South Jersey’s experts share the benefits of a private school education.
When choosing an educational path for children, there are a plethora of pros and cons to consider, with academics, extracurriculars and finances often at the top of the list. Certain benefits of a private school education—class size and unique programming, engaged alumni and college perks—may be overlooked by parents, but could create fundamental shifts for students.
Personalized and preparatory education
With fewer kids in classrooms and learning systems designed to prepare students for college, private schools promise a heightened level of individualized education. “It’s wonderful to have a discussion with 10 to 15 people rather than 30 to 35 … and to have such close relationships with your teachers,” says Michael Schlotterbeck, director of marketing and communications at Moorestown Friends School. Spanning preschool (from age 3) through grade 12, the co-ed Quaker-based school has a ratio of eight students to one teacher in the middle and upper levels and two adults in classrooms through first grade.
Paul VI, a Catholic high school located in Haddonfield, has a 15-to-1 ratio with a special guidance class one quarter each academic year that maxes out at 12 students to intimately guide students to acceptance into a 4-year college, according to Carol Basara, assistant principal for student life. And the average class size at the Pennsauken-based Bishop Eustace Preparatory School has hovered around 19 for several years; the co-educational Catholic school builds open periods into the schedule to foster a college feel.
“We’re trying to get these kids ready for college where they may have class at 10 a.m. and not again until 2 p.m.,” Nick Italiano, dean of admissions, says. “We want them to realize that time between can be used to meet with teachers and classmates, get work done and get ahead.”
With a similar class size of approximately 17 students, St. Augustine Preparatory School in Richland is known for the strong ties between students and teachers, according to Steve Cappuccio, dean of enrollment management. “Personalized education is the basis of St. Augustine Prep’s approach to educating young men … and evidences itself most strongly in two ways—programs and relationships.”
Graduating only between 220 and 240 boys each year, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School prioritizes the individual. The Jesuit school, located just five blocks from Temple University in Philadelphia but garnering 25 percent of its student body from South Jersey, emphasizes caring for the whole person. “Our job is to help each student be as prepared for college as he can be,” Bill Avington, director of alumni and public relations, says.
“Along the way, we also help each student be the best person he can be—to find his potential and become a better version of himself.”
Faith-based learning and service
Private schools’ faith-based programming tends to provide education on diverse religions and lends to broad thinking in terms of service and community.
“Respect for the individual is one of the core Quaker values … there is such respect for everyone’s beliefs and thoughts,” Schlotterbeck says, noting students at Moorestown Friends are from Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and many other faiths. “The ability to discuss belief systems for different religions leads to some dynamic and engaging conversations and helps students learn about faiths around the world.”
Regardless of their religious background, students at Paul VI take a year-long academic religion class at each grade level as well as attend an annual retreat—and the school continues to broaden the curriculum.“We have added … a medical ethics elective for upperclassmen … and an honors level theology course for juniors, and next year will expand that progression to include seniors,” Sister Marianne McCann, school principal, says. “Providing courses beyond the basics of religious education is an important opportunity for students who feel drawn to explore faith on a deeper level.”
In addition to its compulsory religion classes, Bishop Eustace requires service to move onto the next grade; it starts at 2 hours within the school community as freshmen, then 4 and 6 hours within their safe community as sophomores and juniors, respectively, and 1 hour 15 minutes per week of “works of mercy” as seniors.
“They’re at Ronald McDonald House, tutoring students in Camden, working at soup kitchens and Genesis nursing homes,” Italiano says. “We’re a Catholic school, so we’re going to teach students about Catholicism, but we want people to grow and develop in their own faith and use that as much as they can.”
Similarly, a self-designed service endeavor is required of all rising seniors at St. Augustine, with each student committing no less than 100 hours toward creating and executing a project that enriches the lives of others.
Alumni relationships and support
A large proportion of private school graduates stay in touch with their alma maters, both personally and financially, providing potential financial resources for students and invaluable networking opportunities for higher education and life beyond school.
“One of the significant advantages of being part of an independent school community is those alumni relationships,” Schlotterbeck says, noting Moorestown Friends has nearly 2,700 active alumni. “As students move into college and their careers, they can benefit from their network … whether they are in a job search, looking for career advice or just navigating the work world.”
Paul VI President Michael Chambers called the school’s alumni “indispensable” and underscored the number of ways in which they contribute, including returning for career days.
“This past April, 50 of our graduates from a wide spectrum of professions spoke with our juniors, giving them a glimpse into various fields,” Chambers says. “Those alumni can now act as potential contacts or mentors for students who have a true interest in those careers. It’s a wonderful example of our graduates giving back in a way that can really impact a student’s future.”
With an alumni base of nearly 8,000, Bishop Eustace boasts a generous and engaged network. “We have had quite a few benefactors who, through their time at the school received financial assistance from the Palatines. [They] feel very strongly about what the school has given to them and in turn have given very large sums of money to help students afford a private education here,” Italiano says.
Through the charitable work of alumni, private schools may have opportunities for tuition savings for both incoming freshmen as well as outgoing seniors. At St. Augustine, with around 3,200 alumni, assistance ranges from a “university model” that entails an application with decisions based on criteria and a formula to memorial scholarships in honor of lost loved ones, according to Dennis Foreman, executive director of institutional advancement.
“This spirit of philanthropy and giving back has really started to permeate and become a felt culture at St. Augustine Prep,” Foreman says.
The camaraderie felt at St. Joe’s Prep has many graduates using the private school’s alumni network more than their college alumni networks, according to Avington. “We always get people wondering what’s in the water down here [because] our alumni are so loyal and come back and speak so highly of The Prep,” he says. “They say they’re a St. Joe’s Prep grad before they say what college they went To. A lot of people come to The Prep because they want to be a part of that—they want to be a part of this alumni group that takes care of each other.”
Already-established relationships that private schools have with certain colleges can give students a head-start on some college credit or a leg-up on other candidates. Here are some offered in our area
Moorestown Friends offers a personalized college search with two full-time professionals working intimately with families to help seniors find the best fit for secondary education.
Paul VI provides a substantial opportunity to enter college with credits earned toward a degree with 20 Advanced Placement courses and a greater number of accelerated and honors courses.
Bishop Eustace hosts an on-campus Jesuit Excellence Tour, during which juniors and seniors have the opportunity to meet with representatives from 16 Jesuit colleges.
St. Augustine offers one of the top five graduating seniors who want to attend Villanova a full-tuition scholarship, and seniors can apply for a Villanova Presidential scholarship, based on competitive criteria, that covers 100 PERCENT of costs including room, board, books, tuition.
St. Joe’s Prep’s Jesuit affiliation offers graduates an edge at Jesuit universities including Georgetown, Boston College, Holy Cross, Fordham and St. Joseph’s, and their stature in Philadelphia opens doors at Penn, Drexel, Temple and Villanova.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 6 (August, 2015).
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