As we end Catholic Schools Week, we share this reflection from Olivia Balcer, a junior at the University of Notre Dame, and a Frassati Intern with us last summer.
When you’re deep into the work of a Catholic education, it might be easy to forget that a Catholic school community extends far beyond the current students, families, and teachers. In fact, It takes a dedicated network of believers and supporters to rally together.
The Catholic school experience is uniquely universal. No matter which of the 6,183 Catholic schools in the United States a student may attend, he or she would likely share similar experiences that include a rigorous, high-quality education, a faith-infused environment, and high expectations. These intangible aspects of my own Catholic education continue to impact my choices and perspectives, even as a junior at the University of Notre Dame.
Last summer, I witnessed the power of Catholic schools from a different perspective–by joining the Aim Higher Foundation, a small-but-mighty team that works tirelessly to make Catholic schools accessible to all children in the Twin Cities area. I was connected to Aim Higher through the Frassati Internship at the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program. The two months on their team were truly eye-opening. The amount of funding, effort, and coordination that take place behind the scenes to enroll each new student in a Catholic school cannot be overstated.
Prior to the summer, my perspective of the Catholic school landscape could be considered overly optimistic. It is easy for me to imagine that places as transformational as my own Catholic grade school and high school in Indiana will be around forever, that their existence is as universal and assured as their benefits for children. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that Catholic schools across the nation face significant financial challenges due to a myriad of changing circumstances.
The Aim Higher team encounters this reality on a daily basis, often through the eyes of students from families who want to attend a Catholic school, but, for a variety of reasons, are unable to afford it. Talking to these families and learning about their stories firsthand last summer has deeply affected me. As a product of Catholic schools, I was naive to think these proven, seemingly eternal organizations will thrive in the long-term without the commitment of the people who believe in them:
Donors. Friends. Parishioners.
We all have a stake in their future.
Because of the Catholic schools I have attended, I’ve benefited from the integration of faith and a strong sense of belonging to a community. Beginning in elementary school, countless teachers have challenged me to ask myself questions with a higher purpose–Who am I? Why am I here? What makes a life “good”? This continual encouragement of self-reflection is what I consider to be the greatest gift of my Catholic education. And when I look back, I am so grateful to have had these experiences, even though I now realize how much I have taken them for granted.
As much as my journey with the Aim Higher Foundation has opened my eyes, it has also given me a great deal of hope. It has been encouraging to witness so many people joining together with their time, talent, and gifts to further the Aim Higher Foundation’s motto of: More Scholarships – More Students – Stronger Schools. The effort of Catholic school alumni, parents, and grandparents to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the same experience that they or their children and grandchildren had is in full swing in this community. The Aim Higher Foundation offers a concrete place to rally their energy and support.
By Olivia Balcer, former Aim Higher Foundation intern.