The Value of Faith-Based Education
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About 87 percent of private school students in the United States attend a faith-based program, according to a recent study by the Council for American Private Education. What factors make religious schools an appealing education option for families?
The amount of time spent on religion classes varies by school, and most schools have some students who practice a different faith at home.
At St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, students must take religion classes all four years, but school chaplain Father Stephen Surovick says, “If you aren’t Catholic, you are going to be nurtured and challenged and developed even within your own faith.”
“Quakerism pervades our entire community,” says Dana Weeks, head of school at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, “but we don’t have specific time in our curriculum that’s devoted to our religion or religious instruction.” Instead of direct religious instruction, students attend Meeting for Worship — a deeply rooted Quaker practice of communal, silent worship — once a week.
Alice and Joshua Plotkin aren’t particularly religious, but they enrolled their son Linus Chen-Plotkin, age 7, in Germantown Friends. Their decision, they say, was based on the strength of the school’s academics and arts, with the Quaker philosophy as an added bonus.
“There is something special about having a place for reflection, quiet and thinking about our place in the wider world,” Alice says.
Students at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, NJ, spend about half of each school day in general studies and half in Judaic studies, says Emily Cook, principal and acting head of school. “Beyond classroom learning, they graduate with a strong sense of self, not only as an individual, but as a Jewish individual,” she adds.
At Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy in Philadelphia, students have 45 minutes of Islamic studies, 45 minutes of Arabic language instruction — including memorization of the Quran — and prayers twice each day, says principal Abdur Rahman.
A moral foundation
Beyond teaching their faith, religious schools strive to instill universal morals and values into their students.
It’s about educating the whole person, insists Surovik: “We want to develop not only their minds but their hearts and souls as well, to give them the tools to navigate life well.”
Heidi Chhabria wanted her children Zachary, 10, Darby, 8, and Ava, 4, to have a strong academic education but also learn about their Jewish heritage, which led her to Kellman Brown Academy. “My kids are so proud of who they are,” says the Cherry Hill, NJ, mom.
See page 2 for info on academic and extracurriculars.