The value of a strong educational foundation cannot be overestimated. For parents looking to provide for their children’s future, there can be no better investment.
Join host and Partner of Confluence Financial Partners, Greg Weimer, as he interviews Gloria Hudock, Father Mike Caridi, and Harmony Stewart — three board members of South Hills Catholic Academy, a new option for Catholic education in the Pittsburgh region. You’ll learn about SHCA’s unique educational model as a financially independent non-profit organization and the need they hope to fulfill in our region. For anyone interested in educational alternatives — or the amazing things that can be accomplished with the right planning — this is an episode you need to hear.
Confluence Financial Partners — A New Model for Private Schools | Episode #12
The value of a strong educational foundation cannot be overestimated. For parents looking to provide for their children’s future, there can be no better investment. Join host and Partner of Confluence Financial Partners, Greg Weimer, as he interviews Gloria Hudock, Father Mike Caridi, and Harmony Stewart — three board members of South Hills Catholic Academy, a new option for Catholic education in the Pittsburgh region. You’ll learn about the accessibility of a private education and how SHCA is filling the opportunity gap in Pittsburgh.
For anyone interested in educational alternatives — or the amazing things that can be accomplished with the right planning — this is an episode you need to hear.
Greg: Catholic schools provide over $24 billion a year in savings for the nation. Imagine that.
(SOURCE: National Catholic Educational Association, 2020)
Greg: This is Greg Weimer from Confluence Financial Partners. Welcome to our podcast. Looking forward to today’s discussion. We’re going to develop three different thoughts. We’re going to talk about the current state of education. We’re going to talk about the real need in lower income communities and the opportunity gap. That would be two. And then three, we’re going to talk about a unique solution that’s coming to the forefront in Pittsburgh, in South Hills Catholic Academy. So they’re the three things we’re going to develop and talk about today. And we’re very fortunate to have with us three guests, and rather than do like a formal introduction thing, I think it’s interesting, because I know all of you a little differently, but I’ve known all of you, you know, different amounts of time also. So, we’ll start with Father Mike Caridi. You and I met, father, when then you were the pastor at St. Louise and then went to St. Anne. And then now it’s what, St. Paul of the Cross, right? Which is St. Anne and St. Winifred’s . So, I always thought highly of you at St. Louise and thought you did great stuff there. So I’m looking forward to you participating in the conversation. And then Gloria Hudock — how do you introduce Gloria? I mean, you experience Gloria! So Gloria makes stuff happen, but her roots and her passion are in education. So Gloria is the one that really got me involved in thinking about education differently. And so Gloria and I and our families have been friends for a long time. And she has a background in education and has been a real force with starting this new school and then Harmony Stewart, I knew of you before I knew you. And you’ve made, I don’t know that I ever told you— So our daughter, Elizabeth, our oldest daughter, she came to St. Anne’s twice to observe, student teach, shadow, whatever the kids do from Duquesne. And I remember her saying, you can’t believe what the principal and Father Mike are doing down there. It’s incredible. And she was all fired up about this experience she had at St. Anne. So then when we met, I said, Oh, we’re starting this new school. It’s really cool. The principal is going to be, and it was like, she’s a rock star! So yeah, so I knew of you. So now Harmony is very involved in school and is going to be, is going to be the principal of the school. So we’re looking forward to that, but let’s back up because it’s a bigger issue than that, right? What we really want to do is talk about education. We can all talk about the future and where the opportunities are, but, you know, at the end of the day, it comes down to education. And so, you three have great experience in education. So, I would just be curious to hear from you, let’s level set. And I think we all agree that there’s great things about education going on right now. I have two teachers as children. I think teachers are heroes, the amount of energy they’re having to display to teach people right now, to teach children, is truly remarkable. So, teachers are great, and a lot of good things are happening, but to be fair, it’s not all perfect. So, let’s all talk about, if you guys could give me your view of the current state of education, what are the, what are the challenges right now in education?
Fr. Mike: Well, I, I would say overall, maybe a foundational or philosophical challenge facing education today, at least from our point of view, being a religious institution, a Christian, a Catholic school would be the fact that our understanding of knowledge, our understanding of truth is based in God. That all knowledge, all truth comes from God and leads somebody back to God. And so, in a Catholic school such as the one that we’re in the process of forming, there is an intentional effort in everyday life, in every aspect of school life to direct the children to God, so that every subject they’re learning, whether it’s mathematics or English or whatever it is these are truths, all that come from God. And so God becomes the ordering source or the harmonizing source of the things they’re learning. I think in, in secular education or public education, there has been an intentional effort to wipe God out. And so you have very well-intentioned teachers and well-intentioned students who want to teach and want to learn, and aren’t teaching certain truths, but that ordering principle, that harmonizing principle of God is lacking.
