Students graduating from Catholic high schools will be ready for the challenges they face in college. (Photo illustration by Mick Welsh/CATHOLIC SUN)
Students graduating from Catholic high schools will be ready for the challenges they face in college. (Photo illustration by Mick Welsh/CATHOLIC SUN)

Nearly 1,100 students are expected to graduate from the six local Catholic high schools this month. They will do so wholly prepared for higher education, grounded in their Catholic faith and instilled with a desire to serve their community.

“I believe our schools are ‘Catholic’ first,” said MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix.

“Our schools provide a rich Catholic culture and environment which fosters the student’s learning in their faith and academics, as well as offering the student a wide range of service activities and co-curricular offerings such as athletics, drama, student council, retreats, and clubs,” she said.

Administrators agreed.

“In a nutshell, it’s the environment, the expectations and the teachers,” said David Sorkin, assistant principal at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler.

Local Catholic school graduates tend to leave with two to 10 credits above the state requirement. Carol Caruso, college counselor and chair of the counseling department at Bourgade Catholic High School, pointed to the partnership between the schools and the parents.

She noted that peers and faculty members also encourage students to do their best and to strive for the best higher education that they can attain.

“Not going to college would not be acceptable,” said Andrea Gonzalez, a Bourgade student.

She is among the 60 percent of her peers who are first-generation college-bound students in their families. Gonzalez plans to use college, and possibly graduate-level work in clinical psychology, as a stepping stool to becoming more successful.

Classmate Jake Lambros, a life-long Catholic school student, has a similar mindset.

“I kept thinking about a degree and what a college degree does for you in terms of job offers,” said Lambros, who plans to study business administration. “I want to be able to have a stable, successful job.”

Catholic school seniors are also encouraged to take ownership of their futures. The “College 101” class at Bourgade even goes as far as teaching students how to do laundry and grocery shop for the best deals.

Brophy College Preparatory upholds its commitments to forming students for that next step through their “Graduate at Graduation” or “Grad at grad” profile. Administrators expect graduates to be intellectually competent, religious, loving, committed to doing justice and open to growth.

St. Mary’s High School operates with a similar mindset, providing not just information to pass a test, but formation to know and love the truth.

“Students graduating from St. Mary’s High School are prepared for college through our commitment to virtue formation, ensuring the discipline necessary to excel in all aspects of academic and professional life,” a statement from school administration said.

Some 99 percent of local Catholic school graduates pursue higher education.

Michael Fernandez, a 2008 alum of Notre Dame Preparatory, earned a degree in International Marketing and Global Business from the University of Arizona May 10. He went there on full scholarship and recently told his father that the years of tough finances and long commutes to his Catholic high school were completely worthwhile. Fernandez insisted his father track down his high school counselor to say “thank you.”

Notre Dame recognized 42 seniors for success in the Summa Cum Laude and Honors programs. That meant students upheld high grade point averages — 3.75 and 3.5 respectively — in at least 13 advanced placement and honors courses.

Xavier College Preparatory offers an advanced level of science and math classes for seniors, which gives them a foretaste of college. More than 185 of Xavier graduates already earned an average of 30 hours of college credit.

Sr. Joanie Nuckols, BVM, vice principal for academics at Xavier, can easily list the top 12 reasons Catholic school graduates are prepared for college. Right after the rigorous academic requirements came a focus on the written word.

“Writing across the curriculum prepares the students for critical expression and interpretation in every academic discipline which requires specific skills,” Sr. Joanie said.

Local Catholic high schools routinely produce competitors and winners in the National Merit Scholarship contest. Graduates also leave with thousands, if not millions of dollars in merit-based scholarship offers from schools.

Offers are still coming in, but in late April, local Catholic schools reported $7 million to $17.4 million in scholarship offers to various universities.