Behind the Numbers: What Parents Share about Choosing Partnership Schools

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. 

Conclusion

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.

“I Love All the Opportunities I Have Here”: From Archbishop Lyke to Gilmour Academy

Gilmour was quite intimidating, to be honest,” Lula Williams admits. 

She and her daughter, Lunden, first encountered the independent Catholic day and boarding school in the Cleveland suburbs last year, when Lunden was in eighth grade at Archbishop Lyke. Immediately, the family noticed two things: the cost of tuition, and the fact that there were fewer people “who looked like us” than at Archbishop Lyke. 

But they also noticed the nice campus, the abundant co-curricular activities, and the college-prep curriculum. They decided to give it a shot—and to their surprise and delight, Gilmour admitted Lunden and let her know that she was to receive a Howley Scholarship to attend. “Shine bright—always believe in your dreams,” reads the card Ms. Williams gave Lunden to celebrate her admission.

Pursuing their dreams is precisely what Partnership Schools aim to equip our students to do—particularly game-changing dreams like admission to and scholarships for high-performing high schools. Lunden’s experience at Gilmour Academy embodies both the preparation that our schools aim to provide students and the qualities of high school environments in which they can thrive.

“The community is nice, welcoming, and I have lots of opportunities for activities,” Lunden explains enthusiastically. She enjoyed her first year playing volleyball, for example. And she is quick to note that “the academics are preparing me for college.”

“I thought the work was going to be really hard, but it’s not too hard, not too easy.” Lunden adds, “Archbishop Lyke definitely prepared me.” Her mother is even more emphatic: “Lunden would not be at Gilmour without Archbishop Lyke.” The values and respect at Archbishop Lyke, the way in which “teachers and students hold each other accountable,” are as essential as the curriculum at Lyke, where Lunden’s brother Ralph is currently in seventh grade. 

Gilmour definitely still challenges Lunden, particularly physics and giving group presentations in class. But she is quick to note that as a Howley Scholar, she has a resource as valuable as the four-year merit scholarship itself: Kevin Johnson, the Howley Scholars Coordinator at Gilmour.“ Mr. Johnson checks in on you. If you need something, they provide it.” She notes that Mr. Johnson supports her in addition to the faculty advisor that all Gilmour students have.

We call ourselves “Partnership Schools” for one reason: it takes powerful partnerships to help promising students like Lunden thrive. With supportive parents, academic and character formation at Archbishop Lyke, and all that both Gilmour and the Howley Scholars program offer, Lunden is thriving. Meanwhile, Archbishop Lyke and the other three Cleveland Partnership Schools are hard at work, ensuring that hundreds more students have what they need to unlock similar opportunities and “shine bright,” as Lunden’s mom encourages her to do.