Families share why they choose Catholic education

The Hennemann Family

As Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School (OLV) alumni, we are proud of our Catholic education. Of the seven children in our household, three are alumni, and four are currently enrolled, with the youngest in preschool.

Our parents appreciate that they can drop us off and pick us up together, at the same time. Because the school offers preschool through 8th grade, the younger students always have role models to look up to. The older students take their responsibility to serve as examples seriously. We are fortunate to have our siblings in the same school; this leadership relationship carries over into our home lives.

The combined grade classrooms are relatively small in numbers. Remaining in the same classroom for the entire school day allows us to connect, communicate, and form deep friendships with our peers.

This type of environment makes it possible for our teachers to cater to individual students’ needs. Students work at their full potential, regardless of their grade level. We understand that today’s culture promotes popular ideologies that are often incompatible with Church teaching. Our Catholic curriculum allows students to learn the truth. In particular, students explore multiple viewpoints and are encouraged to learn and defend their own beliefs.

Because of our proximity to Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla, we can serve at Mass every Friday. The students are encouraged to altar serve, lector, sacristan and cantor. This greatly increases our knowledge and appreciation of the Mass and prepares us to participate more fully in our home parishes.

Students that have graduated from our Catholic school have been known for their high test scores and superior work ethic. The principals at Career and Technical High School have repeatedly praised OLV graduates during the application and interview process and welcomed them into their competitive program. Graduates are successful in high school because they show genuine interest in learning and work hard to accomplish their goals. They also exhibit responsibility and compassion towards their fellow students.

We have had to make some sacrifices for a Catholic education, but we believe it is worth it to learn and grow in a God-centered environment. Overall, Catholic education has benefited our academic advancement, peer relationships, family unity, and spiritual growth.

OLV alumni Ellie and Rosie Hennemann with help from parents Sarah and Gabriel Hennemann

The Azpilcueta Family

As a Catholic family, we want our children to attend a school with Catholic values. We consider that a school is a complement to what they learn at home. We were looking for an education for our son, where the spiritual growth aspect was part of it, as we believe it is essential in life.

We visited two private schools; it was at Lumen Christi (LCHS) where we felt at home. The principal and the staff responded and supported us in all questions and needs that we had.

Our son, Gabriel Gustavo, told us recently, “I like Lumen Christi because they have smaller classroom sizes and it allows me to focus more.”

We are so fortunate that we belong to the LCHS community.

Cristina and Gustavo Azpilcueta

The Williamson Family

As Alaskans, we are presented with many challenges the lower 48 doesn’t have. We’re living and raising a family in Kodiak, which intensifies those challenges greatly, but one thing we didn’t lack before COVID was an excellent education for our kids.

I’m Emma Williamson, a mother of six and wife of a fisherman. I was born and raised in Kodiak, born and raised Catholic. I attended St. Mary’s School from pre-k to 8th grade. My husband Chris, who despite having no religious affiliation at any point in his life or never attending church, had an open mind to our children’s education and saw the benefits of giving them the best opportunities we could at St. Mary’s. Five of our six children attended St. Mary’s for the last eight years. Chris started taking confirmation classes to become Catholic because our children opened him to something greater than what he had known.

Catholic education is important to raise good people. Catholic schools provide a safe and supportive environment. It provides an atmosphere that encourages kids to be their best and see the best in others. Kids need a community, and I always saw community within St. Mary’s and through our peers’ families. Smaller class sizes allowed teachers to see and hear all our children. Public education wouldn’t have seen our struggling son who needed to be held back a year in first grade. Our 8th-grade daughter used to be in public school, where her strong and witty personality was muted. At St. Mary’s, our daughter was comfortable; she’s known for her beautiful and witty personality. Our kindergartener and preschooler want to go to school; they tell me about Jesus. Our kids are respectful of youth and adults. They are happy, thriving children. We allowed our kids to form their own opinion of Catholicism. In 5th grade, our boys came to us asking to be baptized, to receive their first communion if they could become a part of the church. To me, that is the strongest testament a parent can get.

Without the youth, there is no future. Catholic education is faith in the future, and not just for Catholics.

Emma Williamson

The Biegel Family

What is raising nine kids like? Let’s dispense with the easy answers first. Yes, it is fun; it is challenging. It is very expensive; it is like riding a surfboard while strapped onto a roller-coaster and being chased by a great white shark singing “Let it Go” from Frozen.

All of my children (Ages 27 to 7) are Catholic. All of-age have been confirmed. All of them defend what they believe and know why they believe what they do. They have character, passion and a deeply Catholic culture.

