January 18, 2021, Submitted by Lisa Fansano, principal at Saint Paul School in Hingham, and the recipient of the Bishop Cheverus Medal
Many Massachusetts families are experiencing Catholic education for the first time this school year, drawn by the fact that the majority of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston have been full-time in person. It has been -- and continues to be -- a transformative moment for Catholic schools. While the long-term consequences of this shift remain up in the air, one thing is certain: It is Catholic schools’ strong identity that has helped them weather the storm of change and remain a valuable school choice for families.
As a principal of a Catholic K-8 school, I may have faced more challenges in the past twelve months than in my entire career. COVID challenged the very core of what attracts many families to our school: our Catholic community. Significant components of our community offerings have had to be put on hold, including aftercare, sports, and extracurricular programs. Yet it has been the underlying strength of our community that has allowed us to adapt and continue offering as many families as we have room for the unique value of a Catholic education.
At Saint Paul School, we have always had a very strong community of current families, alumni families, grandparents, and others who believe in the value of a Catholic education for their children. We focus on building relationships, and like most Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, we seek to forge a sense of belonging.
That community focus gave us a clear vision of our families’ needs during COVID, and the ability to match resources to those needs. For instance, as we saw the impact on families in our diocese in early spring, we knew that there would need to be additional financial support in place for the fall. We quickly launched major efforts to raise assistance that we knew would be needed during the pandemic. As a result, no student has been turned away because of finances at our school. We’ve been true to our mission of being an affordable school choice for families seeking Catholic education.
As another example, when COVID restrictions closed our after-school care program, we were able to quickly put out a list of alumni and relatives able to offer babysitting services, providing important peace-of-mind to parents juggling work schedules. We’re also offering extra emotional support for our youngest students this year, who we realize have missed key developmental opportunities in the last six months because of COVID.
COVID has shaken our community but not shut it down. We’ve been a source of stability for families as they’ve grieved the loss of family members or a job. We’ve been able to welcome others who need a quality, in-person school option. Indeed, as a result of the community needing to come together in new ways to support each other during COVID, there has been an outpouring of gratitude amidst the challenges. We are immensely grateful this year for the blessing of education and for our teachers and their sacrifices.
This National School Choice Week (Jan. 24-30), families across our state celebrate the various school choices -- public, private, online, and homeschool -- that work well for them. I am reminded that the lasting value of choosing our particular school is not that we offer in-person learning. It is our unique mission and culture and the way we focus on all aspects of a student’s life: social, emotional, and spiritual development, along with intellectual growth. We have already received double the number of applications as last year and many of our grades are waitlisted. Our job is to show the true benefit to all families who encounter us during this challenging time.
What is more, we must continue to plan, prep, and innovate, so that however different the education scene looks a year from now, we can continue to build -- alongside parents and students -- the community that makes Catholic schools a unique school choice.
Lisa Fasano is principal at Saint Paul School in Hingham, and the recipient of the Bishop Cheverus Medal.