Catholic schools seem to be in trouble everywhere you look in America. It seems we routinely hear stories about how St. Something-or-other will be closing next week. Certainly, the number of booming and prosperous Catholic schools in America today is far less than what it used to be in the 50's and 60's. So do Catholic schools work anywhere in America? Actually, yes. Come visit the Chicago suburbs and check out the Diocese of Joliet. Recent reports show its Catholic schools are among the best schools in America, hands down.
In 2009, the Diocese of Joliet had 54 elementary schools, 7 secondary schools and 7 free standing early childhood (preschool/kindergarten) programs, serving over 23,037 students. The diocese covers all of Will, DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee and Kendall counties. While other communities have seen a number of Catholic schools closing their doors, the Diocese of Joliet is continuing to show trends of increased enrollment and higher graduation rates.
Overall, more than 40 percent of the diocese’s schools have seen an enrollment increase during the past year, with some seeing a 12 to 18 percent increase. What's more, the diocese boasts a 99 percent graduation rate, compared to a 84 percent graduation rate for Illinois public schools as a whole. The Diocese of Joliet also maintains an average score of 24 on the ACT, compared to the 20.9 overall average of Illinois schools. Reading scores rank in the 80th percentile – significantly higher than the 50 percentile national average. Math scores rank in the 74th percentile average – compared to the national average of 50.
Catholic schools in Joliet also offer many programs and parts of their curriculum that simply aren't found in public schools: “We go beyond the textbooks to include discussions on faith, morality and ethics, something that is on the decline in our world today. We have small classes so that teachers can treat your child or grandchild as an individual. I believe that we have the best teachers, not only because they are grounded in the Catholic faith, but because they are dedicated to developing the whole child.” said Principal Kathy Lifka of St. Andrew the Apostle in Romeoville. The local Congressman for much of the area, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), recently introduced a resolution in the U.S. House praising the outstanding work of Catholic schools. He noted “in northeastern Illinois, it is estimated that Catholic schools save taxpayers over $1 billion annually by lowering the number of students in overburdened public schools.’”
The seven Catholic High Schools of the Diocese of Joliet recently conducted graduation ceremonies through June 4th. In addition to the 99 percent graduation rate, nearly 98 percent of Catholic High School students in the diocese are going on to some form of higher education. “Graduation offers us the opportunity to be grateful to God for the many blessings that Catholic education brings as well as a moment to recognize the accomplishments of our students and the commitment of their parents to faith and excellence.”, said Fr. John Belmonte, S.J., Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Joliet.
The numbers between all the schools are excellent: At Joliet Catholic Academy, 100 percent of its 2013 senior class graduated – with 99 percent going onto higher education and 68 percent receiving some kind of scholarship assistance. One of the school's graduates, Michael Bannon, received a perfect 36 score on his ACT college placement test and is also a National Merit Scholarship winner. Benet Academy in Lisle is another Catholic school in the Diocese with similar statistics: it has a graduation rate of 100 percent, with 99 percent going onto higher education. One student had deferred college to pursue a career in the National Hockey League. Providence High School in New Lenox can boost as well: it has a 99 percent graduation rate, with an equal 99 percent of the students pursuing higher education and nearly 70 percent of the graduating class sharing in scholarship aid of more than $23 million. 12 Providence graduates have signed national letters of intent to play their sport at colleges and universities around the country. In addition, the class valedictorian, Gabriella Berman, has received an Augustinian scholarship to attend Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. At St. Francis High School in Wheaton, there is a graduation rate of 100 percent, with 193 of the 194 graduates going on to higher education and 78 percent receiving scholarship awards. Sarah Huddleston was elected to the All Area Leadership Team of the Daily Herald newspaper, and Maddie Baise won the 6th Congressional District Art Contest. IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst has a graduation rate of 100 percent for the class of 2013, with 99 percent going onto higher education and 51 percent receiving some form of scholarship assistance. Both Taysia Hernandez and Lauren Roberto have been named Monsignor Plunkett Distinguished Scholars and have been honored with other academic awards. And last but not least, Montini Catholic High School in Lombard announced this year that it has a graduation rate of 100 percent, with 98 percent going on to higher education (thanks in part to over $11 million in scholarship money offered).
In the entire Diocese of Joliet, roughly one out of six members of the Class of 2013 were named “commended scholars”, “semi-finalists,” or “finalists” in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, a recognition program that highlights the accomplishments of the top 5 percent of those students who take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test in a given year. Additionally, 34% of the class “graduated with honors” by earning a cumulative grade point average of 92% or above. Additionally, the class of 2013 has many distinguished athletic achievements including the TDI championship in Pom and Pom Dance plus the Grand Champions Award along with the state championship in football and wrestling. “The outstanding accomplishments of the Class of 2013 from the Diocese of Joliet high schools provides ample evidence of why our contributors have enabled us to increase our scholarship awards and grants by eight percent for school year 2013-2014,” noted Joseph L. Langenderfer, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation. “Our donors know that a Catholic education is a blueprint for academic success in higher education, and this year’s graduating class proves this.”
Colleges are starting to take notice when it comes to the statistics for High School seniors. According to a Chicago Tribune article published on Aug. 31, Illinois State University officials often question how well the state’s public schools are preparing students for college, and have found that Joliet Catholic students are well prepared for college.
To summarize, my faithful readers, it's not all doom and gloom when it comes to Catholic Schools in America. Unfortunately, however, the Diocese of Joliet seems to be an exception to the rule at this point. Perhaps its time Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago (and the other Illinois dioceses) take a closer look at what's going on in Joliet. Rather than instructing the students, it seems the education system could learn a lot from them.