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Column: ‘Whole child’ focus nothing new to Catholic schools

by Kathy O’Hara

Dear friends of Catholic schools,

The “hot phrase” in education these days is the “whole child.” This phrase refers to educators’ belief in the importance of developing more than just academic skills in children. In Catholic schools, we’ve been educating the whole child from the beginning of our existence.

However, the “whole child” we educate is the student who is a child of God; the student, who, along with all of us, is made in God’s image and likeness. This child has been given talents that we are called to help develop.

Thus, when we in Catholic schools talk about educating the “whole child,” we are talking about a spiritual mission for a higher purpose. In fact, it is our core mission. Perhaps that is why Catholic schools have been able to maintain focus in this era of “high stakes” academics — we have never lost sight of the fact that cognitive ability is one of the God-given gifts that we develop when we educate the “whole child” of God.

So what does this really mean? When asked, one alumnus of Catholic schools described his experience in this way:

“By sending me to . . . Catholic schools, my parents made an investment in my future. Not only did I learn about the sacrifices Jesus made for us, but my Catholic education helped influence my moral values and molded me into the person I am today.”

There have been many studies about the effectiveness of Catholic schools. Critics of our schools and these studies try to refute the results by claiming that Catholic schools only enroll select students. However, several researchers have addressed these criticisms and found that, when comparing like types of students, Catholic school results still hold, especially in urban areas.

These researchers (Anthony Bryk and Patrick McCloskey to name two) also have explored why our results are so positive. Their findings point to Catholic schools’ firm focus on and commitment to our mission — educating the whole child as a child of God to become a disciple of Christ and to ultimately be with him in heaven — as the reason for our success.

We do what we do for a higher pur- pose — talk about high stakes! When your goal is something beyond your own interest or the interests of this world, not only is there great motivation to achieve it, but also there is the knowledge that there is great support as well. We teach students that much is expected of us as children of God, but that he will help us if we stay close to him. This is why Catholic schools, even those in areas of great poverty, are places of hope.

¡Vaya con Dios!

About the author

Kathy O'Hara

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