Thursday, August 11, 2011

Catholic Schools vs. Public Schools

When I first began to write this post, I intended to draw attention to the disparity between the amount of funds donated to the Joplin Public Schools’ rebuilding efforts and those contributed to the St. Mary’s Grade School fund. I decided to delete it. Well, most of it. Instead, I would like to remind everyone that St. Mary’s school still needs sponsors – not only for its physical plant but also to help replace teaching and educational tools that have been lost or destroyed by the tornado.

It is both exciting and humbling to see the support given to our public schools and their efforts to rebuild better than ever – better schools will only enhance our children’s ability to learn and succeed, in turn providing a better quality of life for all who live in our community. And, since my kids now all attend public schools and enjoy both the academic and extra-curricular opportunities offered by these schools, it is comforting to know that their future continues to look bright. However, all four of my children began their academic careers at St. Mary’s and thus I am well acquainted with the tight budget that the Catholic schools operate on. While I understand the Catholic schools only serve a small percentage of the total population, there are still quite a few kids (217 at St. Mary’s alone) who attend these schools and those kids deserve the same quality education that kids who attend public schools in our community enjoy. And, let’s face it, just because you have fewer kids attending your school doesn’t mean it will cost less to rebuild that school if it has been completely leveled by, let’s say, an F5 tornado. Which St. Mary’s was.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been some donations to St. Mary’s: Freeman Hospital donated $25,000 to both the public schools and St. Mary’s school, and Bishop Johnston promised $100,000 to St. Mary’s. Tracey Welch, former St. Mary’s principal, began a grass-roots group, “We were handed Lemons, now we're making Lemonade”, which has worked tirelessly over the past two months selling t-shirts and baked goods at local events in an effort to raise $25,000 for the school. Sadly, though, these contributions pale in comparison with the $750,000 combined donation from the Humphreys and Satterlee families as well as the potential $1.5 million donated by the United Arab Emirates to Joplin Public Schools.

Fortunately, school supplies have been donated for all St. Mary’s students, as well as those attending St. Peter’s Middle School. Also, included in the renovation of the Simpson Building (a warehouse which will be used as a temporary facility for St. Mary’s School) are the newest version of Smart Boards for each classroom. Unfortunately, though, $150,000 will not rebuild an entire school – even with insurance monies.

I must point out that while I understand that attending a parochial or private school is a choice, it must also be acknowledged that providing educational choices in Joplin not only makes us a better, stronger community but can also make a big impression on those looking to re-locate here (which is now more important than ever for our overall post-tornado rebuilding efforts).

Educating children has become a very expensive undertaking. Technology changes quickly: a new computer lab this year will be obsolete in two years, textbooks need constant updating, lab equipment must be current and replenished frequently, teachers and administrators need salaries that will keep them above the poverty line, and even physical education equipment must be replaced periodically in order to maintain students’ safety.

Our local Catholic parishes – St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s, and Sacred Heart - have provided much-needed financial support for the Catholic schools. Unfortunately, these churches are also strapped for funding and are only able to provide a limited amount of money to help get St. Mary’s back up and running, much less bring it up to par with the future educational offerings of our local public schools. While nothing would make me happier than to see Catholic churches throughout the world come forth and offer financial support (hint, hint), I believe we must also make a plea to the population at large for helping continue the efforts of our school system.

So, here it is: Please donate to the re-building efforts of St. Mary’s Grade School. Like the Joplin Public Schools, we need to make our new school better than ever, and bring it into the 21st century.

But, don’t do it for me. Do it for the kids.

Send all donations to the Joplin Area Catholic Schools to the JACS Office at 930 Pearl, Joplin, MO 64801.

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