Special Reports

February 28, 2013

Faith-based schools right option for many families

For parents of school-age children in the Wichita area, public schools are not their only option.

For parents of school-age children in the Wichita area, public schools are not their only option.

The Wichita area includes a wide variety of private, faith-based institutions where prayer is as much a part of daily life as homework.

The largest of these institutions is the Catholic Diocese of Wichita’s school system, which serves nearly 11,000 students. It is the ninth-largest school system in the state.

Kapaun Mount Carmel High School in east Wichita and its west-side partner, Bishop Carroll, compete in the Greater Wichita Athletic League and offer the same classes as most public high schools. The difference, said Kapaun president Mike Burrus, lies in its faith-based curriculum.

“We feel very confident presenting a Catholic point of view to our students,” Burrus said. “We feel that that faith will help our alums make solid decisions not only now, not only in college, but for the rest of their lives.”

Maddie Razook, a senior at Kapaun, said she enjoys attending the school because it has helped her develop her skills in preparation for a theater career.

“It’s a very positive environment,” Razook said. “We have so many things that you can get involved in that can prepare you for whatever you want to do after high school.”

Four of the diocese’s elementary schools received the 2012 Governor’s Achievement Award for Education Excellence: St. Patrick Catholic School in Kingman, St. Joseph Catholic School in Conway Springs, Holy Name Catholic School in Coffeyville and Holy Spirit Catholic School in Goddard. The award is given to schools that score in the top 5 percent in state reading and math assessments.

‘Mix together’

Since 1993, Wichita’s Islamic community has operated its own private elementary and junior high school, Annoor Islamic School, at 6655 E. 31st St.

In August, the school expanded to a new building, complete with a Smart Board in every classroom. Mahmoud Al-Hihi, principal of Annoor, said it prides itself on its academic rigor and lack of discipline problems.

“We want them to be positive, sincere, hard working, honest and task-oriented,” Al-Hihi said. “We don’t tolerate any behavioral problems.”

Since Al-Hihi took over as principal two years ago, the school has made strides in academic performance and professionalism, receiving the Governor’s Achievement Award in 2010. Of the school’s approximately 160 students, more than 75 percent achieved exemplary marks on state math, reading and science assessments last school year.

And students seem to enjoy learning at Annoor.

“You don’t have to deal with the problems of public school, like bullying,” said eighth-grader Abdul-Rahman Jesri, who has applied to East High School’s International Baccalaureate program for the next school year. “If you have problems, you’re not afraid to express them. You don’t get made fun of here.”

The school is open to students of all faiths and backgrounds and has a strict anti-discrimination policy, school officials say. Every day, students spend time learning about the Islamic faith, and that is what unites the school, said Rabiul Karim, vice president and secretary of the school’s Board of Trustees.

“We have 30-plus countries represented here who work and thrive together,” Karim said.

“We play badminton and cricket indoors every day. It’s like a little salad bowl – we all mix together and find a kind of harmony.”

A new school

In August, Christ the Savior Academy – Wichita’s first Orthodox Christian school – opened at St. George Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th St.

The church has had an educational wing for more than 16 years, yet it had remained unoccupied until a committee started planning for a new school in 2009. The school, which serves about 20 students, supplements its classical curriculum with violin lessons from a young age.

Jennifer Sebits, president of the Board of Trustees for the school, said its curriculum revolves around the classics.

“Anything by Justin Bieber is probably not going to be taught at Christ the Savior,” she said.

She said about 25 percent of the school’s population is not Orthodox, but the curriculum incorporates Orthodoxy into its teaching.

“How do you talk about science without talking about God? How do you talk about literature without talking about God?” she said. “We’re Orthodox Christians through and through.”

Ze Bernardinello sends her bilingual daughter, Pilar, to Christ the Savior because of its rigorous curriculum. Pilar, a first-grader who speaks both Italian and English, had attended Wichita Collegiate before coming to Christ the Savior.

“The classical curriculum really matched the European schools,” Bernardinello said. “The methods of teaching made a lot of sense to us.”

The school, which offers classes for students up to second grade, plans on expanding one grade per year, Sebits said.

Bernardinello said that, if nothing else, parents should at least consider all of their options when it comes to private schooling.

“Nowadays people have lots of options – public schools, private schools, even home schools,” Bernardinello said. “I encourage them to find what works best with their family and for their child.”

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