I have a set of twins, Noah and Naomi, in first grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Pinellas Park, Florida. I put them in Catholic school for kindergarten, and now my intention is to have them in Catholic school all the way to attending the University of Notre Dame.
I made the choice of Sacred Heart because of several different experiences, but not because I or the twins are Catholic. I don’t have a home church, and I go between Catholic and Baptist churches. I can’t say what religion my twins will end up being, but I can say they enjoy religion. Whether it’s a Baptist or Catholic church, they want to go and be a part of it.
But I’ve sent Noah and Naomi to Sacred Heart primarily because of experiences in my family and experiences with public schools. I got interested in the school because I have nieces who have been there for some time. I watched my nieces growing up and reading to my kids at an early age, and it made me want to have my kids attend there as well.
I have older children — a daughter who’s 22 and a son who’s 17 — and they were in the public school system. That school decided they would hold back my son in third grade because he had trouble with reading, but I didn’t find out my son was having trouble — and could have had tutoring — until he didn’t pass. They should have addressed the problem earlier and made it less uncomfortable for him to be at a different level than his classmates, but they didn’t. They waited for him to fail before they said, oh, he can’t read. I had a problem with that.
In Sacred Heart (which became a Notre Dame ACE Academy a couple of years ago), they care about the student every step of the way, and they find a way to work with the kids. I know Noah is reading at a different level now than Naomi, but the teachers have put in extra time to give him one-on-one help. They didn’t wait for the school year to be over.
The school becoming an ACE Academy has helped a lot, certainly with the money that’s now available for extra programs, including the free after-school care. As a single parent, a working parent, the extended hours help make it possible for me to work full-time. And I’m thankful for Florida’s (tax-credit) scholarships, so I can send the kids to get a great education and pay the light bill and feed them and have a place for them to live.
Sacred Heart has open houses and events to recruit new students, and the students and teachers have very diverse backgrounds. Kids don’t learn bad behaviors like racism. By having a common denominator, which is God, people can see past their differences and other barriers. The parents are invited to get to know the teachers and staff, and you’re acclimated into the family quite quickly.
One thing I love is that the teachers, even at different grade levels, know my kids. They know the parents, too, and they’ll reach out and say hello and “have a great day.” That doesn’t happen in public school.
Sacred Heart may not have all the resources some public schools have, but they utilize the resources they have to the best of their ability. The teachers are always seeking new options to help the kids. And they care about their whole lives, about them going to college and going to heaven. In public school, the kids might talk about what they want to be, but you don’t often hear them say they want to attend college. My kids, at seven years old, are already saying they want to attend college.
Having God in the school makes these kids grow into great people. It’s not about being indoctrinated into any one religion. Sacred Heart teaches the kids to respect others and their religions, too. That’s good because my family is unique and dynamic — very open-minded on religion.
When my kids come home, they tell me their experiences with church and school subjects, and they learn from both. I think it helps with behavior. Once they know what God expects of them, they want to please God as well, and they want to please others, and they want their parents to be happy and proud of them.
Even if I can’t keep the twins in Catholic school throughout their education, I know they have the greatest start they could have in life.
Ramona Denmark is the mother of two students in Sacred Heart School in Pinellas Park, Fla. Sacred Heart is one of two schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg that adopted the Notre Dame ACE Academies model for a comprehensive university-school partnership in 2012.
For those interested, leaders of the Notre Dame ACE Academies initiative can explain its innovative reading program, its dual focus on two goals: “college and heaven,” finances, and more. Contact Bill Schmitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-631-3893.