ETA author’s note :: I acknowledge that being able to CHOOSE a Catholic school is a privilege and an expensive one. This post is merely addressing my own feelings about the Archdiocese process specifically. Unpacking educational inequity in New Orleans is an important albeit different topic.
The Stress of the Catholic School Application Process
If you have been on social media at all this week, you probably know that decision time has arrived. Across New Orleans, hundreds of young children – many of whom have not yet hit puberty – are signing their selection cards for the Catholic school of their choice. I personally think that the entire process could use an overhaul, and here’s why.
I am the mother of a middle school boy in the New Orleans Catholic school system. I myself am a product of New Orleans Catholic schools, and I am forever grateful for that education. I very much believe that Catholic school education is the right fit for my son and our family. That said, as I consider my child’s future and the Catholic high school application process that is upon us, I am overwhelmed and disappointed. As a lifelong resident of New Orleans, I’m entirely familiar with the educational culture of our city and what the high school application process entails. I find it daunting, so I can’t imagine how it must feel to someone who is not from here and perhaps not fully aware of the whole process.
The application process has become school-focused when it should be student-centered.
If your child wishes to attend an Archdiocesan high school, they must select ONE school on the application. This is essentially the student’s #1 choice. So, we are asking 12-year-olds to make a relatively quick decision, based on limited experience, that determines the course of their lives for the next 5 years. That in itself seems insane!
I’ll use an example that I’ve seen play out in real life in recent years. A friend’s son was really conflicted and for the longest time, could not decide between Jesuit and Brother Martin. He loved them both, but at the eleventh hour, ultimately selected what we will call School A on his application card. Unfortunately, he did not get in. This is a good child with good grades from a Catholic elementary school. No significant issues; he simply did not make the cut. The problem lies in that, although School B likely would have also been a good fit (I believe you can’t go wrong with any of our schools) and perhaps could have accepted him, this little boy (and yes, I mean little boy because that is what these kids are) was now “blackballed” from other Catholic high schools. These are my own words and interpretations of how it feels, of course. This is not a one-off situation and is a problem each year for several students. It FEELS as if you don’t go “all in” with one school as if it is a contract, you may find later the other options are no longer options … even if your child mostly overall would have picked it, too! But they are FORCED (and I do mean forced) to choose one. All of this by November of their 7th grade year.
It seems the mentality is often, “if we weren’t your number one from day one, we don’t want you at all.”
It’s as though the idea of “leftovers” is so appalling that it outweighs the best interest of the child. Never mind the fact that these are ALL amazing children of God, so they are all worthy and deserve access to a great education, right? As a parent, I find this process nerve-wracking and discouraging. Now, there are indeed some kids who just aren’t the right fit for Catholic high schools, for whatever reason. Catholic schools are not the path for every family. There are plenty of families who do not want a Catholic education, or perhaps would love it but cannot afford it. But, I’m not talking about those instances. I’m talking about kids whose parents have opted to take the Catholic route who would probably be just fine anywhere within the Catholic school choices, but in an effort to make a point, they are automatically rejected from other great options or “close seconds” because they did not pick a school as #1. As a Catholic who believes in the overall benefit of our Catholic school system, the process is a disappointment and doesn’t feel very Catholic at all.
This “one-school” application process has been this way for years; it was the same when I was an eighth-grader applying to an all-girls Catholic high school. If you’re from New Orleans, you know the Catholic school system has a uniquely rich tradition here. So much of that tradition is wonderful, but the very first part of the Catholic high school journey, the first contact these kids have with Catholic high schools, has become a sort of initiation. This rite of passage, the first step in the Catholic high school tradition, has, for many, been marked by stress and anxiety.
Of course, for many kids they find their home the moment they step foot onto campus for cheer camp or baseball camp or Open House or spend-a-day. The kids who have that confidence and certainty from day one are incredibly lucky. But some kids genuinely go back and forth, perhaps seeing themselves at more than one of the options. Again we are discussing 12 year old children, most of whom are still forgetting textbooks and Chromebooks all over the place. It is tough for adults to envision themselves five years from now, much less for a young child to do so at such a transformative time in life. Couple that with the “noise” that typically occurs at the lunch group tables, and it is a recipe for stress and anxiety and tears galore in some households.
What if as parents you see the clear fit for your kid before they do? Do you make the choice for them? Tell them how it is going to be? Let them make a mistake and hope you can fix it later?
And, let’s not forget how many of our own kids have grown up predisposed to one school because of the (pick your school colors) laying all over the house. As a parent, ask yourself … would you be genuinely okay if your child picks a different mascot? Is the choice always the child’s to begin with? Are we empowering kids to do what is best for them as individuals, or to sign themselves over because of some allegiance? Sometimes I am not sure. I do not have daughters, so thankfully I am personally not faced with that when it comes time for my own son to choose his high school next year.
All of this to say that – in my humble opinion – the application process for New Orleans Archdiocesan schools should be re-examined. We need to consider the needs of the child and determine if the current practice truly places the best interests of the child at the center of the application process. Perhaps we could find a way for children to indicate interest in more than one school, or at the very least reassure them that they WILL be able to attend a Catholic high school here without the pressure of “choose me or you might not have a school at all.”