GUEST - Catholic schools emphasize faith, academics, service

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This week, Assumption and DeSales Catholic Schools will join nearly 7,000 other Catholic schools across the nation to celebrate Catholic Schools' Week.

Walla Walla Catholic Schools does so with a sense of pride as part of an educational success story throughout the years, but even more so in celebration of what we offer to our students, families and community today.

Catholic schools feature rigorous academic programs, elevated graduation rates and higher percentages of students attending college. Over the last 10 years, Walla Walla Catholic Schools is proud of a nearly 100 percent graduation rate and also nearly 100 percent placement into institutions of higher learning.

Furthermore, our students have been highly visible contributors to this community through their individual and group service projects, evidence that we are fostering not only lifelong learners but also outstanding young citizens.

Since its inception in 1864, Walla Walla Catholic Schools has worked to exemplify what we see today as our mission to provide "Education for Life; Where Every Student is Needed and Every Student is Important." Within an ever-changing society, Catholic schools have played an invaluable role in the success of educating our youths and partnering with their parents to form them wholly in body, mind, and spirit.

As times and educational practices have changed, Catholic education has held closely to its consistent mission of celebrating and fostering the unique gifts of each child.

How do we, along with other Catholic Schools, consistently lead our students to experience such high levels of success?

A look no further than to the themes for Catholic Schools' Week will illuminate the culture behind such success stories. The national themes for Catholic Schools' Week are Faith, Academics and Service.

From education of immigrants by missionaries at the turn of the century through today's efforts from mostly laity providing the same core values, these timeless tenets have formed the cornerstone of Catholic education.

Faith in Catholic Schools is most visible through how we embrace the Catholic faith tradition and Christian values. Our students have the opportunity to develop spiritually in school and school activities while being formed morally in social settings, helping them to put their faith into daily action and lay the foundation for lifelong moral behavior.

Part of the Catholic faith tradition includes a firm belief that every child is unique with special gifts, and a guiding principle at Walla Walla Catholic Schools is that every student's gifts are needed and important.

By developing an environment where students are allowed the opportunity to nurture their gifts, we foster a culture in which these gifts are shared for the greater good. This action of faith enkindles hope, which in turn works to strengthen a community where - working together - ordinary individuals accomplish the extraordinary.

Academic rigor has long been a staple of Catholic schools. Walla Walla Catholic Schools' students, along with other Catholic school students across the nation, outperform their peers in a number of academic areas. Our students are expected to work hard in the classroom and consistently return from their first semesters in college reporting a higher level of preparedness than many of their peers.

Under the expert guidance of experienced teachers, our students learn how hard work in the classroom pays off.

Finally, one of the most visible aspects of a Catholic school's presence within a community is the focus on service. While nearly all schools have now started to require some sort of community service program, Catholic schools' long tradition of service is ingrained in the school culture.

From class and club projects, to the prayers offered at weekly Mass and throughout each day, to our seniors committing many hours to individual service projects, considering the needs of others is part of the fabric of our daily routine from pre-school through graduation.

As we begin our celebration of Catholic Schools' Week, we humbly recognize our role in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than school spirit or team pride. Our consistent commitment to faith, academics and service is how we do our part to serve students and families, to contribute to a healthy society, and to touch the future.

John Lesko is president of Walla Walla Catholic Schools and principal of Assumption Catholic School and DeSales Catholic High School.

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