Home Education and Careers It’s not what’s in the books, it’s what’s inside the people —...

It’s not what’s in the books, it’s what’s inside the people — A principal’s perspective on the importance of Catholic education

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Parents, who want a faith-based education for their children, commit to putting their money where their values are when they enroll their children in Catholic schools.

However, the cost of Catholic education sometimes forces parents to take their child out of school “because of financial reasons,” Debra Traum, principal of St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Salisbury, Md., said recently.

She recalled one such parent who, facing budgeting stress, asked what books were used at the parish school, so the student could be homeschooled with the same texts.

“Books aren’t what makes our school,” Traum said. “What makes our Catholic education different is the dedication of our faculty and staff. We love each other and our pupils. It’s not what’s in the books, it’s what’s inside the people here.”

St. Francis de Sales’ faculty teach every class, not just religion courses, from a Christian perspective, Traum noted. Also, the Eastern Shore school makes a point of incorporating religion in its STREAM philosophy of instruction. All classes incorporate at least two other subjects — science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, math and Spanish — as they relate to the lesson being taught.

Providing children an education in the light of faith has been the mission of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wilmington for more than 150 years but costs keep rising.

To help parents who couldn’t otherwise afford Catholic schools for their children, the Diocese created the Vision for the Future Education Fund in the 1990s. Thanks to interest from the Trust and contributions to the annual Share in the Spirit collection, the Diocese makes Catholic school affordable for families who can’t afford full tuition.

This year’s Share in the Spirit collection is scheduled for parishes in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Sep. 26 and 27. Traum said that this school year, 24 of the 200 students attending St. Francis de Sales will receive tuition help thanks to the Trust and Share in the Spirit. That assistance is crucial, especially in this time of the COVID-19 virus, when many businesses have eliminated jobs and cut salaries due to losses spurred by the pandemic.

Many school parents “had such a tough time this year,” Traum said. The diocesan aid to St. Francis de Sales recipient families will reduce the $6,973 in parish tuition for K through 5th-grade, as well as the $7,123 cost for 6th- through 8th graders.

Traum said that each year when the diocesan grants become available, she lets school parents know through school newsletters. “I remind them and remind them from the middle of December through March.”

There’s an online link to the Vision for the Future Education grant applications that parents or guardians can complete. The principal said the school provides help to Spanish-speaking parents if they need completing the application.

Traum said the school is consulted about whether applicants have extenuating circumstances, such as a change in a family situation or work situation. The teachers aren’t told which student families have received tuition aid, Traum said. Only she and the school’s business manager know who receives diocesan assistance, Traum said. “Those families are always willing to help out,” she said. “They’re very grateful for the help they receive.” St. Francis de Sales Parish also helps some families with tuition costs, Traum said, and a Maryland state program, BOOST, provides assistance for some. In all, about 34% of the school’s students obtain tuition aid from the Diocese, the parish or the state.

In addition to the school’s faculty and staff, Traum praised support “from our parish and our pastor Father Chris LaBarge,” for their enthusiastic school support. “If we have fundraisers, they come out in full support. Father Chris never tells me ‘no,’” she said.

In addition to the St. Francis de Sales community helping the school, the students are called on each year to help their neighbors through service.

Every year groups of St. Francis de Sales 8th-graders help each month at The Joseph House in Salisbury, a charity that serves the poor and homeless administered by the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary. Students also have volunteered at area nursing homes. This school year’s theme in the Diocese of Wilmington is “Called to Serve.” Though the COVID-19 epidemic will affect some practices, students at St. Francis de Sales, and Catholic schools throughout the Diocese, will continue to practice their faith by helping in their communities.

Traum started her service to St. Francis de Sales School 23 years ago as a teacher’s aide. Since then, she has taught science, been assistant principal and now is starting her fourth year as principal.

A convert to Catholicism, Traum and her husband, a small business owner, put their two now-adult children through St. Francis de Sales School. Their daughter is a ballet dancer and their son is an ER doctor in Miami. Traum said she prays for them both, especially because of how their professions have been hit by the Corona pandemic.

Traum recalled that last March, when the pandemic closed schools in the Diocese and across the country, St. Francis de Sales School responded quickly. Students, from 2nd-grade and up, left school on a Friday with Chromebooks they were provided for online classes that started on Monday.

“It was impressive how our Catholic school teachers didn’t even miss a beat” switching from classroom lessons to online ones. “We were very recognized in the community,” Traum said.

School started this semester at St. Francis de Sales on Sept. 8. Most students are back in their classrooms with some opting for online remote learning during the pandemic, Traum said. And the first day, like every St. Francis school day, will begin with a prayer.

Each year more people apply for tuition grants than can be helped. To contribute to the Share in the Spirit collection if you won’t be at your parish on Sept. 26 or 27, go to the Diocese of Wilmington website at www.cdow.org/sharespirit.html.