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Parochial school has its rewards

At the Parent Orientation evening each new school year, the faculty of Tampa Catholic High School lay out their expectations for a new crop of college-bound pilgrims. Crucial to this introduction is a restatement of their dedication to the art of education.

Parochial education and its teachers allow the focus to reside in a holistic education, customized to a smaller-sized student body. Engineering and driving this mechanism is a faculty motivated not by salary, but by devotion.

Linda Flowers, curriculum coordinator and a 20-year teacher, defines her focus as a desire "to open the doors of experience, knowledge and opportunity" for her students and to "empower them to survive and thrive in an often hostile world."

Tampa Catholic presents its curriculum from a whole language approach. It also is working to better its cross-curricular efforts. Students are provided with the connecting threads that change education from a body of subjects to be learned, to a power to be possessed.

Flowers explained, "I am allowed to be a force for moral good in my students' lives." Tampa Catholic students are provided with the unique aspect of any parochial education, "an emphasis on ethics and values," she said.

Overpowered by its public school neighbors, Tampa Catholic has only 570 students. This inhibits involvement in areas such as team sports but brings with it payoffs on a personal level. The 1992-93 freshman class has 153 students. By the time these "baby crusaders" graduate, they will come to know each other very well.

There are benefits for the faculty, too. A smaller student body is easier to transport to special events, to supervise during all-school activities and provides for a much more personal relationship. Commencement exercises take on a new meaning when there is an emotional investment in each graduate. This investment is not just on behalf of the teachers, but the students and parents as well.

A private or parochial education is a major investment for any parent, regardless of economic background. It is also an investment on behalf of the educators. The parochial school teacher literally puts his or her money where their mouth is. It is common knowledge that parochial school teachers draw a lower salary than their public school peers. But it is a sacrifice they are willing to make.

Kevin Yarnell, who has taught at Tampa Catholic for 10 years, spotlights the administration as the primary reason why he enjoys teaching at the school. "When I interviewed for the position, they made it clear it was me they wanted, not my certificate. They were more interested in the caliber and quality of me as an individual than whether I could teach physics and math and computers," he said.

Yarnell said that having the strong support of administration also benefits the students. "In public schools you have to be careful not to rock the boat. If we come up with an innovative idea, customized to our needs and that has merit, they'll (the administration) let us do it," he said.

Most of the current faculty at Tampa Catholic have taught in public school at one time or another. They are personally aware of the salary sacrifice made to teach in a parochial school but agree with Flowers when she says, "money has . . . been an extraneous consideration. I would choose to teach (here) whatever the salary."

Parents in Florida face a difficult decision when it comes to the education of their children. The concept of holistic education vies with the diversity of program a state education may offer. But for those parents who have, more recently, offered to pay more to obtain a quality education for their sons and daughters, private and parochial schooling is a strong assurance their children will have a chance at a better quality life.

Malia Kapono teaches English and American literature at Tampa Catholic High School and is adviser to the student newspaper, Taliesyn. She has been at Tampa Catholic for two years.