive policies designed to strengthen our schools financially and academically to ensure that quality Catholic education will be available for generations to come.
Catholic education is as old as the Church itself – in fact, having its origins in the monasteries and cathedrals of medieval Europe, classical education was invented by the Catholic Church. We strive to develop boys and girls into good citizens – of this world and the next – by instilling in them a love for God and neighbor, and ensuring that Christ and his teaching are at the center of what we do.
The biggest challenge we face is the ability to provide an affordable Catholic education for every family who seeks one for their children – especially given that it is much more economical for them to take advantage of taxpayer-funded public education. Because of this economic reality, the Archdiocese of Washington provides tuition assistance to families with financial need. Last year, due to the generosity of many people, we were able to award more than $5 million dollars in tuition assistance – amounting to a six-fold increase in the past four years.
Despite this successful effort, though, we are barely scratching the surface: to meet the current demand for Catholic education in this archdiocese would require $31 million dollars in tuition aid.
Because of the recent authorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), we are able to give hope to at least some of the neediest students in the area who seek a Catholic education. OSP provides money to D.C. public and charter schools and enables others who choose to attend independent schools – whether Catholic or not – a chance to do so.
For example, Danielle is the mother of two boys. The children’s educational needs were not being met by their public school, and because of her limited income, Danielle had few places to turn. With the help of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, though, she was able to enroll her children at a Catholic school in the District. Within a few weeks, the boys were thriving in a safe environment where they could receive the attention they needed to succeed.
The archdiocese strives to find creative ways to make education affordable for all. At our newest high school, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the students help “earn” their tuition through a work-study program through which they receive real world experience to support their first-rate classroom learning. We are finding that this approach to making Catholic education accessible to everyone pays dividends: Every student in the first ever graduating class this past May at Don Bosco Cristo Rey was accepted to college.
So it is with a great sense of hope and optimism that we look forward to a new year. We are grateful for the more than 2000 dedicated educators who teach students in the faith and inspire the academic excellence that is the hallmark of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Deacon Bert L’Homme is Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.