Catholic education a family environment for faith formation, says Duchesne student ambassador

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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This week when many Catholic schools will be off for Easter/spring break, Sarah Jenkins will be sitting shoulder to shoulder with some of the biggest names in Catholic education.

Jenkins, a senior at Duchesne High School in St. Charles, was tapped to speak at a panel discussion at the National Catholic Educational Association Convention and Expo, taking place in St. Louis April 18-20. More than 8,000 attendees from across the United States and Canada are expected at the America's Center Downtown this week for an exchange of ideas and professional development opportunities.

As part of a panel discussion on the state of Catholic education, Jenkins will be the only student to join top Catholic education officials, including NCEA president and CEO Tom Burnford, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic education Kurt Nelson, and NCEA board chair Bishop George Murry. Specifically, she'll be sharing her experience of Catholic schools and how they've helped to shape her.

The face of Catholic education continues to change in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and elsewhere — educators have shifted from religious to laypeople, largely parish-based schools are moving to more collaborative, regional models, and curriculum and extracurricular activities are being infused with new ideas, such as STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math).

Nelson said the panel will be an opportunity to touch on timely topics including school choice, national Catholic education statistics from the NCEA's annual report and new approaches in special education and school governance.

There are different ways to invest in quality schools, Nelson said, such as the funding made possible through the Roman Catholic Foundation of Eastern Missouri (see related story, page 10.) "As enrollment and finances have tightened so many times a parish and school's resources go to keeping it open," he said. "We want to say how do we provide the resources to continue innovation and improvement? How do we support that innovation, how do we give that spark to schools?"

Even with a culture of change, one thing remains the same within Catholic education — a solid faith formation with an emphasis on a family-focused culture. In fact, that's what drew Jenkins to Duchesne — a co-ed archdiocesan school named after one of St. Louis' patrons of Catholic education, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.

Born and raised Catholic, Jenkins attended Holy Spirit Grade School in Maryland Heights. When it came time to look at high schools, she initially was set on attending a public school — it was near her home and had a great reputation for academics. She knew she'd fit in.

In seventh grade, she shadowed at Duchesne "and it was like my world was rocked," Jenkins said. "I didn't think high school could be such a family environment. I started paying more attention to the teachers and students and they all seemed to be in touch with each other," moreso compared to her experiences with public school.

That family sense, she's convinced, is based on a Catholic faith formation that extends well beyond the classroom. Jenkins is well-aware of the importance of that, considering she spends the bulk of her time in the classroom or at school-related activities, such as the Outreach Service Club (she's president), Student Council (a third-year rep) or on the dance team (captain).

"It's in sports, it's in everyday classroom activities, pep rallies," she said. "We begin every morning with prayer. We have Masses at school. High school is four years where you grow leaps and bounds as a person. Had I not chosen Catholic school, I don't think I would have grown in my faith as much as I have. I feel so much more grounded in my faith because I have gone to Duchesne."

This fall, Jenkins will venture off to Webster University — a private, secular institution — to study ballet, with a planned double minor in advertising and accounting. This will be a pivotal moment in which Jenkins will be called on to make her faith her own. As she grows into a young adult and strikes out on her own, her parents and teachers will no longer be calling the shots when it comes to being active in the faith.

"Duchesne has prepared me to make the choices I want to make in college," she said. "I know lots of high school students when they go to college — it's busy, it's hard to find time for your faith. I think Duchesne has helped me prioritize how important my faith really is to me." 

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS IN THE UNITED STATES

Enrollment

• Total Catholic school student enrollment for the current academic year is 1,878,824

• 1,309,429 in elementary/middle schools; 569,395 in secondary schools

• Student diversity: 20.7 percent are racial minorities, 16.8 percent are Hispanic/Latino and 6 percent were reported as unknown in the racial data collection

• Non-Catholic enrollment is 345,327 which is 18.4 percent of the total enrollment.

Schools

• There are 6,429 Catholic schools: 5,224 elementary; 1,205 secondary

• 1,739 schools have a waiting list for admission

• Coeducational schools comprise 98.6 percent of elementary and 70 percent of secondary schools. At the secondary level, 12.7 percent of the schools are male and 17.3 percent are female

Professional staff

• 97.4 percent laity (lay women: 75.3 percent; lay men: 22.1 percent)

• 2.6 percent religious/clergy (sisters: 1.6 percent; brothers: 0.5 percent; clergy: 0.5 percent)

Source: United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2016-2017: The Annual Statistical Report on Schools, Enrollment, and Staffing 

>> Church and state

While the NCEA convention takes place this week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, which will address whether Missouri can prohibit a faith-based preschool from receiving state funding to resurface its playground based.

Missouri legislators also are considering a measure that would provide school choice opportunities in the state. SB313, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), would support a tax credit scholarship program for parents of special needs children and others; and allow private schools to be evaluated individually for accreditation and make them available as a choice for students in unaccredited, lower-performing school districts. 

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