The following article was contributed by Anthony G. Sahadi, principal of St. Martin of Tours in Gaithersburg, MD.
January 28th – February 3rd, 2018, we will showcase our American Catholic Schools with Catholic Schools Week – a week of celebrating and showcasing our Catholic Identity, academic excellence, and service. It is also a time to celebrate Mass, to allow students to dress as their favorite book character, and to thank our faculty with a luncheon. Catholic Schools Week, depending on the school, diocese, and region, can and does take on many diverse forms.
However, no matter where your Catholic School is located, common events are encouraged to take place. One is an open house., which is a great way to exhibit your school to prospective families looking for a quality Catholic education for their children.
The heartbeat of the Catholic Church is Catholic Schools, said Cardinal John Henry Newman.
An excellent Catholic School Open House appeals to the internal side of mothers, fathers, children, and families. Well-maintained campus grounds, clean hallways, student work proudly displayed, Catholic symbols, examples of social justice, and students acting as tour guides all demonstrate the pride of your school. These examples illustrate that your Catholic School takes faith, academics, and service seriously. These are important and needed.
However, equally important is to go beyond the look and create relationships. Today, we live in a world that is external focused. For example, some parents solely determine the image of a Catholic School based on its web site. Some eighth-grade students may only determine their two or three choices of a Catholic High School from the school’s apps or size of its football fields. These can lead to the presentation of a Catholic School overshadowing the connections that we have so proudly instilled.
A Catholic School Open House should showcase the external – the look and pride of our schools. Yet, digging dipper, our open houses need to be comprehensive and demonstrate our full picture.
Internal focus that places importance on relationships has four characteristics. These characteristic should be shown and felt at our open houses.
First, a Catholic Community of Shared Concern. A parent walking into our school should sense that all students are taught and value the common good. For example, seventh grade students walking in a straight quiet line in our school hallways shows respect for teachers teaching and students learning. As a result, parents will sense that learning is not isolated and selfish, rather, collaborative and focused on the common good of all students and teachers.
Second, Institution Driven. Catholic Schools were here before us. They will be present after us. Thus, the strength of our schools lies in the internals of our traditions and heritage. Let us not deny our heritage. Instead, we need to be proud of our standards. An open house must showcase the institutional greatness of our Catholic Schools. Parents can see the pride of our school uniforms, listen to well-spoken tour guides, and be greeted by principals who are hospitable and engaging as parents walk through our front doors. As a result, moms and dads will respect that we are driven by our love and passion of Catholic Education.
Third, a spirit of generosity. A Catholic School Open House should show generosity of time and hospitality. For example, it is important for principals and teachers to personally greet parents and give each the feelings of: we are happy you are here, we welcome you, and we will provide unconditional love and security for your child within a quality Catholic School. It is important that families receive this personal attention and warmth. Parents should leave the school feeling upbeat and excited to join your school – and know they received the personal attention that one deserves.
Finally, the spirit of evangelization. When parents walk through our Catholic Schools during Open Houses, each should know and understand that we are proud to be Catholic. This truly means that we will engage with their children.
Please allow me to tell a story about my father, a man I truly love and admire. The person who taught me what it means to be a true Catholic School Teacher and Leader. My dad served the Archdiocese of Detroit for over fifty years as a coach, teacher, and Athletic Director. Two years before he passed away, while still a Catholic League Football Coach, suffering from the early stages of cancer, he still engaged with his players and students. He was there “in the middle” with them – in their hopes, challenges, and youth. One night, after a basketball game, a contest between two Catholic High School rivals, there was a fight between some students of both schools. While the students pushed and argued, some parents and teachers looked on. Some shaking their heads, others gasping, while no one intervened – except one. The one was my father. Out of breath because of breathing issues due to cancer, my dad was still a teacher and coach. He walked into the middle of that fight, into the middle of those students – and stopped it. I will always remember this story of my dad. I believe this is a tremendous example of engagement.
True evangelization and engagement is desperately what young people yearn for today. An open house must showcase that – throughout the life of our students, during their hopes, challenges, successes, faults, strengths, and weaknesses, we will always be there for them. Parents want their children attending schools where in addition to receiving academic excellence, will be taught and led by teachers and leaders who will truly bring out their child’s best self.
“For of those to whom much is given, much is required,” said President John F. Kennedy. We have been given the greatness of Catholic Education. For the upcoming Catholic Schools Week, the expectation should be that we provide open houses that promote our excellence. With the focus of shared concern, institution driven, generosity, and evangelization, let us showcase our greatness for all who enter.