The majority of my childhood was spent in private school— more specifically a Catholic private school. Not only was the school incredibly small in comparison to the high school I now attend, but I often felt the people were very different from myself.
Yes, we shared the same religious beliefs but, beyond that, it seemed I stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb. I was an outspoken little girl with wild, curly hair whose family supported Obama during the 2008 election. My other peers were little girls with pin straight hair who were relatively quiet. They, of course, talked about how their parents voted for John McCain. In truth, I respect the late senator a great deal now that I’m an informed individual, but at the time, I remember that even my teachers only held a specific viewpoint.
It went beyond the politics of the school and extended into social hierarchies. To this date, one of the most saddening memories I have was when my third grade best friend had decided to use a clever lie to oust me from our group of friends. She said I called another girl an offensive name which, of course, she had called the girl herself.
This led to a whole debacle and I inevitably ended up joining another group of kids who were deemed “nerds.” Even then, in comparison to these friends, I still fell short in my strongest area: academics. I excelled in English, history and science, while in math I fell short. Thus it always felt as though I wasn’t good enough for the school.
The whole myth that Catholic schools don’t acknowledge evolution is, of course, not true. We were educated on all of the same things public school kids were.
Funnily enough, though, the only thing that prevented me from going to a Catholic high school was the fact that they didn’t allow me to take an Advanced Placement (AP) course freshman year. Had I gone to that high school instead of Cooper City High School, I would have been a completely different girl who would have likely never fallen so in love with journalism and theater. I would have stayed the same: scared of being inadequate, surrounded by the same peers I’d had my whole life.
However, I do not fault my experiences in Catholic school— I fault myself on the fact that I allowed people’s opinions and actions to affect me so much.
Comparatively, Catholic school and public school are relatively similar in terms of the education itself. The whole myth that Catholic schools don’t acknowledge evolution is, of course, not true. We were educated on all of the same things public school kids were. We had advanced math classes and we took Spanish classes from kindergarten to middle school. We had electives, and, though we didn’t have theater or journalism, we had extracurriculars that somewhat made up for it, such as choir and a broadcasting program of sorts.
I was active in our show choir. I was an ambassador who gave tours to any prospective parents who toured the school, I was an altar server, I was a part of the newspaper for the one year it existed and I was in the art club. I did a lot in my little corner of the world and looking back, I think I was very successful. I was also an A student who actively participated in class.
My friends from public school described their education in middle and elementary school very much the same way as it was for me, and those who went to Catholic school also describe their experiences to be the same as my own.
Catholic school helped me cultivate my love for books when I ended up reading “The Outsiders” in sixth grade. I learned about respecting people’s opinions and being confident in my own.
In public school, during my soon-to-be four years of high school, I was also successful. I was offered so many opportunities as I was able to take several AP classes that I enjoyed and participate in multiple clubs and discussion groups (i.e. Thespians, newspaper, National English Honor Society and Women of Tomorrow). I’ve had the ability to meet so many different kinds of people and gain a better understanding of a broader segment of Broward County.
At first, I thought perhaps my happiness during my years in high school could be attributed to the change of venue, but the reality is that you’re gaining the same education either way it seems. My friends from public school described their education in middle and elementary school very much the same way as it was for me, and those who went to Catholic school also describe their experiences to be the same as my own.
The only thing that seems to change is the formality of the institution and nothing more.
People have found it odd in the past when I have said that I’m grateful for my Catholic education. What they fail to realize is that it’s practically the same as the public education they so love.
Photo courtesy of Susan Farley