Today David González, of the New York Times, published an article which transported me back to 2nd grade at St. Anselm’s elementary school on Tinton Avenue in the South Bronx. The smell of pencil shavings and erasers permeated the air mixed with that of chalk dust. I didn’t know it then but I owe my life to the Catholic School education system and to the sacrifices my parents – papi y mami – made to make sure I received the best education possible.
David González writes about our wonderful leaders that came from the Bronx, folks of color just like myself and the majority of the borough, and were also products of the New York Archdiocese Catholic Schools. These folks such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (both graduates of my alma mater, Cardinal Spellman and Ferrer also graduated from St Anselm’s as well) came from working class families who also sacrificed to send their children to parochial schools so that they would have a chance at the best possible education.
During the not so pleasant days in our borough’s past, these schools were havens that gave those who attended a chance at brighter future since almost 100% went on to attend college. In St Anselm’s and Cardinal Spellman High School it was never an option not to go or at least it didn’t seem to be. Since as young as I could remember in St Anselm’s, it was drilled into our heads that we were to go on to higher education. The same went through high school which also from day one we were prepped for that eventuality.
It wasn’t all roses and of course we had several teachers who had no right being in that profession but it provided structure and stability where there was none to be had beyond those gates and outside of our own homes. Catholic schools tend to host pre kindergarten or earlier straight through the 8th grade so one ends up growing up with the same folks in school, something public schools can’t relate to. Then there’s also the issue of a relatively small class size offering a more intimate approach to education.
I hated the uniforms and rigidity of the schools and always felt like an outcast on my block since many in my building did not attend parochial school. Many of us were bullied by public school kids to and from school making it a bitter pill to swallow. Lots of us would often wonder why our parents tortured us so by sending us to such schools. Those same bullies today either never finished high school, didn’t attend college, in dead end jobs or are dead today.
It wasn’t until many years later after college (which was also Catholic) that I realized what a world of opportunity I had been given by attending catholic schools all my life. I had never seen the inside of a public school thanks to the major sacrifices of my parents and papi driving the 5 train overtime to make sure that not only I had the best possible education but that we were also comfortable at home.
The education I received was top notch and let me explore worlds that seemed off limits to a Puerto Rican kid from the South Bronx because we were always encouraged to explore them.
Although I broke up with the Catholic Church decades ago and I do not agree with the Church on so many issues, if I ever have kids I do know that I will not hesitate in putting them in Catholic schools.
Please do not forget to read this wonderful article by David González on the Catholic school closures that our affecting our communities:
A Lifeline for Minorities, Catholic Schools Retrench