I attended Catholic schools from pre-school to 12th grade. When it came time to decide on a college, I decided to follow a new path and opt for a large, public university. I love my life at Pitt and have no doubt that I made the right decision, but I often take note of how much my years at Catholic school meant to me. The skills and experiences I accumulated, particularly in high school, were mostly a product of the Catholic school environment. Here is a list of some of the benefits of a Catholic high school, from the perspective of an alumnus who is grateful they got to attend one.
1. Small Classes
"Small class sizes" is like the unofficial slogan of Catholic education everywhere, and I hate to start with something that has almost become a cliche. But the fact is, having a small class made a world of difference at the high school level. For four years, there was no such thing as not knowing anyone in a class. You were bound to spot a friend or two (or 10) no matter what subject you were in. The group chat of your best friends doubled as the group chat for homework help. Sometimes, classes would be so small that hand-raising went out the window; instead, the teacher and students could just have a casual conversation about the new material. Did it make classes more fun? Obviously. Did it enhance what I learned? Undoubtedly.
"Uniforms? Are you serious? Those were the absolute worst." Hear me out, generic skeptical reader of this article. Although lacking the freedom of self-expression through attire is usually high on people's "cons" list, I argue that it made life a heck of a lot easier. Rolling out of bed and throwing on the same clothes as the day before (or at least an identical copy) was the height of efficiency and convenience. The toughest decision of the morning routine was choosing between the white polo shirt or the colored polo shirt. Nobody cared what you were wearing because they were wearing it, too. Plus, it turned dress-down days into a form of currency between the students and faculty. "Oh, you want us to donate to the school? *Untucks shirt* That's gonna cost you...."
3. Writing Skills
This one is more anecdotal, but it's been my experience that those who come out of Catholic school know how to write - sometimes in cursive! Many Catholic high schools, mine included, are designed to prepare their students for college life. One thing that defines college academics is writing oh-so-many papers. By the time my friends and I graduated high school, we had been trained in the art of research paper ad nauseum. MLA format was like a second language that could only be read in Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced. It was painstaking at the time, but one year into university life, I can say that the ability to write a quality paper - with haste - is vital.
4. Talking About Faith
This is one of the most contested, if not controversial aspects of Catholic schools. I'll go on record as saying that I'm proud to have attended a school where prayer and open discussion about religion were encouraged. The most irritating misconception about Catholic schools is that somehow kids are "brainwashed" into thinking a certain way. This if just plain false. Obviously, most of the students at a Catholic school are going to be practicing Catholics. But at mine, there were also members of other Christian denominations, agnostics, atheists, and so on. People of all backgrounds were welcome, and in religion classes, all opinions were heard. At the end of the day, everybody had the freedom to talk about their faith in God, as well as their questions and doubts. Those who felt drawn to Catholicism had the ability to intertwine their religion and their education into one cohesive experience, something that isn't possible in public schools.
5. Community & Service
The community of a Catholic school is unlike any other I've experienced, and it wasn't just because of the small student population. Most of us had similar values, had the same teachers, went to the same classes, played the same sports, were in the same clubs, and so on. We were in it together - and likewise, we were there to help one another. One of the pillars of Catholic education is the value of service. Every student had to log hours helping enrich their community somehow, from helping at the local Catholic elementary schools to working as a group at food banks. Working in groups, the volunteer hours helped build a sense of pride in our school and in our faith, and the work was definitely worthwhile.
6. It Was Just Fun
For four years, I got to spend every day with people I plan on staying friends with for life. I watched them succeed in their sports and extracurriculars just as they supported me in mine. For four years, we all experienced the dress down days, the fundraisers that got us out of class, the schoolwide inside jokes, and the dances where we left room for the Holy Spirit for about 10 sin-free minutes. We became established in a community that prepped us for the next stages of life, all while creating lasting memories. For these reasons, I am constantly grateful that I attended my Catholic high school, and I hope that my fellow Catholic school grads feel the same way.