Greg: Couldn’t agree more, but how has that changed over the last, I don’t know, 20 years?
Fr. Mike: I would say in my experience over the last 20 years, rather radically and rather rapidly, God has been taken out of education. And it’s created a vacuum that has been filled with other things that are actually antithetical to God. And so you have students learning subjects, learning truths that direct them to God, because he’s the source of them. But then you have all this social engineering that is actually anti-God and it creates a dissonance within the students and confusion to the students that they can absorb. And so they retreat, where do they go to the virtual world? And that leads to some of the things you were saying before. We began recording about the increased suicide rates, because there’s such tension within these kids that they’re learning truth, but then they’re being fed all this stuff that is anti-God and they can’t process it. And what makes it even worse? It’s worse for children that come from margins, children that come from poverty, because at least if you’re a kid and you’re gone home to a mom and a dad and a stable family life, that family unit introduces you to God and kind of balances the dissonance you’re experiencing at school. If you’re immersed in poverty, your family’s broken, you don’t even have that to balance the confusion that chaos that they’re being nurtured on in school. And, and it’s, it makes it even worse for them.
Greg: And I hear what you’re saying. You’re not, you’re not saying Catholic. You’re saying, God, you’re not, right? It’s having a faith. So, we digress a second, this is about children, but I also was involved in an organization that is a mission for homeless people. And the first thing they thought, to get better results, they needed them to get attached to a religion.
And once they got attached to a religion, the results improved. And I know you, weren’t saying Catholic, you were saying how they have a faith, but here’s some statistics on Catholic: 99% of students who attend
Catholic high school graduate. Of those, 86% attend a four year college.
(SOURCE: National Catholic Educational Association, 2020)
So, when you think about that, what you’re saying and from your seat, I think, I don’t think anybody wants to be surprised that that came from Father Mike, but it’s also statistically correct, that it helps get outcomes, better outcomes.
Gloria: And there are better outcomes for children that do attend a Catholic school, whether they’re Catholic or not, they embrace something they’re not forced to go to mass— they go to mass, it’s a part of their day and part of their curriculum, but other faiths benefit from a Catholic education also.
Greg: And Father, you were sort of— Harmony, do you have anything to add? You’ve watched, you’ve watched— Have you always been in the Catholic school, did you also have different experiences?
Harmony: I taught in public school as a teacher, and then my administration work has always been in a Catholic school, as a Catholic school principal. It’s just the order. Life is chaotic. The world is chaotic. Our kids leave our doors into chaos. That school day we have is all about order. And that order comes from God. Like Father Mike was saying, you know there’s natural consequences. There’s a higher power than us. And everything we do in the day is ordered towards God. And it’s just, you know, simple things with how we carry ourselves, how we interact with each other in the building, how our teachers present themselves, and you know, how they are able to relate to our students about their lives, and their belief in God. It just, it creates a calm, it creates a very centered— the kids are just, they’re just in a good state, a good state of mind when they’rewith us in, in the Catholic schools, in my opinion.
Fr. Mike: Having that notion of God or that ordering principle intentionally inserted into everyday life. Perhaps, this is just maybe a theory of mine, helps the children to assimilate the truths that the teachers are teaching in their subjects. So the information they’re receiving makes more sense when that ordering that harmonizing principle is present. And maybe that is, that’s what gives birth to the statistics that you just said for us.
Greg: Let’s take this from a little different angle. Because we believe, you know, there, there’s important to have some faith and have, be attached to your religion, and it is part of education. But aside from that, when we think about education, right, when we think about what’s going on in education, whether it’s because of technology, whether it’s because of bureaucracy, right? Whether it’s, let’s talk about those things. Like when you talk about the bureaucracy, it’s interesting how much disagreement there is, whether the children should be going back to school right now or not. And, and, you know, I was mentioning to you guys before we started this podcast that a good client of ours from the west coast sent me an article, and it had, from Brown University, it had, in the study, there were 200,000 students, 63,000 staff members. And the infection rate with students is 0.13% of the students. And it’s only 0.24% of the staff. And for that, and I get how hard it is on teachers, because trying to connect with a mask on is, I watched some of my friends that are teachers, is brutal. But if you follow the statistics, right, the real risk to students being in school, isn’t that great.
Gloria: Today, Dr. Mark Siegel said there were 90,000, over 90,000 cases in one area of North Carolina. 32 came from 32 were in a grade school and elementary school. Kids need to be in school. It’s the safest thing for them.
Greg: And that’s where the client from the west coast. She’s the one that showed me the statistics on how many of them are suffering mental health issues to the extent of actually taking their own lives. So, the crisis right now in health, in the schools, is a mental health issue more than a COVID issue. Why is that? Why is the bureaucracy because I mean, a lot of Catholic schools didn’t close, correct?
