Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I am a big fan of Catholic schools. Every parish should have one, every Catholic kid should be in one. I also love Notre Dame's "Alliance for Catholic Education" program. So, maybe it's no surprise that I liked this, First Lady Laura Bush's recent remarks at Holy Redeemer Catholic School, in Washington, D.C.:
. . . This is Catholic Schools Week, and that's one of the reasons why I'm here today. It's the perfect time to recognize the contributions that Catholic schools make to students all across our country. Students here at Holy Redeemer are among the 2,300,000 students in the United States who are currently attending Catholic schools. The education you're receiving builds on a tradition of academic excellence older than the United States itself, dating back nearly four centuries.
Today, 99 percent of Catholic-school students graduate from high school -- and 97 percent go on to college. That's an unbelievable record, so congratulations to everyone. (Applause.) But just as Archbishop Wuerl said, not only do Catholic educators develop young minds, but they also prepare children for lives of compassion and service.
The Catholic-school tradition is based on the belief that every child is blessed with unique gifts, and every child has unlimited potential -- regardless of that child's status or race or even faith. In fact, 27 percent of the children attending Catholic schools in Washington aren't Catholic. As the legendary Cardinal Hickey, Washington's Cardinal Hickey once explained: "We don't educate children because they're Catholic, but because we're Catholic."
Catholic schools can offer a choice to parents who want a good education for their children. In 2004, President Bush signed the D.C. Choice Incentive Act, which established Washington's Opportunity Scholarships for children. Over the last four years -- with the support of Congress and leaders in local government -- Opportunity Scholarships have helped more than 2,600 children attend private or parochial schools. More than 80 of these children on Opportunity Scholarships are here at Holy Redeemer. (Applause.)
With these scholarships, Washington students can transfer from underperforming public schools to a private or faith-based school of their choice. Parents of children in the scholarship program report being more satisfied and involved with their child's education. And studies show that the students who receive Opportunity Scholarships improve their own attitude toward learning.
On Monday, in his State of the Union address, President Bush announced two new ways to increase educational options for parents and children. The $300 million Pell Grants for Kids program will offer scholarships to low-income children in underperforming elementary and secondary schools. Children can use these scholarships to attend out-of-district public schools, or nearby private or parochial schools.
Since the year 2000, more than 1,000 Catholic schools have been closed or consolidated -- most of them in urban areas. To help reverse this trend, President Bush also announced the White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools, which will take place in the spring. The summit will bring together educators, community leaders, philanthropists, and business leaders. Together, they'll work to raise awareness of the service that non-public schools provide to urban students. And they'll work to find ways to keep schools open, so that parents in the inner cities can have educational options for their children.
Members of the Catholic family, too, are coming together to help children in need. Here in Washington, the archdiocese has formed educational partnerships with companies, community groups, and other Catholic schools. One of these partnerships is the Magnificat program here at Holy Redeemer.
Just last year, financial shortages had placed Holy Redeemer on a list of imminent school closings. But through the Magnificat program's partnership with Notre Dame, over the next five years, Notre Dame University will work with Holy Redeemer faculty, staff, and students to improve the school. Notre Dame is providing technology, textbooks, and supplies. The University will help Holy Redeemer improve its financial planning, and increase its parental involvement.
Enthusiastic educators from Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education will join Holy Redeemer's outstanding teacher corps. The Alliance for Catholic Education prepares talented college graduates to teach in rural or inner-city Catholic schools. Through two years of teaching, and by attending summer sessions at Notre Dame, these teachers also earn their master's degrees in education.
After they receive their city assignments, ACE teachers often share apartments or homes. They establish a strong community with each other, and then they bring this sense of community into their schools. ACE teachers coach sports teams. They direct choirs and school plays. They run marathons to raise money for Catholic schools. As they help their students build a superb academic foundation, ACE teachers are answering God's call to share their talents with those who need them. . . .
Through the Magnificat program, ACErs and the entire Holy Redeemer community are transforming your school. Observers say that students' behavior has improved, and that you're able to focus more on learning. Notre Dame alumni have rallied around the school. One alumnus took the 8th-grade class on a field trip to a local book festival. This summer, 40 Notre Dame alumni cleaned classrooms, painted hallways, and planted in the yard. Notre Dame alumni host events to raise money for the Holy Redeemer scholarship fund. . .
Congratulations on Holy Redeemer's new partnership with Notre Dame. I wish you the very best for Catholic Schools Week and for many, many more years of success at Holy Redeemer. Thank you all, and God bless you. (Applause.)