Philadelphia’s High School Selection Process: Why Catholic Schools?


Across the Greater Philadelphia region, thousands of parents are facing one of their most important decisions.  Their minds are filled with questions:  Where will he/she attend high school next year?  Will the school be safe?  Are there enough teachers? Are the AP and Honors classes funded? What are the test scores?  This year, finding answers to these questions and making well-informed decisions will be more difficult than ever before.  As we all know, the School District of Philadelphia is in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis.  As a direct result of recent cuts, students and their parents are, on their own, trying to research alternatives and find a quality high school placement.  Clearly, the time has come for most Philadelphia families to consider non-public school alternatives.  For many, the question has become: How can you NOT afford to send your child to a Catholic High School? 

In most School District of Philadelphia schools, 8th graders will be applying to high schools without the help of full-time guidance counselors, who usually lead the process.  Think about that for a moment.  Middle school students do not have access to full-time counselors while trying to navigate the complicated and complex high school application process. Confused and overwhelmed 8th grade students cannot bounce their thoughts and impressions off the person, historically, charged with that responsibility.  The district has determined that assistance with high school selection is not a priority.  


How are students supposed to meaningfully compare and contrast the various programs and offerings of the competing public, charter and Catholic high schools?  In the past, the district provided each 8th grade student with a high school directory.  The student could take the directory home and review the offerings with their parents, grandparents and other concerned adults.  Unfortunately, budget cuts have eliminated this crucial part of the high school selection process.   For the first time in recent memory, the District will not print a high school directory; it will be available only online.  

Think about the families in your neighborhood.  Think about the kids whose parents work two jobs.  Think about the kids whose parents have alcohol and/or chemical dependency issues.  Think about the families in public housing.  What percentage has access to the internet in the home?  How many have printers in the home?  The decisions to eliminate guidance counselors and discontinue printing the high school directory, arguably, discriminate against low-income families.  Middle and upper class families will be able to easily access the information.  Poor families will be at a real disadvantage. It gets worse.

The School District of Philadelphia is not holding its annual High School Expo. In the past, the Expo facilitated more informed choices by families and students.  High schools would set up booths so that students and their families can learn about their programs and any requirements for admission. District-run neighborhood high schools, as well as  city-wide special admission schools were represented.  Many charter schools — there are more than 30 high school charter options in the city — were also there.  The District has decided it cannot sponsor the Expo.

However, there will be a High School Fair on November 16, 2013 at Drexel University, underwritten largely by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). Hopefully, this will fill the void to some degree.

It is important to note that the problems are not limited to Philadelphia public schools.  In recent weeks, we have witnessed six (6) students arrested for knocking a staff member unconscious at Upper Darby High School.  Scores of students have experienced health problems as a result of widespread mold in a Cheltenham School District building.  The SAT scores in the Southeast Delco, William Penn and Chester-Upland School Districts are 200-300 points below the national average.  Parents of students in suburban districts face equally difficult choices.

What is a parent to do? How can parents access high-quality, safe educational settings for their children?  

In Philadelphia, if your child is able to gain admission to one of the following “magnet” school programs, he/she will be in a competitive, relatively safe college preparatory program.  

Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School

Central High School

Academy at Palumbo

High School of Creative and Performing Arts

Bodine William W High School

Carver High School Engineering & Science

Girard Academic Music Program

Girls High School

Now, an important and, perhaps, questionable assumption is that the quality of the educational programs at these highly regarded schools will not be further diminished by budget cuts.  Keep in mind the libraries – research and independent learning resources – at Masterman and Central, two of Philadelphia’s most prestigious schools have been closed due to budget cutbacks. Ironically, gaining admission to these “magnet” programs is a very competitive process and families typically rely on guidance counselors to lead them through the process.  Now, parents unfamiliar with the process are left to fend for themselves on the internet.  


Why Catholic High School?

When considering Catholic school, parents often ask the question, “Can I afford to send my child?”  As noted earlier, given the state of public education in the Philadelphia region: “How can you not afford it?” The Faith in the Future Foundation and the Archdiocese will work with parents who want what is best for their children and are willing to sacrifice in order to provide it.  

Earlier this week, it was announced that 125 freshmen from across the area have been selected to receive a $2,000 Maguire scholarship award for the 2013-2014 school year.  The Maguire Foundation has committed $5 Million over the next 7 years to support students attending Archdiocesan High Schools.  This is just the most recent example of financial commitments made by supporters of Catholic education in Philadelphia.  The Faith in the Future Foundation has dedicated itself to ensuring that a high-quality Catholic education is accessible to every family that wants the best for their children. 

Catholic schools provide a school culture and an identity that is spiritually-based.  Given the turmoil, dysfunction and violence prevailing in many traditional public high schools, there is a strong desire among many parents bring God into the schools.. The atmosphere in a Catholic school provides experiences and opportunities for youngsters to know that God is a very real presence in life. 


Over the past few years, 100% of the persistently dangerous schools in Pennsylvania were School District of Philadelphia schools. Conversely, Philadelphia Catholic Schools instill a sense of personal responsibility. Catholic schools look beyond the curricular areas to remind children that they are responsible. Discipline is synonymous with respect and responsibility.  Students are taught to be responsible for their own actions. In a spirit of justice and charity, youngsters are encouraged to respect themselves and their neighbor. In simple terms, the children are taught to be kind. Today’s codes of discipline are codes of expectations. 

Philadelphia’s Catholic schools contribute greatly to the well-being of our city. They provide anchors to neighborhoods by encouraging service to others. They help students assume a sense of civic responsibility; they encourage a thirst for justice and for peace.

Catholic schools respond to the needs of our society by affording a means for families to live and practice the gospel message and to follow the social teachings of the Church. 

More than ever, Philadelphia’s Catholic High Schools are an accessible high-quality alternative to the struggling public school systems in the region.  The vast majority of Catholic school graduates, pursue higher education. Catholic School graduates are often accepted into the most competitive and prestigious colleges. Students are expected to accept responsibility for their actions, to respect others and to make good decisions in the context of their faith experience.

The goal of a Catholic education is to help children mature into Christ-like people. Students are encouraged to recognize the presence of Christ in themselves and others. The religious formation of children begun at home is continued in Catholic school. Reverence for the human dignity of every person comes from recognizing Christ in self and others. More than “Drug-free zones” or “Gun-free zones,” Catholic schools strive to be “Christ-centered zones.”

Catholic school teachers expect every student to achieve. Parents are a child’s first teachers. At Catholic schools, parents take an active role in their children’s education. The school supports families and works with them for the benefit of children.

For more information about Catholic High Schools as well as scholarship and financial aid information, please contact:

Delgreco K. Wilson

Educational Consultant

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