Why Catholic Schools Are So Successful
When many parents think of Catholic schools, their first impression may be that they are focused on religious education. And, although it’s true that the faith-based teachings of Christ are at the core of all students’ educational experiences, not all students are Catholics. A focus on teachings such as ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ and ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ enrich students’ lives because Catholic schools emphasize the universality of such ethical behaviors and principles. Under the guidance of this philosophy, students are groomed to become good citizens and caring members of society alongside the benefits of a rigorous academic curriculum.
Academic Standards Are Extremely High
The success of Catholic schools and students who attend them is based on much more than a focus on religious philosophy. Catholic schools boast a 99% graduation rate, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Five of the current U.S. Supreme Court Justices went to Catholic schools, and one third of U.S. Senators and one quarter of those serving in the House of Representatives are Catholics.
“Public service is at the heart of the Catholic ideology, and the combination of academic success and civic responsibility translates into students’ desire to serve their fellow men and women,” says Catherine Merryman, principal at Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) High School in Poughkeepsie. “Every one of our graduates earns a New York State Regents diploma, more than percent of them earn an Advanced Regents’ diploma, and 99 percent of our students go on to college – and 86 percent of them are accepted by their first choice college. All students take college preparatory classes, and 98 percent of our students achieve success in a college level course. On average they graduate with 16 college credits. We set high standards across the board with a strenuous core curriculum and a shared assumption about what knowledge and skills our students need to acquire.”
A Diverse and Communal School Culture
The student body at OLL represents every socio-economic level and the bulk of families are working or middle class. Some students are children of immigrants, not all students are Catholics, and all students are subject to the same academic expectations. With a nearly even mix of boys and girls, students from grades 9-12 attend from 15 different school districts in the Hudson Valley region: OLL is the only Catholic school in Dutchess, Putnam and Columbia counties, and students attend from Ulster, Westchester and Orange counties as well.
“Students reach for the bar that we set for them, and we educate the whole person – academically, spiritually, physically and emotionally. Our teachers and staff have a communally based focus on accountability, respect and shared expectations,” says Merryman.
Being communally organized sets the stage for students to achieve their educational goals while developing their inner lives. With a 17 to 1 student to teacher ratio, smaller classes and close-knit social interactions make it safe for students to learn from their failures as well as from their successes. Teachers at OLL view education as not just a profession but rather as an opportunity to serve students.
Faculty Mentors Foster Community Engagement and Educational Rigor
“Our faculty has a deep attachment to serving the students in our community, and they actively serve as mentors to them. It’s an enormous reason why our students are so committed during their time here with us,” Merryman adds. OLL sports teams and clubs align with local community service organizations, such as the Chambers of Commerce, Youth Council of Dutchess County, Sparrow’s Nest, for service and fundraising projects that encourage civic responsibility.
OLL faculty members serve as athletic coaches and club monitors, and offer extra help every day in all academic subjects. Whether inside or outside the classroom, on the field or in the larger community, faculty give generously of their time because they see teaching as a vocation, a commitment.
One shining example of how OLL faculty ‘go the extra mile’ is The Mock Trial, the school’s annual court case competition. The Mock Trials – which are held in a real courthouse and run by the Dutchess County Bar Association – give students the opportunity to present a case from the perspective of the prosecution and the defense, and to compete against other public and private schools. Students play the roles of district attorney, attorneys, witnesses, jury members and court officials in this challenging extracurricular activity. Though it’s a tremendous amount of work, Mock Trial allows students to learn about law, the legal process and court behaviors. Local judges volunteer to give students pointers and serve as judges for the competition.
Career Success and Ongoing Support
Graduates of OLL are in positions of high influence, both nationally as heads of major corporations and nonprofit organizations as well as locally where they serve as committed community leaders. “I am always awed by the number of OLL graduates who have achieved positions of enduring service here in Dutchess County,” says Merryman, “and this is no accident. Many of our graduates have returned to OLL as teachers and administrators, and they send their own children to school here. This legacy – and their strong commitment as benefactors – is a beautiful aspect of our culture. We operate as a community, not as a bureaucracy, and that translates into student achievement and success. During the years when students are in grades 9-12 and going through a time of tremendous growth, we’re creating a person from the inside out.”
Our Lady of Lourdes fosters important partnerships among administrators, teachers, students and parents to allow 9th through 12th grade students to reach their goals and prepare for their future in college, in careers and in life. Currently, nearly 750 students attend from all backgrounds and more than 9,000 alumni have graduated from the school since its founding in 1958. OLL is accredited by The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. For more information, to attend an upcoming Open House, or to register for enrollment, please visit https://www.ollchs.org/ or call (845) 463-0400.
Our Lady of Lourdes High School
131 Boardman Road
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603
Phone: (845) 463-0400