As New York City students gear up for the coming school year, the city’s Catholic schools are also preparing for the year by ensuring that all students have all the tools they need in order to succeed and have access to as many resources and opportunities as possible.
In Brooklyn and Queens, with over 32,000 students across the city, Catholic schools are a huge and crucial part of the education system.
“What we do at Catholic school is we teach the [required] subjects and our kids are prepared for great high schools and go on to great colleges,” said Deacon Kevin McCormack, superintendent to amNew York Aug 17. “But what we’re able to do is build community so there’s a ‘social capital’ that allows people to be part of a family. That is our strength and that’s what makes Catholic schools tremendous.”
There are 116 schools within the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, with 64% of students identifying as white, 30% as Latinx, 17% as Black and 12% as Asian and many students identify as more than one race.
Catholic schools in the Diocese admit students of any religious background as well, and prioritize the education of their student body, whether that be spiritual or practical. They offer instructions in subjects like math and science, and also in the development of students in religion and as practitioners of Catholicism.
“In our schools we celebrate all God’s creations,” said Deacon McCormack. “So we teach that in math, science, in social studies, English and second language courses. Our kids are bound by the New York City curriculum so there is no watering down of what is expected of them. Many of our schools have eighth graders or even sometimes seventh graders taking Regents exams so they’re all in good shape as far as that goes. But we also take religion as an essential part of who we are because we think that our tradition gives us the ability to see the world in a different way. I like to say that the Catholic imagination has the ability to see, hear and believe things that others can’t.”
This instruction also allows students to build closer relationships with their instructors and mentors, which also aids students who may be struggling with their mental health, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens have their own counseling program called the Program for the Development of Human Potential (PDHP) to ensure that all students have access to support and guidance.
“We have counselors available to all our schools and in high school each one has their own guidance department,” Deacon McCormack said. “So as far as the mental status of the kids – working with them and making them feel secure – we have professionals available. But [the support] is also in the everyday stuff that we do that. They come into a community where they are respected and they’re loved and they’re known. The kids are known by their names, the principal knows every kid in the school. The teachers know if the student’s mom gave birth to another baby or if dad isn’t feeling well and it is just a sense of being part of a family.”
Catholic schools in New York City are also ensuring that all students, as well as faculty and staff, stay safe during the pandemic.
“We’ve always been attuned to the protocols that were given to us by state, federal and local authorities and we take them very very seriously,” Deacon McCormack said. “That’s why we’ve been very successful. And we continue to tell students to wash their hands and act accordingly so we’re very confident that we are right in step with what is expected of us by the government as well as on our own end just making sure that we stay on top of everything. If a kid is sick they stay home, if a teacher’s not feeling well they stay home – that kind of common sense stuff.”
Catholic schools and their longstanding history and traditions help serve their communities and are an integral part, not just of the education system, but for New York communities at large.
“We spend time with the scriptures, with the sacraments and with our traditions,” said Deacon McCormack. “It gives our students and our teachers and staff the ability to go beyond just what meets the eye. In our world right now, I personally see a terrible dearth of meaning. People are kind of lost and they don’t know where they are or where they’re going, and when the Catholic education is at its best, it is a place for people to see life at its fullest and to see God’s grace in everything that we do.”