In both New York and Cleveland, our schools are seeing a wide array of parents seeking out enrollment for their children, including many who, by their own admission, had not previously considered parochial schools. We’ve previously shared that our schools in New York, for example, have seen a significant 28% increase in enrollment since the pandemic began, and the majority of those families are seeking out a Catholic school for the first time.
So why choose one now? The reasons are varied, and we find that most families have multiple aims driving them to seek out a Partnership school. We spoke with several parents to get insights into why they transferred their children to our schools. The experiences of two moms, one in East Harlem and the other in the South Bronx, help us appreciate some of the goals our families have—and the potential of our schools to provide even more than they are looking for.
Seeking Rigor, and Finding “A Family Feel”
Liliana Jimenez’s son Adonis transferred to Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem this year, at the beginning of sixth grade. Liliana—whose love for Greek mythology in school inspired her son’s name—explained, “I felt Adonis needed more of a challenge.”
She thought that in addition to the core writing and math skill development he was already getting, he could use deeper knowledge about science and social studies. They have found that at OLQA; in fact, Liliana is now pleased to see her son able to converse intelligently with his cousins about world issues.
Discipline was also an issue. “He would come home upset because his classmates’ behavior was not good,” she said. They like the environment for learning at OLQA—which is gratifying validation of the work that our network and school teams put in to building positive school cultures and equipping teachers with classroom strategies for reinforcing them.
That warm, welcoming culture at OLQA extends to parents. “It has a family kind of feel,” she said, noting that principal James Sayer and his staff are always willing to answer her questions.
Liliana is a baptized Catholic, even though at this point she doesn’t attend church regularly. But the family prays together and believes in God, she emphasized. Now, Adonis is beginning to feel a spiritual pull—an interest his mother attributes to the spirituality and prayer which is a routine part of the school day at Our Lady Queen of Angels. This Easter season, he plans to be baptized at St. Cecilia’s Church.
A public-school grad, Liliana admires the educational foundation that her friends who attended Catholic schools have, something they take to their careers and family lives. “I wanted to give my son that,” she said.
Music and Ministry
Sharon Reed’s daughter, Aria, transferred to Sacred Heart in the Bronx two years ago, in fifth grade. Sharon found out about the school the way most of our parents do: through an informal network of friends and family. While Sharon feared that nearby Yankee Stadium traffic might make it difficult for her to get to the school quickly if needed, that fear was outweighed by the access to the music program and faith formation offered at Sacred Heart.
Aria enjoys the opportunity to play the piano and discovered both the violin and cello at Sacred Heart.
As with Liliana, Sharon appreciates the Catholic dimension of Catholic schools. “I like the moral compass that religion brings,” she said. “It’s something she wouldn’t get at a public or a charter school. The moral compass teaches her to do the right thing.”
She too likes the school’s low tolerance for disruptive behavior, and she particularly values the culture of unity at Sacred Heart. “For the most part, the students are on the same playing field. It’s not about the class issues that you see in public school or in some charter schools,” she said, noting that in this context, she means class in terms of perceived social standing.
Like Liliana, she finds the school staff—led by principal Abigail Akano—always quick to respond to her concerns as a parent. It’s made her occasional struggles with Yankee Stadium traffic worthwhile. “I just wish I had done it sooner,” she said about the decision to enroll Aria at Sacred Heart.
We have sought to ensure that Partnership Schools are more than classrooms: they are communities. As Sharon and Liliana explain, programs including academics and the arts are essential for their children, but they are after something more—values and spirituality along with skills and knowledge—and the kind of community that parents like them help Partnership Schools build every day.