There are still die-hard advocates for throwing kids in the deep end to teach them how to swim. But representatives from the Archdiocese of Portland’s Catholic high schools, many of them schools boasting the word “prep” or “preparation” in their title or mission, say their results show that kids do better with nurturing and, well, preparation.
Peter Johnson, director of college advising at Jesuit High School in Portland, says any school that is concerned about the whole person provides their students with quality support for that time when their graduates will be in the deep end, negotiating their college career. The preparation and support they receive in high school is critical to their success.
“Jesuit graduates go to college having been in a place of care, where they’ve been guided through the process,” he says.
About 39 percent of Jesuit’s graduates choose Catholic colleges — and 27 percent choose Jesuit colleges. “We’re educating the whole person,” says Johnson. “They see going to a Catholic university as an important continuation of the journey.”
He’s pleased that an increasing percentage of Jesuit graduates are choosing the University of Portland.
Andrew Kuffner, principal of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory in Milwaukie, explains “prep” shouldn’t be understood to mean solely academic preparation. “At La Salle, we want to help our students look beyond themselves to see others, to help them become men and women of faith and character,” he says. “Prep school on that level doesn’t mean exclusively preparation for college — it’s keeping their opportunities open in an environment that doesn’t just prepare them academically but also socially and spiritually. It invites them to look at the world through eyes oriented towards Catholic social teachings.”
Inga Mannion, college and career counselor at Blanchet Catholic School in Salem, says a confluence between Catholic values and resources allows Catholic high schools to better prepare students for college. The large public schools, she says, don’t have the resources to be as attentive in their academic counseling.
About 99 percent of Jesuit’s grads go to college, a ratio similar to Blanchet and other Catholic high schools. The school representatives say that’s in part because students, who come from families who already are part of the “college culture,” then find themselves immersed in yet more of that college culture that takes going to college as a given.
The schools help in a variety of ways, helping students research the colleges that would be right for them, pushing them to tour college campuses, and even offering courses on personal finance at college and how to navigate the challenges, temptations and rewards of being your own boss.
The Catholic schools’ results are far different than Oregon schools overall. Only 61 percent of Oregon high school grads go to college, according to 2011 figures from the National Student Clearinghouse.
College admission counselors know the Catholic schools are a good bet. Mannion says they come to Blanchet because they know the small school’s reputation.
Kuffner says college admissions counselors have become more sophisticated, knowing, for instance, that a 3.5 grade point average means more at La Salle than it might elsewhere.
Mannion, however, returns to the Catholic character of Blanchet, and how that helps students. Because Blanchet is relatively small, there’s plenty of opportunity for faith leadership.
Community service, religious education and Mass are for everyone, but seniors have the option of coming to school early to help with faith formation classes.
“It makes a difference,” she says. “Our students can’t help but be well rounded.”