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How We Chose Catholic school
by Gwen Kopetzky 

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Iíd like to be able to tell you that sending our daughter, Cassie, to Catholic school was a well thought-out business decision. Iíd like to be able to honestly say that my husband and I penciled out a cost-benefit analysis, logged in hours of research, weighed all the factors and then were inarguably compelled to a decision based on the facts as they presented themselves.

But that would be pure bunk.

I think most of my friends-turned-parents have discovered what we have: When it comes to child rearing, decisions are about 90 percent emotion--and I include the religious and spiritual realms here--and 5 percent what you think your parents would do. The other 5 percent is split between what you hear from your friends, read about, and then thereís maybe a couple of hundredths of a percentage points left over for those pesky practical concerns like finances, convenience and the like.

So it was with us.

It started out as a head-to-head debate between my husband, Dave, and myself over where Cassie would go to kindergarten. Of course, this argument started when Cassie was no more than three years old and said Catholic more like "cat lick."

Dave went to a wonderful Catholic school in a little town in Nebraska. Iím a product of a very small public school district in Washington State. So, from the get-go, our history set us at odds.

First round: We discuss our obvious merits. You know, the "Well, I think I turned out alright" debate. (Like either of us really need to be reminded that we didnít marry an ax murderer!) Yet we continued to pummel away at each other for a couple of years with that malarkey until we had to face up to the fact that we were weeks away from having to register Cassie for kindergarten.

Now, I had absolutely nothing against Catholic school. But I had some questions and concerns that I wanted answered:

* So, what am I paying all those tax dollars for if I donít send my kids to public school?
* Wonít my child become conceited or narrow-minded if she goes to a private school? I want her to be with all kinds of kids of all different races and social status.
* What will happen if she ends up going to a public school after years at a Catholic school? Iíve heard stories about kids who go wild after leading a "sheltered" life for so long.

Plus, we are lucky enough to live in an area where Cassie would go to the best elementary school in the district--the highest test scores, a great student-to-teacher ratio and a wonderful parental involvement program.

My husband, however, had his own position, and it might as well have been chiseled into stone tablets. It went something like this:

* I went to Catholic school.
* My brothers went to Catholic school.
* My brothersí kids go to Catholic school.
* Iíll get a second job to pay for my daughter to go to Catholic school if I have to.

You might wonder how we finally found some middle ground. I have to give Dave all the credit for that. My normally agreeable, easy-to-sway husband would absolutely not budge. That told me just how important this was to him. Yet, although I could respect his wishes, I still needed a reason.

He gave me one, and one I couldnít beat. Dave told me that he wanted Cassie to think of Catholicism and God as part of her everyday life, not something she only thinks about on Sundays.

So I gave in. Cassie started kindergarten at St. Patrickís School this year and absolutely loves it. Since then, I have found more reasons to help strengthen my arguments for Catholic school for the times when I get to be part of that 5 percent of my friendsí decisions.

First of all, my husbandís best rationale has proved out. God, Jesus, angels, praying and all that goes with Catholicism are a very real part of Cassieís life every day. She insists on praying at every meal, practically bullies us out the door on lazy Sunday mornings and seems bent on converting her daycare friends into believing in guardian angels.

But thereís more to it than that.

I really like that Cassie wonít have to change schools until after the eighth grade. By then, she should have made some lifelong friends.

Iíve put aside those horror stories of good little Catholic girls gone mad. I guess I think now that, if she doesnít have a good moral compass by the time sheís 12 or 13 years old and schooled in the ways of the church, she certainly wouldnít have been any better off in public school.

As an added bonus, Cassieís class is pretty diverse. At only about $300 a month for tuition, itís not enough to prevent most parents if they make sending their child to Catholic school a financial priority.

And thereís the whole comfort of knowing that Cassieís tiny classmates and their parents have the same set of values as we do. Iím not as concerned about her going on sleep-overs.

The social aspects for us as her parents are a side benefit, too. Here is a captive group of people from which to make our friends. I know most families make nice friends through their kidsí classmates--shadowing each other at games, field trips and club meetings--but these are friends based on a shared value system instead of just a shared hobby.

All in all, I think we made the right decision. But I canít help but wonder what kind of person Cassie will be when she grows up and whether, if she has children, sheíll someday start an argument with: "Well, I went to Catholic school and I think I turned out alright!"

Gwen Kopetzky

This article is © Copyright 1998 by Gwen Kopetzky

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