Fr. Mike: Correct. Well, I think well I’ll go back to my fundamental point and it might sound repetitive. You know, you keep hearing about let’s, let’s pour more money into it, pour more into it. No amount of money can make up for the abyss created by having a lack of God or forces antithetical to God in a school.
Greg: And you’re not saying it has to be a Catholic school. You’re saying—
Fr. Mike: I’m saying it has to be a school that is, is not anti-God.
Greg: Right, you’re not even saying they have to like be a Catholic school and pray. What you’re saying is you just — but having, being able to have a belief in God in the school shouldn’t be looked down on.
Fr. Mike: Correct.
Greg: So you’re not saying like, you know, they should be promoting, or you’re just saying, if you’re not going to promote you shouldn’t criticize.
Fr. Mike: You shouldn’t promote social engineering that is anti-natural law and anti-God and anti-virtue. That’s my point. Today I was taking—
Greg: Because there is an agenda right now.
Fr. Mike: Well, correct. The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Today, I was taking a walk on the grounds of a high school, public high school. And that school has been on hybrid since COVID meaning the kids, half of the kids go two days a week, half of the other, the other half go the end of the week. But now the teachers are on strike and there aren’t any kids going to school. Right across the street is the Catholic high school in total, full operation, which it has been since the beginning of the academic year. And to me, the contrast couldn’t be clearer there. When you have an organizing principle, it’s easier to organize. And so the church, Catholic schools, faith-based schools, have been able to get their stuff together and organize and present something because of that.
Fr. Mike: First of all, but also because they’re tuition-based schools and they had to figure it out. Because people weren’t going to pay to not send their kids to school. And so there was a financial incentive for faith-based schools, Catholic schools, to figure out a way to make it work.
Greg: And is this new? I ran into this statistic, 30% of Catholic schools have a waiting list for admission. Did you guys know that? I didn’t. I was surprised at that. That’s according to National Catholic Education Association. And it is a new stat, it’s 2020. So, it’s not like it’s dated.
Harmony: I think that’s a COVID stat, which is, I mean, it’s fantastic for those schools, but I think most of the schools in the Pittsburgh area, the Catholic schools all have wait lists. Because when the public schools chose not to come back brick and mortar, couldn’t make decisions, you know, push the school year back. Parents were uncertain of the year, parents work, they need their kids in a building. And a lot of those public school parents knew that the Catholic schools were operating five days a week, in person. With still COVID precautions, kids safe, spreading them out in the classroom, masks required, you know, things like not changing for gym class. So, parents felt comfortable with their kids in Catholic school buildings, but wanted them in person. So they ran, they ran to the Catholic schools, which is fantastic. And hopefully, those Catholic schools are doing something right this year and can keep those kids. Hopefully they had an experience, an experience like the one we’re talking of, and their kids are doing well and, you know, seeing a different side of their children perhaps, and want them to stay for the long term. But we’ll see. Time will tell.
Greg: Yeah. So, another thing that’s going on in the current education, and I’d be curious, your views on this, clearly technology is blossoming. We’re all on zoom meetings all the time. I have an iPad in front of me. If I leave my house without my cell phone, I’m convinced I’m gonna, you know, I don’t know it’s unsafe. It kinda it’s like, I didn’t like to go to the yard without my cell phone. It’s not safe. What happens? So, technology is a big part of our lives. It’s a big part of our kids’ lives. We have to make sure we embrace that. But, and I don’t, and I don’t remember the book, you’ll remind me, it’s— Glow Kids. Do you want to talk about that and how we have to find the balance on technology?
Gloria: Well, technology is healthy, and technology is a good thing, and it has a place in many children are learning today because of technology because their schools are not functional. So, I guess it’s more of a, something is better than nothing. However, their dependence upon technology is the frightening part. It’s bad for them, for their eyesight. There are so many things that they’re exposed to. It’s not controlled. And technology is meant, in my humble opinion, in a school setting, to be an enhancement, not the sole curriculum and not the sole source. So, I think that’s where we have there’s, there’s an issue with it.
Greg: So, technology is important, but less.
Gloria: Less technology, they need to be adept. And the world we live in, they need to have the skills to be able to function, to do spreadsheets, to do whatever they need to do to get it to when they go to, for us, I’m speaking from an elementary perspective, but they need to be ready to go into a high school setting where PowerPoints and all the different things that you do, in the world of technology, you have the skill. And there are certain — seeing the Mona Lisa we can’t take a whole school of kids to see the Mona Lisa, but you certainly have the resource. It’s a resource, it’s a fabulous, wondrous resource, but it is not a main source.
