Schools typically avoid the topic of religion in the classroom, but not at the 109’s St. Andrew Catholic School.

At St. Andrew, faith permeates the curriculum and the classroom day.

Located at 3304 Dryden Road, St. Andrew is classified as a parochial school. Rose Hall, development director for St. Andrew, said parochial schools are private schools run by a church or parish. Though St. Andrew acts as the parish school for the community of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, not all of the faculty, staff, or students are members of the parish or Catholic.

In fact, Hall said, 10 percent of the school’s 695 students are non-Catholics. The school, which is fully accredited through the Texas Catholic Conference Education Department, offers schooling for children grade levels pre-school through eighth grade.

The topic of prayer in schools has become heated, as the debate on separation of church and state rages. Hall said that with all the distractions in today’s society, children need a daily reinforcement to keep them on the right path.

And it seems that there are others that agree. Hall said she finds that the families of non-Catholic students fully embrace the concept of having religious values in the classroom and that the families often cite this in part as to what draws them to enrolling their children at St. Andrew.

“They know their children are safe here and what they are being taught is in a Christian atmosphere,” she said.

Other than daily prayer and a half hour of religious study, St. Andrew’s curriculum is much like other schools with subjects that include math, social studies, science, language arts and reading. However, Hall said the level of difficulty is much higher than at most public schools.

High expectations

“I think high expectations are what make a school great, and that is what we have here,” Hall said.

Besides the core subjects, St. Andrew offers students physical education, art, and music. The school also offers a Spanish program that begins at the pre-school level and continues on through the upper grade levels.

Unlike public schools, Hall said, the students at St. Andrew do not take the TAKS test and therefore do not spend extra amounts of time preparing for the test. This allows St. Andrew’s teachers and students to focus closer on their studies, she said. However, students do take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills as an assessment but do not do any prior preparation, Hall said.

Hall said nationwide numbers show that Catholic school students usually on the average perform higher in reading and math than public school students. She said she attributes this to the high expectations, discipline, study skills, and structure provided by attending a parochial school such as St. Andrew.

While education and religion are the top priorities for St. Andrew, Hall said they also like students to have a little fun through participation in extracurricular activities. Currently, St. Andrew offers upper level students the opportunity to join such organizations as football, softball, soccer, yearbook, cross-country and band.

Hall said St. Andrew offers its students many opportunities to excel in all different aspects of their lives. She credits much of the success of St. Andrew’s students to the dedication from the school’s staff and faculty.

Parents involved in school

Sharon Kinsey, kindergarten teacher at St. Andrew, taught for 25 years in the public school system before coming to the school where she has taught for the past 10 years. She said one of the biggest differences she has seen since coming to St. Andrew is the level of involvement from parents something she found was lacking in the public school system.

“Parents for the most part usually have another agenda, and the agenda is themselves,” Kinsey said.

However, Kinsey said at least 95 percent of all St. Andrew’s parents are involved in some form of way with their child’s schooling.

Hall, who has been working at St. Andrew since 1991, first got involved as president of the school’s advisory council. As a very active parent within the school, Hall said she knows first- hand what the importance of parental investment has on the school and the students.

Kinsey, who is Protestant, said the other big difference that essentially brought her out of retirement and to St. Andrew was the school’s incorporation of religion in the classroom. She said she had never heard of the school until a neighbor suggested it to her, describing it “as an excellent Catholic school.”

Kinsey said when she was hired initially she was asked by the former St. Andrew’s principal if her Protestant faith would conflict with her ability to teach in a Catholic establishment. She said her immediate answer was no and she has never regretted it since, even opting to take classes to learn more about the Catholic religion.

“I found out really fast that the Catholic religion is all about Christ and most of them believe just what I believe,” Kinsey said.

She said the huge difference in courtesy and manners that St. Andrew’s students exemplify in comparison to those attending public school is a great testament to the values and morals that the faculty and staff work so hard to instill in each of their students. She said she also values the companionship of her fellow teachers and the sense of community the school has built.

“It’s a great place and a wonderful school,” Kinsey said.

Barbara Peters, who also taught for 25 years in the public school system, currently teaches first grade. She said one of the aspects of working at St. Andrew that she appreciates the most is the ability to pray within the classroom. Peters said her class often starts their days off with prayer for family members or the sick, though the class also prays right before they take tests to ask for intellectual guidance.

“I think it is a wonderful way to weave your faith into everything that you do,” she said.

Peters said one of the things that has most concerned her recently is the shift in the country’s attitude in regards to the wanting a separation of church and state.

Despite this continued conflict, Hall said she does not perceive this affecting St. Andrew at all or the way in the program is conducted.

High school successes

In a testament to the success of the parochial system, Hall said that when students the St. Andrew’s program, 60 to 80 percent end up enrolling at Nolan Catholic High School. While others go back into the public school system, Hall said numbers show that no matter where former students of St. Andrew go they end up excelling at their respective high schools.

She said she continues to encourage families to enroll their children in similar programs and seek aid if they need in order to do so. As the largest parochial school in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, St. Andrew offers the best of both worlds to the students, Hall said.

“We’re not super tiny, so academically, athletically, socially we have a lot to offer,” she said.

Hall said however, there are no plans to expand St. Andrew, to ensure that students continue to receive an excellent educational and spiritual experience. She said she thinks that parochial schools such as St. Andrew are coming to the forefront as parents as parents continue to look for spiritual guidance for their children.

“We feed all parts of the child. Not just intellectually and socially, but spiritually as well,” she said.