St. Joseph Catholic School Principal Wade Laffey wants parents to know that the private religious school is more than a public school with a religion class.
“The faith and the catholicity of the school just appears throughout the day in the form of prayer, in the form of the type of uniform the students wear, to the morals and behaviors that are expected of the students and families,” Laffey told the Enid News & Eagle.
Laffey and other religious school leaders recently spoke with the news site about the benefits of a school culture steeped in strongly held religious beliefs, including ways it improves student discipline, engages parents, and encourages students to excel in academics.
Lois Nichols of St. Paul’s Lutheran School explained that the school’s focus on the love of God plays an important role, allowing misbehaving students to reflect on what Jesus would do and how their actions impact others.
“Most of the time they step up to the plate and change that behavior … it is very effective,” Nichols said.
At both St. Joseph and St. Paul’s, parents are also expected to invest in their child’s education through volunteer work, such as serving lunch, tutoring students, and helping with fundraising and school events.
“The students see that, they see the sacrifices that their parents are making for them,” Laffey told the News & Eagle. “That just helps to create that much more of an environment where students realize, ‘We must be worth caring about.’”
Small class sizes at many private religious schools also allows educators to provide more attention to each student than in other schools with large classes, Nichols said.
“The nicest thing about it is that each teacher works really hard with each individual student to make sure their needs are met,” he said.
The combination of factors – a school culture centered on religious beliefs, led by adults with a shared set of values, along with small classes that help teachers focus on each student’s needs – produces students who excel in academics and life.
Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture agree that the holistic approach being adopted by these schools is what makes them uniquely effective in character formation. Values when influential are not generic. Professor James Davison Hunter writes, “No one has ever believed in kindness or honesty without understanding them in the concrete circumstances of a moral culture embedded in a moral community.” Only the particularity of moral community, such as those that these religious schools provide, can bind empathy with right behavior. This is further explained in the brief monograph, The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, which is itself a shortened version of Hunter’s The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. Creating a moral culture embedded in community is key.
St. Joseph serves students through fifth grade, while St. Paul offers instruction through eighth grade. And it’s when students move on to high school that some of the biggest benefits of a religious education come into focus, Laffey and Nichols said.
“Every other school in town wants the St. Joe’s kids,” Laffey said. “More often than not, they’re placed in honors classes and advanced curriculum.”
“We have kids that score higher above most public schools because of the small classrooms and individualized attention,” Nichols added.
Principals and other education leaders interested in strengthening Roman Catholic teachers in their schools can turn to the National Catholic Education Association for support.