The Value of Faith-Based Education

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?

Religious teaching

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.

 

Strong academics

While faith-based schools must find time for religion as well as core curriculum subjects, according to the National Center for Education Statistics their students consistently score well above the national average in academics. 

Reverend Chuck L. Betters, school board chairman for Red Lion Christian Academy, Tall Oaks Classical School and Glasgow Christian Academy in New Castle County, DE, notes that “students at Red Lion can tailor their programs to be academically rigorous by taking AP and Honors classes. Tall Oaks Classical School produces students who score very high on the SATs.”

Rahman reports that Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy’s eighth-grade graduates from June 2014 “scored in the upper 20 percent of children taking the PSSA tests.” 

At Germantown Friends, says Weeks, “Students are consistently high performers by standard measures of academic achievement, even though the school’s program is not expressly designed to prepare students for these tests.”

Teamwork

Education continues outside the classroom as well. The number and strength of sports teams and extracurricular activities often relates to a school’s size, but they measure success by teamwork, rather than team wins.

 “Athletics are just one other way that we teach our children how to use their bodies in space and time with other people in a collaborative effort, perhaps one of the best skills to have as we move forward as a world,” says Weeks.    

Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids. 

Categories: Early Education, Elementary Education, Secondary Education