Greg: Your advice to parents watching children from a different perspective, more or less technology at home?
Harmony: Always less.
Greg: Because I remember we were having this conversation in a meeting one time, and we talked about how, by the time the kids get at school, they’re technologied-out. And that’s, that’s when we were talking about, you know, how damaging it is. In fact, some, a lot of the creators of the technology do not allow their children to be using it.
Gloria: Using it, exactly. Well, you know, Greg, you think about the different things the kids experience, we talked about the increased suicide rate. You know, when we were younger, I’m of a certain age, when you’re younger, someone said something mean about you, or wrote a note that was unkind about you—
Greg: We just said, nuh-uh!
Gloria: Exactly! And someone tore it up and threw it away. Now, it lives on. It’s an infinity. I mean, they take pictures, they post things. It goes to, where three people may have seen a nasty note, thousands of people can see it depending on where they post it. And I think our children suffer from that too. There’s no downtime. They are constantly on this social high that they have to meet certain things. They have to look a certain way. Theyhave to take certain picture. And that’s, that’s just not, the mind isn’t meant for that.
Greg:Everything’s perfect on Facebook, right? I mean, so everybody else’s life is perfect. Then you start comparing yourself to this unfair thing called perfect. Like, I get cranky right now. I think everybody I know is in Florida. And I’m like freezing. And, but it’s probably like seven people, but I find myself getting angry at the world because on Facebook, no one takes, no one takes their picture when they’re in, like, you know, I don’t know, Bridgeville. They take their picture when they’re in Naples. Right? So, but kids, kids go through that. And it’s just really hard on kids. I remember my daughter saying in college, she was seeing everybody else having somuch fun. And then she was at a party and her friends, it was boring party. They jump up and they hug each other, take a great picture, then sit back down and getting bored. But everybody else that sees that, sees. So then you start comparing yourself to that.
So, I watched with my granddaughters, we have a four and a two so far, and one on the way. But we have a four and a two year old. And my daughter-in-law, I thought, was a little militant about this whole technology thing. She was like, no iPad! You know, it was like, we were giving them drugs or something. No, iPad. But now I will tell you, she was right. And now that I’m learning more, she was dead right. And I watch like, even when they watch Daniel Tiger, they go into a trance, right? And they’re not, they’re not as creative. And so, she has them doing different things. And so, we’d all think that the great schools have the greatest technology and it feels like great schools know how to use technology as a tool. Not as a vice.
Harmony: Yeah, it drives me crazy when parents say, okay, well, where are you with technology? You know, it’s like, Oh, it’s so impressive if you have all this tech for our kids to be on. Tech is not teaching children. They’re learning nothing. And it’s, they’re learning through human interactions. You should be sending your children to school, not to stare at the latest, fancy tech screen that a school got a grant for and can brag and advertise how tech savvy they are. They should be learning from human interaction, interaction with their peers, interaction with their teachers, interaction with the great books they’re being exposed to, not to the tech.
Greg: And, you know, we’ll transition now to the opportunity gap. And one of the things, when you think about education, there’s a significant, significant gap in the quality of education from school to school. Right? It’s really inconsistent, the results. So right now, you know, we could all talk about whether there’s, you know, how to address, you know, the lower income communities, how to address the opportunity gap. Like how do you address the opportunity gap? Because there is an opportunity gap, and I don’t think the answer is to change results after someone achieved them, it’s making sure everybody has the same opportunity. And so, right now, in some inner cities versus some suburbs, the difference in education is meaningful. And I’m going to put you on the spot, Harmony. I didn’t tell you I was gonna ask you this, don’t tell the end of the story. Don’t tell what happened. This’ll be, we’ll do this. And then at the end, we’ll give the, the grandfather that came in to talk to you… Because the solution is part of what we’re going to talk about next, but the challenge he was having?
Harmony: So yes, I met a grandfather recently with the new academy, who you know, word of mouth, heard about our school, granddaughter, who he helps care for, because his daughter is a single mother who’s a waitress, works a lot of evenings and weekends. So, he helps with the granddaughter who currently is in preschool. She’s looking, they’re looking for a kindergarten program for her — and beyond. They would like her not to be in the city school system. They’re not happy with what they’ve seen from neighbors, friends, you know, whatever pulse points they have on that. They want her in a private school. You know, just calling around, thank God for grandpa, right? I actually got to meet them today and he’s a fantastic man. Anyway, we, he asked me, well, what’s your tuition rate? I’m calling around all the schools, some have them posted on their websites. You guys don’t have your tuition posted. And I said, well, that’s correct.
