A Catholic education is an advantage for life. There is abundant research to uphold the validity of this statement as well as the informal opinions of parents and graduates of Catholic schools. Catholics schools do an excellent job of educating students of all ages. They offer an impressive balance of faith formation and academics. I have not always thought this way. As a very young woman, I was certain that any children I might have would not attend Catholic school and if I had daughters they would not attend an all-girls’ high school as I had. But it’s interesting what happens when we grow up and have children, isn’t it? Each of my five children attended Catholic schools for most of their education, and my three daughters enthusiastically attended an all-girls’ Catholic school from seventh grade through high school. What is it that draws parents to Catholic schools? After all, they can be expensive, they often require driving out of the familiar neighborhood, and they expect a high level of parental involvement. Family tradition may have something to do with the decision to commit to Catholic education. Certainly, for my family, it was the familiarity of the Catholic education system in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that drew us in. My husband and I had attended Catholic schools through high school, and I graduated from a Catholic college. While we both have the typical “I survived Catholic school” stories, we also treasure many of our experiences. We remember the smell of incense at special liturgies; the prayers of the Mass (in those days in Latin) that roll off our tongues today; even trying to stifle giggles when we were in the church with our classmates. Overall, there was something special in the experience that we hoped our children would share. Ultimately, we wanted help in passing on the faith and that’s why we sought the help through the schools. And while tradition is special, there is even more to be said for the knowledge that many of the spiritual and moral values taught in the home will be reinforced in the Catholic school classroom.In fact, formation in the faith is not just a subject for religion class. Literature, art, history, biology, economics and even math are taught in such a way as to acknowledge the partnership of God with humanity in the creation of all that is good for society. Sacramental preparation offers a foundation and group experience that stays with a child for life. I am sure that many of us can look at our first Communion or confirmation class picture of long ago and remember the sense of community we shared.Indeed, while recently interviewing parents of students at Villanova Preparatory School in Ojai, the theme of community emerged as a motivator for choosing a Catholic high school. Villanova is a spectacular campus nestled in the heart of Ojai, an oasis of peace, but it is not the beauty that seems to draw people to it. Rather, it is the sense that once at Villanova you are part of a closeknit group. Dave Borchard, a Villanova parent, saw the merit of the college prep and honors program at his local public high school, but in the end his children chose Villanova due to this sense of community.April Beuder, principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach, is guiding her school toward being an Inclusive Learning Community where “faith and reason meet” and where “children of all abilities and learning styles experience spiritual and academic growth in a Catholic School setting.” She refers to her school as “a hidden gem” and “a small, gentle Catholic school that reflects California today.” Her excitement over the opening of a new pre-school this year and what it offers the community is inspiring.In my own family, I watch my young grandsons sing in the choir at St. Mark School in Venice and see the teachers and parents of the children working together forming bonds and friendships — and I know something positive is happening. Volunteers at Dolores Mission School in Boyle Heights, Verbum Dei High School in Watts, and Immaculate Conception School near the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles share success stories that warm the heart and many individuals and foundations donate funds to insure academic and sports programs flourish. Ours is an amazing system that educates, nurtures and influences for the common good. And while Catholic schools may not be for every student, those who choose a Catholic education are usually glad they did. Anne Hansen is a member of the Camarillo Catholic community. Her e-mail address is [email protected].{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0201/familytime/{/gallery}