Know Your Options: The Differences Between Catholic and Independent Religious Schools
By Joy Holden
“A Christian education is one of the biggest investments a parent can make,” Steve Eagleton, the Head of School at Dunham claims.
As a parent who is willing to invest in religious education, how do you know which path best fits your child and your family? In Baton Rouge, Christian schools dominate the private education landscape. These schools are not “one size fits all,” though. The Baton Rouge Diocese of Catholic Schools oversees 30 schools in the Baton Rouge area. Baton Rouge also offers many independent Christian schools like The Dunham School, Parkview Baptist, and Episcopal. What is the difference between the two options?
Types of Schools
There are actually four types of Catholic schools. Although they are commonly called parochial schools, that is actually just one type. Parochial schools are attached to a single parish. St. George and St. Jude are parochial examples. Several parishes will have a school at one site, which is another type of school called interparochial, but these schools are located outside the city of Baton Rouge. Diocesan schools are owned by the Diocese like St. Michael and Ascension Catholic. The last type is private like Cristo Rey, St. Joseph’s, and Catholic High, which are owned by congregations.
For independent religious schools, there are two types. Denominational independent schools like Episcopal and Parkview Baptist or non-denominational like Dunham. Episcopal, though independent, is also a Diocesan school which means they were created by the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and have relationships with all the Episcopal churches in the area. Parkview Baptist is connected to Parkview Baptist Church through its inception and its Board of Advisors, which are all church members. Dunham and some other private schools have no affiliation with a particular church.
Depending upon the type of Catholic school, the principal reports to different superiors. For the parochial school, the principal reports to the pastor. For the Diocesan, the principal reports to the superintendent. And for the private Catholic schools, the principal reports to the president and board. The Bishop of the Diocese gives permission for the schools to operate and “has final say on all matters of faith and formation,” according to Dr. Melanie Verges, the superintendent of Baton Rouge Catholic Schools. All schools work together as a “system of schools” and share resources.
Independent schools have division heads or principals that report to a superintendent or headmaster. The superintendent or headmaster then consults with the board of directors or advisors. Each of the independent schools mentioned are members of the SAIS, the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
Both sets of schools promote educating the whole child and giving students opportunities to excel in multiple disciplines.
The Catholic Schools of Baton Rouge specialize in four areas of the student: “Evangelizing hearts, Educating Minds, Encouraging Talent, and Embracing the Future.” Dr. Verges elaborates that in addition to this emphasis, they also “are deliberate about Catholic identity.”
Similarly, Parkview Baptist, an independent school, is serious about developing their four A’s: Academics, Arts, Athletics, and Abundant Life. Courtney Haindel, Director of Marketing and Enrollment, says they try to “have something for everybody.” The Dunham School focuses on “educating minds and hearts for Christ which allows students to use their God-given gifts and talents,” Steve Eagleton shares. Most independent schools as well as Catholic schools aim to develop their students in a variety of ways. Episcopal has a like-minded mission as well: the school “nurtures and develops the whole child–spiritually, intellectually, morally, physically and artistically–through challenging academic and co-curricular programs,” says Reverend Kirkland Knight.
Both Catholic and independent religious schools have open admissions policies and welcome students of all religious backgrounds. Most schools offer need-based and merit-based scholarships as well. Tuition varies from school to school, but the Catholic system is able to subsidize much of their costs because of the many alumni and the strength of the diocese and parishes. For more information, visit each school’s admissions pages on their websites.
Faith matters a great deal in these religious schools no matter the denomination. Dr. Verges explains that Catholic instruction begins in the pre-K classes and continues throughout. Each teacher must go through religious education classes as well. The students attend mass, but Dr. Verges confirms that the worship does not end there as they teach their students to “live gospel values and make the Gospel a part of living everyday.” The Catholic schools also require extensive service hours for their students and work hard to create a holistic and family-centered environment.
The independent religious schools also incorporate religious teaching throughout the divisions. Courtney Haindel shares, “At Parkview, we are an intentionally Christian school. We train our teachers to integrate the Bible into every discipline. We start at the pre-K level with basic Christian truths and build on them as they grow.” For Dunham, teaching “the scriptures” is their primary focus. Steve Eagleton remarks, “Every student will have Bible instruction so they can apply scripture to their daily lives.” Episcopal also utilizes faith in their curriculum. Reverend Knight shares, “The Religious education begins in pre-K and goes all the way through the Upper School. The Lower School centers on stories from the Bible and the Episcopal Church. In the Middle School, courses are focused on the body as God’s temple and using the Old and New Testaments respectively, ethical decision making, and how we live in community. The Upper School students are required to have two semesters of Religious Education.”
Whether you are Catholic, non-denominational, or non-Christian, each of these school types can offer your children outstanding educational environments and intensive spiritual formation. With a little research and understanding, you can choose the right school for your family. ■