Greg: We’ll stop there. So yeah. So then we said, no, we’ll share that in a bit because, so here’s what we got. We got, we got cause, cause it’s not just one grandpa, you multiply that. This is our nation. It’s a grandpa trying to find a school for his granddaughter and daughter is working hard.
Harmony: Right, she can’t even look for schools for her own child. She’s just trying to keep it together.
Greg: She’s a waitress or something. She’s a waitress. So, she’s trying to find — that happens everywhere. So right now, her choice is an inner city school.
Greg: And that is going to be a challenge, right? I mean, it hasn’t been a good experience for a lot of the neighbors. So, and when we think about options. So right now, if you live in a suburb, you have a choice: you have a really good Catholic school to go to, or you have a really good public school to go to.
Harmony: Right. Times are tough.
Greg: That’s a good choice. Times are tough. You go into the, you go into the inner city and you’ve got no Catholic school, because that’s where they all closed. Right?
Greg: And you have a public school that most, that they’re not getting the outcomes they should get.
Greg: And so that’s where, help me understand why school choice isn’t happening?
Gloria: I think, I think a compromise for school choice, as opposed to having, having your tax dollars sent directly to the school that you want your child to attend, at least give those families that have chosen a Catholic or private education, a tax credit for the tuition that they’re currently paying to a Catholic school.
Greg: And say, if you make over X, you don’t get it. This isn’t like, say if you make over X, you don’t get it. But for that granddaughter and for that grandfather, they should have the same choices I have. And if you solve for that opportunity gap at that moment, then you wouldn’t fast forward and have CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies, so few of them being minorities. Like so few of them are minorities, it’s frightening. And it’s because of that opportunity gap and the inconsistency of the education. Fair?
Gloria: Absolutely fair.
Greg: So, who’s doing the opportunity with EITC because I think we can help. It is amazing. I’m actually embarrassed that I didn’t know about the EITC a while ago, because the opportunity with EITC is a real, a great chance to help kids. You want to talk about what the EITC is?
Harmony: EITC stands for educational improvement tax credit. It’s a Pennsylvania program. It allows folks basically to divert tax credits, tax money towards non-profits, especially schools, right, non-public schools who are educating their children. It’s a tax credit that and include a personal tax, a business tax, and there’s also various special taxes that our accountants are more privy to than we are. We’re not the accountants in this call, but basically the money becomes a donation to our schools. So, we approach donors, it could be somebody who owns a business, it could be somebody who just is at a certain income level and instead of the money that they would pay in state taxes, the state is allowing them to divert that money to our schools.
Greg: So, someone, if someone pays $10,000 in state taxes, you could give $10,000 to a school, a private school, right? And then you could write off, if you commit to that $10,000 for two years, you can write off 10,000 or I’m sorry, $9,000. There’s a thousand dollars left. And then you write that thousand off your federal, make it up, say it’s 30%. So that $10,000 donation only cost you $700. Because it’s important that we’re hearing the right words. It’s a credit, not a write-off.
Greg: So that’s a 90% credit if you commit for two years. And then the other 10% goes to federal to be written off as a write-off not a credit. So, for every $10,000 you give it only is 700. And then you can look at that grandfather and say, we got it.
Harmony: We got it.
Greg: We got it. So that’s the opportunity and the opportunity gap. And so that’s the solution, as a nation, we need to come together and find. We need to solve for this education. Because I think the extremist, whether — there’s different ways to handle problems, you don’t flip over cop cars, you don’t burn things and you don’t charge the capital! Like for goodness sakes, there’s different ways of solving for this, and I think that’s a reasonable solution. So, let’s go to the solution that we’re talking about today, according to Stewart and Wolf, inner-city Catholic parents believe that participating in the Catholic school community represents an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.
(Stewart, Wolf, et. al, 2009)
So, you know, I think that’s, it’s just interesting, right? If we can, if we can bring a different type of education to those children in the inner city, we can really, we can, we can break that cycle. And that’s really the opportunity today.
Greg: So, let’s transition to South Hills Catholic Academy. Because it’s just a really interesting concept that took me a little bit to get my head around. Because when Gloria came to me and said, it’s a Catholic school, it’s blessed by the Catholic Church. And then I heard the Bishop say what a great idea he thought it was. I thought, wow, that’s a really interesting thing. So, I went to Catholic school. That was part of the Catholic Church. This is a Catholic school very specifically that is not directly affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Gloria: We’re independent of the diocese, the business structure of the diocese, our dollars stay with our school and we don’t have to pay any tithing or tax to the diocese. And we are independent of them, of the diocese, but we are blessed, endorsed, supported by the Bishop.
