God in the Classroom

Sharon and Bryan Carducci wanted an ideal high school for their two daughters, and they were willing to move to find it. After visiting nine schools across the Piedmont region, they settled on Cardinal Gibbons, a Catholic high school in Raleigh. It combined a religious education with a caring atmosphere – a perfect blend for their family.

More and more parents across the Triangle are seeking a faith-based education at local Catholic schools. Of the 24 Catholic schools in the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, 10 are located in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. New elementary schools have opened in fast-growing Wake County recently, and a new high school is scheduled for development in western Wake County.

The primary reason parents select Catholic schools is to continue the religious training of their children in an educational setting, according to Mike Fedewa, superintendent of schools for the diocese. Schools in the diocese are located from Wilmington to Burlington. “Catholic schools are strong partners with the parents in faith development,” says Fedewa. “Our faith is integrated into all parts of the education. Obviously, this is something parents can not get in public schools.”

Sharon and Greg Beuris’ three children have always attended Catholic schools. This faith-based education is an important part of their upbringing, says Sharon, who did not attend Catholic schools as a child. Their two sons, Matthew and Alex, are students at Raleigh’s Cardinal Gibbons, the only Catholic high school in the diocese. Daughter Madison attends St. Mary Magdalene, a K-8 school in Apex.

“These schools are reinforcing the background of the Catholic church, as well as providing Catholic education throughout the day,” says Sharon, who lives in Cary. “There also are wonderful role models at the schools for the children.”

As part of the religious education program, prayers are said before class and Mass is regularly held. Faith is woven into the curriculum throughout the day, says Fedewa.

In addition to the strong religious education being provided, Catholic schools attract students and parents for a variety of other reasons. Typically, Catholic schools are smaller than most public schools and also have smaller classes. Students wear uniforms, which are popular with parents.

According to Fedewa, the K-8 grade structure is well liked. “In Wake County, students who attend Catholic schools do not have to worry every year about being reassigned to another school,” he says.

Many parents also are attracted to the local Catholic schools for intrinsic values that can not be measured on an end-of-grade test. Diocese-wide, 17 percent of the students are not from Catholic families, Fedewa says.

“Many parents are attracted to Catholic schools just based on the general atmosphere of the campus,” says Sister Catherine Michael Fee, principal of St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill. “When they look at the schools, parents want to see certain values and morals, but they also want a feeling of safety and care.”

Sometimes parents seek a Catholic school setting when students are entering middle school, she says. St. Thomas More had 16 students on a middle school waiting list.

“If you set the right standards for children, they will rise to it,” says Sister Catherine. “I once had a parent ask me about fighting on campus. I told her my biggest problem is getting them to keep their shirttails tucked in. We work to set the right atmosphere where major discipline problems are not an issue.”

A kind and caring atmosphere was a big factor when the Carduccis decided to send their two daughters to Cardinal Gibbons High School. Living in Burlington, she had taught the girls at home for four years, but wanted them to attend a high school.

Sharon Carducci, who is Catholic, was open to her daughters, Daryl and Afton, attending any type of high school. At Cardinal Gibbons, she says, they’re getting a strong foundation of responsibility, accountability and the importance of making the right choices in life.

“My daughters tell me they never have had a bad day at Cardinal Gibbons,” Sharon says. “We are very pleased with the decision we made in their high school education.” — CP

Not Just for Catholics

Strong religious teachings. Clear moral values. Small classes. Safe environment.

These are the primary reasons parents throughout the Triangle are choosing religious-based education for their children. Not just limited to Catholic schools, more than 20 other Christian and religious-oriented schools are located in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

Although the theology may differ among the schools, the basic premises sought by parents are largely the same.

“The integration of our culture and religion into the entire day is wonderful for my children,” says Jordana Brown, whose two sons attend Sandra Lerner Jewish Community Day School in Durham. “The school is a spiritual-feeling place that infuses the positive ideals of Judaism into their lives.”

In addition to the religious training, Brown also praises the 10-year-old school for its small classes, strong academic setting, character-building priorities and caring atmosphere. With 105 students, the school has a preschool through elementary school program. Hebrew and Jewish history are required classes.

“It is incredible the knowledge my children have in place,” she says. Her fourth-grade son already reads and writes in Hebrew, and her first-grader is quickly learning.

Parents are selecting Cresset Christian Academy also for its religious and educational values. Founded in 1975, the school is affiliated with Cresset Baptist Church in Durham. It has 350 students in preschool through 12th grade on a 40-acre campus.

“We help children grow up knowing about Jesus Christ and developing certain standards to help make decisions for life,” says Sharon Riley, the lower school principal. “We offer a safe environment, strong academics and teachers who are strong Christian role models.”

Each child has formal Bible study in an academic setting. However, Christian principles are intertwined with each subject, even math, according to Riley.

“We also offer strong character education, teaching the children to be responsible citizens and to be servants to others,” she says. “We work to involved the whole family in our activities. We also have worked diligently to be known as a school that is open to all in the community.”