Some parents send their children to faith-based schools because of their own religious practices. Other families do it to meet their children’s specific needs — or, at least, that was the case for the Dart family of Northeast Seattle.
Stephen Dart first arranged a tour at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic K–8 School after a conversation with his older daughter’s therapist.
“[The therapist] explained what our daughter’s stress level would feel like to her when she began kindergarten,” he says. How stressed would she feel? “Imagine sitting in a stadium 15 minutes before a Seahawks game [and being told to explain] investment management to the entire crowd before kickoff.”
This in mind, the Darts visited several nearby public and private schools. At each, they asked about possible accommodations to help their daughter. Could they meet the teacher before the year began? Could they get the contact information of future classmates before school started?
The responses were mixed, which made their tour of Our Lady of the Lake so notable.
“The principal basically asked us what we needed to make school work for our daughter,” Dart says.
Despite initial hesitations — Dart hasn’t identified with an organized religion since he was a teen — he says the experience has been a positive one: “We’ve become part of a close, inclusive community.”
What they considered
A small student body isn’t the only reason why families choose faith-based schools, says educational consultant Anoo Padte. Among other reasons, families might want religious education for their children, community with other families who share their same faith or a more affordable private education.
Yes, you read that correctly. A faith-based school can cost 25 to 50 percent less than other private schools, says Padte.
During the 2011–12 school year, the average cost of a private, non-religious secondary school cost $25,180, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That same year, the average cost of a Catholic secondary school was $9,790 (other religious schools averaged $16,520 that year).
I’m glad to know my kids are learning solid values they can always fall back on.
A local example? Tuition at the private, secular Lakeside School was $34,940 for the 2018–2019 school year compared to $16,992 at the private, religious Holy Names Academy.
Proponents of religious schools also say that there are benefits to teaching religion alongside academics, regardless of if the family observes that particular religion.
“There’s something about teaching to the whole child,” says Vince McGovern, middle school director at St. Joseph’s K–8 Catholic School on Capitol Hill. “Attending to the soul is important work and we can do that in faith-based schools.”
McGovern says he’s known students who begin attending each other’s religious rites of passage, like first communions and bar mitzvahs. These services, he says, provide students with a sense of reverence and awe.
“We seek to instill a mindfulness of God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others,” he adds.
What families say
The Mehlman family of Northeast Seattle choose Seattle Hebrew Academy in Capitol Hill for a number of reasons.
“Given the current state of affairs in our society, I’m glad to know my kids are learning solid values they can always fall back on,” says Ira Mehlman of his elementary-aged children. “These good, solid values have stood the test of time.”
Fellow Seattle parent Don Doering picked North Seattle’s Seattle Jewish Community School for the support he says it provides his children.
“I like that my kids are in an environment where they are unambiguously loved,” says Doering. “Learning is all about being in your comfort zone and then taking risks. It takes a secure environment for children to stretch themselves.”
The Darts believe it was this sense of community that led their eldest daughter to choose to continue her Catholic education at Holy Names Catholic School in Capitol Hill. Her younger sister made the same choice; they’re currently in their junior and freshman years, respectively.
“It takes my older shy daughter a long time to make friends,” says Lisa Dart. “She’s found that [at Holy Names]. It’s her place.”