Fr. Mike: The idea of the school really, it was conceived a couple of years ago. When Gloria was at church, she was at church saying some prayers, and we passed in the parking lot. And she had said to me you know, what do you think about starting an independent Catholic Academy in the South Hills, like they have in the North Hills? There was one founded in the North Hills, in the mid-nineties called Aquinas Academy. And so it’s been around in Pittsburgh for a while. It’s an independent school owned and operated by a board, not and operated by a parish or by a diocesan region, diocesan region. And that’s sort of where the idea took shape. And as the group gathered together and we saw what was out there, what was lacking in the southern city neighborhoods, the type of people that for demographic purposes, Catholic education wouldn’t be accessible. That’s how we came up with what you’re going to hear about.
Greg: So, in full disclosure, we’re all on the board and involved. And so I say that because when, when Gloria brought it up to me, I’m like, great idea, never going to happen. I’m in. So it’s going to be great. So, and then, and then I thought, like the more I learned about it, I got really excited about it. Because I started to think, okay, it was at the same period where there was all this unrest in the cities. And there is there is an opportunity gap and I’m thinking, okay, how do we change it? And then you start looking at this and you say, okay, this, because these students will be very diverse. In fact, Harmony, you want to talk about just how diverse the students are and the benefits of that? I mean, you’re starting, and how many students and you know, what the student body is starting to look like as, as it’s forming?
Harmony: Sure. We’re well, you know, we first had to decide on a location, and we wanted to make sure we were at a location that made sense for children to come from the South Hills, meaning the suburbs as well as the city. So basically from Mount Washington back to where we are, where our school is going to be housed, based on past experience, when you, when you don’t publish a tuition fee, you get calls daily from folks from all different, you know, income levels, different religions, you know, different school districts. They’re interested in it, their interests are piqued, right? You know, we’re hoping, and we are getting folks from all of those demographics now. Our goal is to have 150 kids when we open. We’d love to have more. We’ve got a little you know poll on who’s gonna, what the number is going to be on September 1st, right?
Greg: But 150 looks pretty good.
Harmony: It’s looking really good.
Greg: So, the question is, not 125 or 150, it’s could it be 150 or 200? That’s how strong the appetite is.
Gloria: 221 the number.
Greg: 221 is the number? We’ll see. Yeah.
Harmony: Yeah. So we’re trending in that direction. You know, we’re out there. People are hearing about us. We’re getting those calls; we’re getting those tours. People are registering, registering without even seeing the school, which is amazing. We had kids, we had 116 kids preregistered for our school before we had even picked a location.
Greg: This is good.
Harmony: Yeah, it’s good stuff, right?
Greg: So, I’m gonna allow you to finish that story about the grandfather. I’ll put it with this backdrop, the average tuition of the Catholic elementary school in the U.S. is $4,840 per year, according to education.org. And that’s a new number. So, finish the story, the guy, that the grandfather’s daughter has very limited income.
(SOURCE: EDUCATIONDATA.ORG, 2020)
Harmony: Very limited income.
Greg: Very limited income. And so, they want a solution for the granddaughter. What’s the outcome?
Harmony: The solution is, is we have, you know, an internal grid basically based on income and how many children are going to be in the school. And then we take in account other life circumstances, right? It might not show up on your tax return that, you know, dad just passed away and now there’s, you know, a single income. Or, you know, a house fire. You know, we, we hear these stories daily and before, our hands were tied, but hopefully now with our new school, with this new school, they won’t be. So, when I told the grandfather the amount that his granddaughter would be paying, or I guess it would be, his daughter would be paying to come to our school based on her income, it was $500. And I think he started crying on the phone and he said, how are you making this happen for us? And I just said, don’t worry about it. No, I did explain the EITC program. I explained that we do also have, you know, many, we’re blessed by benefactors, you know, contributions through, you know, and we are going to be collecting tuition. I mean, we’re not going to lie. We want people who can pay tuition to pay tuition.
Greg: But that’s the diversity.
Harmony: That’s the diversity, because if we establish a school with only people who can pay tuition, we’re not diversifying our school.
Greg: Or anybody who can’t.
Harmony: Or anybody who can’t, that’s right.
Greg: That’s the diversity. And I think, I think all groups benefit from that.
Harmony: Correct. Correct. So the registrations that we have to date are reflecting that diversity, I keep a spreadsheet of everybody’s tuition agreement, and we have from one end of the spectrum, like that grandfather who officially registered his granddaughter today, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, which is still an affordable Catholic education, it aligns with the other Catholic schools in the area what they’re charging and what, you know, the stat that you just read a few moments ago about the average tuition costs. Our max is, is around that, around that number.
Greg: So, are you going to have a hard time finding teachers though, I mean, excellent teachers like good ones? Like, are you gonna have a hard time doing that?
Harmony: Excellent teachers follow excellent leaders. And I’m not just talking about myself, Father Mike, our board members, you know, we have an excellent team and, and people want to work for us.