My kids grew up by matching wits with me, with life, with truth, with teachers, with each other, with pain, with joy, with anger (sometimes anger from me). I never wanted just to raise Catholic children, but also Catholics who are mature and now can bring their beliefs to a thirsty world. Catholics who will water the world with their hope, feed the world with their love and overcome the world with their courage.

By a great blessing, we found a secret passage from raising good kids to raising great Catholics. Our homeschool was losing some of the kids and likely would have seen some of the kids entirely abandon Catholicism and our family culture too. Honestly, we could not have succeeded as we have on our own. We needed help, and Holy Rosary Academy (HRA) became our most critical partner.

How does HRA do it? Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric. Three words that hold the key to education and to the educated. Most of us can cover grammar (and all subjects have grammar, like addition and subtraction, division, and multiplication for mathematics). What about Logic or Rhetoric for that subject? Sadly, few institutions understand these eternal ideas, and even fewer parents can provide them for their kids.

This is the brilliance of the seminar-style envisioned by Plato and Socrates. The foundation of classical education. In the end, keeping your Catholic culture is a battle, but my kids are ready. They match wits and facts with each other every day in class.

I was blessed to find Holy Rosary Academy. Education is a part of my family creed. HRA and their classrooms are an extension of that creed and a part of my success story. How big of a part? I’ll never know. I’ll also never regret the monetary costs it took to send them there. I have a permanent gift from HRA. I hope my children have an eternal one.

Glen Biegel

The Amico Family

We chose Holy Name Catholic School for many reasons. Catholic schools have the unique ability to instill morality, a sense of belonging and spirituality into our children, all under one roof. This unique combination can’t be achieved at a public school, and we find it to be an important parallel with how we raise our children. We’re so thankful for our school’s caring, nurturing and encouraging environment that the teachers bring to the class every day. We’re so fortunate to have such an excellent option for our child’s education. In a typical year, the school is intertwined with our community, which is an integral way to teach our children about our community and community as a whole. Our child especially likes chapel time and learning in such interactive ways with her friends.

Joseph Amico

The Estabrook Family

A strong Catholic education is important for my wife, Heather, and I while raising our three daughters. Catholic schools in Anchorage not only have high academic standards, but they help us to instill strong moral values in our daughters. At home, we teach our girls to be respectful of themselves and others, to have an open mind, and that Christ is at the heart of everything. They learn these same values at school as well from their teachers and principals and their friends and their families. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” The Catholic school’s “village” includes the school administration, priests, and committed parents. When our girls ask to play at one of their school friends’ houses, Heather and I know that family. We know they have the same commitment to morals and high expectations for their children that we have for ours.

I know this first hand; my sisters and I are products of Catholic education here in Anchorage. We are alumni of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School. Our parents knew the importance of Catholic education too. Even my grandmother knew the importance of Catholic education; she donated a facility to start the “new” Junior/Senior high school in town (many years ago), Lumen Christi. I look back fondly on my Catholic education. I know that it set a strong belief in my Catholic faith and friendships that I still have to this day. I even see my kindergarten teacher at Mass every now and then.

Now we all know that 2020 is a year unlike any other. Our Catholic school village has been able to come together, innovate, and find a way to have our children attend school safely. Last spring, when everyone transitioned to online learning, our then 1st grader struggled to stay motivated with Zoom classes. However, when she received a FaceTime call from her teacher, not just once, but multiple times per week, she got right back on track. Then again, this summer, when it looked like our kids might not be able to go back to school, the village went to work. Now our girls are attending school again with weekly Mass (sometimes in person, sometimes virtually), harvesting potatoes to send to the Brother Francis Shelter, attending retreats, and developing their Catholic faith.

Heather and I believe that the importance of Catholic education cannot be overstated.

John and Heather Estabrook

The Medland Family

Our son Benjamin attended St. John’s Orthodox Christian School in Eagle River from preschool through 8th grade. Ben had been fretting for years about where to go for high school, concerned that a public school transition would be tough. After being in a small Christian setting his entire life, many prayers were sent up for guidance in this big decision.

We had tried homeschooling, public school, and private school with our three older children, none of which were ideal. Driving into Anchorage with five children (we now have 6) had taken a toll, and we decided we probably wouldn’t do that again.

Our Catholic faith has always been vital to us, so when St. Andrew’s sent out a letter that Lumen Christi was offering bus service from Eagle River (if enough interest), we were SO excited! Soon four students were registered (three from St. John’s school and one parishioner from St. Andrew), and Lumen became a reality!

Lumen Christi is an amazing answer to prayer, and we are SO thankful that Ben is immersed in a truly Catholic education. There are so many things vying for our time and attention, but only God can bring the peace that this world craves. Anne Gore and Father Tom Lilly have been angels in disguise in helping us settle in, and we look forward to getting to know everyone at Lumen as soon as safely possible!

The Medland Family

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