James Poling, an eighth grader at Valley Catholic at the time, addresses contestants and judges at the 2005 Valley Catholic Speech Tournament. Such contests are one way Catholic grade schools and high schools collaborate and cooperate in the formation of students. (Catholic Sentinel archives)
James Poling, an eighth grader at Valley Catholic at the time, addresses contestants and judges at the 2005 Valley Catholic Speech Tournament. Such contests are one way Catholic grade schools and high schools collaborate and cooperate in the formation of students. (Catholic Sentinel archives)

Think of your neighborhood parish school, the Catholic high school across town and the University of Portland as three separate entities?

That is true on some levels, but the communication and cooperation among Catholic schools on all levels may be surprising.

For example, Holy Trinity School in Beaverton and nearby Jesuit High School collaborate in many ways, said Ashley Sheridan, principal of Holy Trinity. The Jesuit band teacher comes to work with the Holy Trinity players. At one Holy Trinity concert, an ensemble of Jesuit student musicians showed up to join their younger counterparts for a few numbers.

Jesuit offers free or low-cost online math courses to Catholic grade schoolers.

Jesuit sends invitations to their open house and personal invitations to plays. Jesuit staff and students come to Holy Trinity every year to talk to students and parents about high school. When Holy Trinity holds its jogathon fundraiser, Jesuit sends sweatshirts and other gear to use as incentives and prizes.

Jesuit sends some of its brightest students to serve as tutors at Catholic grade schools. Jesuit also has offered IT help to St. Andrew Nativity School and St. Ignatius School.

When Holy Trinity needed a speaker on internet safety for young people, Jesuit had a name.

“I think the Catholic high schools are fabulous to work with,” said Sheridan, herself a graduate of St. Pius X School and St. Mary’s Academy.

When it comes to high school admissions, grade school principals and eighth grade teachers cooperate heavily, writing letters of recommendation and letting high schools know how individual students learn best. 

Paul O’Malley, longtime director of admissions at Central Catholic High School in Southeast Portland calls Catholic grade schools “the heart and soul” of Catholic high schools.

“It really is a symbiotic relationship,” O’Malley said. “We are all here to serve the Catholic kids of our community and we want to give what they need. All of us get along really really well.”

Central Catholic communicates steadily with grade schools to let seventh- and eighth-graders know what is possible in high school and what to expect in areas like curriculum, social life, sports and the arts.

Central Catholic invites middle school teachers for a day of dialogue each year in which high school officials explain requirements and deadlines, but also listen to what students need these days.

Central Catholic plans to resume its annual math tournament, which gave Catholic junior high students a taste of high school curriculum. The Central Catholic Constitution team — a law debate group — has connections to a fledgling team at All Saints School in Northeast Portland.

Valley Catholic in Beaverton hosts an annual speech tournament for Catholic grade schoolers. St. Mary’s Academy has run a sought-after program in which grade school girls come to campus to learn science.

All the high schools host Catholic Youth Organization sports in the gyms and on their tracks. 

Meanwhile, there is cooperation between high schools and colleges, too.

Shayla Brown, director of admissions at Blanchet School in Salem, makes an effort to get Catholic college representatives on campus to speak with students. Catholic colleges are popular with Blanchet students, Brown said.

La Salle Prep in Milwaukie also makes special efforts to have Catholic colleges visit campus. Jesuit-run Seattle University waives application fees for Catholic high school students and colleges in the LaSallian tradition offer La Salle students special scholarships. 

“We have a number of kids who prefer Catholic colleges and parents certainly do,” said Nancy Orr, a college counselor at La Salle Prep.

From the point of view of Catholic colleges, students from Catholic high schools often are a good fit, said Jason McDonald, dean of admissions at University of Portland. That makes collaboration a win-win.

“They tend to come with a similar mission to U.P.’s,” McDonald said. “They understand education in the classroom and outside the classroom — service and being ethical leaders.”

U.P. regularly brings in dozens of Catholic high school counselors from around the nation to give updates on what is happening at the North Portland school.

For local Catholic high school students, U.P. runs information nights on financial aid, no matter what college the student is interested in. It’s more of a service than a recruiting tool, said McDonald.

Amid the collaboration, McDonald and officials at local Catholic high schools have observed an increase of local students choosing U.P. 

edl@catholicsentinel.org