Greg: Are you getting applicants?
Harmony: I do. So, I haven’t opened up the application process. February 1 was my goal. And here we are, into February and I haven’t done this because I’ve been so busy with incoming parents, registrations. I mean, it just, doesn’t slow down. Every single day, we’re getting new kids and the paperwork that’s coming in. And, you know, just spending the time with those parents, showing them the building. But people are, I don’t want to use the word aggressive. And it sounds so negative, because I love that they’re being aggressive, but teachers who are talented, who have experience, who have knowledge in classical curriculum and even ones who don’t, but are willing to learn it are knocking on our door.
Greg: So, Daniel Pink wrote, in fact it’s a great book to read, Daniel Pink wrote a book called Drive. And he talks about what motivates people. So, the reason I’m not surprised, you’re getting a lot of teachers interested is: one, clearly people need to be compensated fairly, but they also want to be, to be part of something greater than themselves. So, there’s a range where as long as they make X, then they just want to be part of really making a difference. And I think most people get into teaching because they want to, they want to make an impact on children. And this is certainly an opportunity to do that.
Harmony: I mean, they’re excited about the project. They want to be something, a part of something from the ground up and build it along with us. I mean, this building will, the building of this school will continue throughout the first year and beyond. It is a start-up school.
Greg: So what does it look like in 10 years? 10 years we’re sitting here. It looks like … here we go. Everybody is looking like, what are we allowed to say?
Gloria: Ten years, we have a very full school, maybe a second site. And we also have a vo-tech school. Minimum of 10 years.
Harmony: Grand plans.
Greg: So, I think the vo-tech school is an interesting concept a lot bit, right? Because it’s just so sad that they’re — not everybody, not everybody should go to college. And by the way, you can have a marvelous, marvelous, marvelous career, not going to college. I mean, if you learn a trade right now, it’s a void, it’s a void. That’s just not enough of those folks out there, that are able to, that have that skillset.
Gloria: Imagine if you have a student who has been able to go through a trade school, you know, from seventh through 12th grade, when they will be able to name the school, they want to attend as far as trade schools and be out and working members of the community and profitable, living good lives. That doesn’t happen.
Fr. Mike: One of the news programs the other night, they were talking about the Keystone Pipeline. And they were talking to guys who were like welders and technical guys. They were making 250, 300,000, $350,000 a year from the trades. Which was surprising to me, welders, electricians, plumbers, HVAC.
Greg: Oh, yeah, it’s amazing. Oh yeah. And you can grow up huge business. Right. So that’s good to hear. Did you, did you guys mention like the location of the school? That was— No? So, so sorry. So, so saw, you said like where it is. So, you want to explain where we are on location, and South Hills Catholic Academy, where it’s going to be.
Harmony: Sure. So, the school sits on 550 Sleepy Hollow Road, which it borders Mount Lebanon. And I guess it would be the city, correct? Castle—
Fr. Mike: Mount Lebanon, Castle Shannon, and really the city of Pittsburgh is very close by. Yeah. And that’s why that location was chosen.
Greg: What a great spot.
Fr. Mike: Because it’s a mile, it’s a mile, maybe a mile and a half from Brookline. Other city neighborhoods are accessible and that was a great location for it. Because it was an intact school building that was in good condition. And the various systems were in, mechanical systems were in good condition. But also, there’s a beautiful church sort of attached to the building, right across the parking lot. And the kids just have to cross the parking lot to go into church for devotions, masses, services and things like that, which is a part of the everyday flow of the school.
Greg: So, let me ask you this. So, let’s just back up. Because I, I think, I think for everybody, when we’re talking about the current state of education — what has changed, I know there’s been a lot that has changed with technology and taking faith out of school, and to some extent, the idea of right and wrong, you know, however you, however you state that. But in addition, is the way we learn different? Is the way we’re teaching different? Or is it fundamentally the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago?
Harmony: I think we’re teaching to the test. I think education has evolved. You know, the U.S. Is one of the worst countries in the world for educating their children. With all the means that we have, with all the money we have, it just doesn’t make sense. And there’s no band-aid. There’s no, there’s, there’s really no way out. No one has been able to figure out this piece of why we’re failing, right? Why are we failing our children? Why is the literacy rate continue to go up? Right? So classical education, traditional education believes that we take it way back to where it started, right? It was working. You know, this is how our founding fathers were educated. And it goes all back to that. What is true? What is beautiful? What is good? And, you know, going back to the great works of art and literature and historians that that were really why the world exists the way it does. You know, our children can learn, you know, by learning through them, you know, why are we trying to create new ways of learning? The history is there.
