This article was originally published in the Hawaii Catholic Herald on 8/10/2017.
By Deborah Manog, Hawaii Catholic Schools
There are 24 elementary/secondary Catholic schools in Hawaii. About 75 percent of these schools are smaller, parish schools that serve students up to the eighth grade. After middle school, many of these students move on to enroll in the larger Catholic high schools.
Although the decision to enroll a young child in a Catholic school early on belongs to the parents, wanting to continue Catholic education for high school is a choice that many students want for themselves.
“I believe my parents chose to send me to a Catholic school because they wanted me to have the best educational environment they could possible give me,” said Ma. Magdalaine Anjeleigh Rabino Dela Cruz, who on Maui attended both Christ the King Child Development Center and St. Anthony Grade School.
Although a Catholic education can be costly, Dela Cruz said that her parents were willing to make certain sacrifices for it because they could see how a Catholic education has shaped her into the young woman that she is today.
“I am not a perfect person, but I know I am a good person, student and daughter,” said Dela Cruz, who was overjoyed when she found out that she would be able to return to St. Anthony School as a freshman beginning her high school career.
Growing in faith
Yokiko Techuo attended public school for most of her youth but once she enrolled in St. John the Baptist Catholic School at grade six, she knew that she wanted to continue her studies at a Catholic high school. Although she had attended Sunday school, learning about God and praying together in classes daily was something very new to her, but also very comforting.
“I wanted to continue building my faith and learning about God, 24-7,” Techuo said.
Techuo lives in a low-income public housing in Kalihi where she witnesses things such as young teenagers involved with drugs. She believes that attending a Catholic high school will help her to rise above the stereotypes and stigma that are associated with her neighborhood.
Techuo was worried that her family would be unable to afford a Catholic school education but earned a spot as a PWH Scholar, which grants her a full-tuition scholarship that can be renewed every year and is distributed through the Augustine Educational Foundation. She is especially thankful to Principal Carol Chong for her persistence in making sure that she completed her scholarship essay.
Having three older brothers, being the only child in her family to attend a Catholic high school makes her feel even more grateful for the PWH Scholarship, her family and the entire school community at St. John. She is excited to start at Sacred Hearts Academy in Kaimuki this fall.
Caitlin Idica attended Catholic schools since she was a preschooler and she would not have it any other way. She says that at St. Elizabeth School in Aiea, the students learn to integrate religious values into everything they do.
“For example, in a science class we learn about nature but we also relate it to being a student of creation and loving all that God has created; or say, civics, when talking about social issues, we are asked to think about what we would do as Catholics in certain situations,” Idica explained.
Transitioning from a small school with only 16 in her graduating class, to a much larger high school can be quite intimidating, which is one of the reasons that Idica chose to attend Maryknoll High School. She believes Maryknoll can offer the same feeling of camaraderie as St. Elizabeth School and hopes to get a headstart on her future career by participating Maryknoll’s MX Scholar programs.
Also attending Maryknoll School this fall is Idica’s her former St. Elizabeth classmate, Andrew Onato. For him, the MX Scholar programs and smaller class sizes easily placed Maryknoll to the top of his list of potential high schools and its religious affiliation was the icing on the cake. He does not want his religious education to come to a halt when he graduates from his Catholic elementary school.
“St. Elizabeth School has created such a strong religious foundation for me, so I don’t want to just give it all up and stop here,” Onato said. “I want my faith to grow more and more in the future rather than just stay stagnant.”
Safe community environment
Rachel Kim recalls a negative experience attending a public school and being teased and treated unfairly because of her skin color. She also remembers the complete contrast in how welcoming the students and staff were when she attended Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Pearl City.
“OLGC, it’s a family. They treat me like I’m their daughter or sibling. I love it here,” Kim said.
She knew there was a special connection from the get-go and says that she felt that same way when she was greeted by the faculty at Saint Francis School in Manoa, where she will begin her high school career.
“I feel like it was the right choice and I’m looking forward to making new friends and having a close relationship with the school like how I have here (at Our Lady of Good Counsel) with the teachers, faculty and staff,” Kim said.
Community in Catholic schools has also played a role in developing stewardship in students like Kendall Ramelb of St. Anthony School in Kalihi who will be attending Damien Memorial School.
“What separates Catholic schools is how they teach us Catholic values and how to live them in our daily lives,” Ramelb said.
St. Anthony taught him the importance of making community service a part of his life.
“They’d bring us to homeless shelters and we feed the people and perform for them, bring joy to their lives as a small part of what we could do to help out in the community,” Ramelb said.
Held to high standards
Jayden Francisco, a St. Elizabeth School alumnus, says that had it not been for the high academic standards at Catholic schools, he may not have graduated on time. He returned to Hawaii with his family after living in Los Angeles for a few years and found himself unmotivated. However, with the encouragement of the school and his family, he finally “woke up” and wanted to work up to his potential.
Catholic school teachers are “harder on you and hold you to a higher standard, especially in the upper grade levels,” Francisco said. His teachers made sure he had earned every high score that he received while he worked diligently to improve his grades. He will attend Saint Francis School.
For Vinson De Guzman, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to attend a Catholic high school. Going to St. Elizabeth School for the past nine years, he was very pleased with the compassion and kindness of his schoolmates.
“We learn to understand right from wrong, how to make good choices and to think to ourselves, ‘what would Jesus do?’” De Guzman said of the values instilled in students at Catholic schools.
De Guzman wanted to attend Saint Louis School after meeting students from there who were mature and respectful. He hopes that there, he will be able to continue growing in character.