Greg: So, when you say, so when you say, teach to the test, is it because like this school district is ranked third in the state. And so we need to teach you, not for your future, learning how to learn or be enlightened. We’re teaching you so—
Harmony: So you can pass a test so that the school district can make money off of your child.
Gloria: I mean, as opposed to teaching them how to learn.
Harmony: How to learn, how to communicate, how to write, how to think for themselves, how to take—
Greg: We don’t know how to write right? Now we think it’s a text like LOL, right? I mean, that’s, that’s how people write. That’s how they even communicate. Like, I’ll talk to someone that’s younger, and they’ll be like, I talked to them and I’m like, no, no stop. Did you talk to them? Well, I emailed them. I’m like, you didn’t talk to them then. You emailed them. But that’s how— the idea of writing. I mean, the whole — I’m like, Holy cow, do they even teach cursive anymore? I don’t even know. Do they do that?
Gloria: We will.
Harmony: Not anymore, but we will.
Greg: So you will be. So there’s meaningful differences.
Harmony: There wasn’t even a grade really anymore in any kind of cursive or writing in general because kids type now. So they think, well, why do they have to write, if you can just type it. But I mean, there is, that is about developing the human, the human, right? Writing. I mean, you write, you need to learn how to write.
Greg: So you teach to the child, not to the test.
Greg: So that’s a big difference.
Harmony: It is a big difference.
Greg: I never thought about the negative of ranking school districts, because then, I get it. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure on the teacher to be like, Hey, we’re number three. We gotta get, you know, we gotta, we got to teach you to pass that test.
Harmony: It’s a huge stressor on teachers and administrators, because they’re looking at the bottom line. And then the bottom line at the end of the year, or in the spring, when these kids take the PSSAs in Pennsylvania or the Keystone Exams in high school is, where did your school, even within a district, they compete with each other, you know, a certain elementary school against another elementary school. It’s the bottom line. It’s where did the kids score? That’s it.
Fr. Mike: And then this shift, the classical curriculum is occurring across the country, both in faith-based schools, but also in public charter schools. Also, there are public charter schools adopting this curriculum because kids from all demographics do well in it. It seems to be a curriculum that can unify a diverse population. And I’m, I was not classically trained. But when I’m reading about it and then learning about it through the organization that we’ve retained to help develop the curriculum is that, as the curriculum evolves, it tells a grand story, a grand story of man, man’s relationship with God, how that has unfolded through the ages. And the student gradually comes to see that I’m part of this grand story. And I have to contribute with my life to this story somehow. And as the curriculum unfolds, the entire person, the imagination is pulled in and stimulated.
Fr. Mike: And it’s intriguing to a young mind to, to come to see that, wow, this is the expanse of history, salvation history, and I have a part to play and I have to contribute to something that is bigger than me. And so I’ll step up to the plate to do it. Going back to what you said about the teacher issue coming in at the ground level of a start-up school. Like, you know, I have to make a living, but I want to be involved in something bigger than myself and make a contribution to it. From everything I’m reading and researching about this classical, traditional curriculum, it engages the whole person. It draws them in and stimulates the imagination in a different way than a core curriculum does, or the other types of teaching. Not that the other, the other types of teaching are very effective in Catholic schools because there’s is the daily intentional mention of God and the directing the student towards God. And they have impressive results, but this is a different way and a very successful way. And even if you would look upon at the results of like an Aquinas Academy who teaches in this way, their bottom line academic results are even more impressive than the statistics you’ve cited at the beginning of our conversation.
Greg: Like when I first heard it, I didn’t get it. I was like, okay, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I get it. But the more I’ve heard it and the more I see the results and the more I learn about it, it is different. It almost, it again, it sounds, it teaches the child how to learn and how to be inquisitive and how to ask questions and know why they believe, right? Know where everything fits. So it is powerful.
Harmony: Just giving another example. We will be teaching geography and history and not social studies, which you will see social studies, in any public school and other and other private schools as well. And if you look at those social studies texts, even starting at a kindergarten age, a lot of them are, just the titles will tell you something. I know one textbook publishing company in particular where it’s in kindergarten, it’s my town. And then in first grade, it’s my state, or my community. And then it goes up to my world and the whole thing talks to the child about what everybody should be doing for them.
Greg: Wait, wait, wait, let’s back up. This is a keeper. So wait. So instead of, instead of social studies, it will be geography and history. And you’re talking about a school and a curriculum in social studies, do the my’s one more time. So, my town—
Harmony: My neighborhood, my community, my state, my world — that’s an example of a social studies curriculum that exists today, a publishing company that puts out those texts. And we look that as educators—
Harmony: That’s how I was taught.
Greg: But I don’t think parents are —
Harmony: No one’s thinking about this.
Greg: No, and you’re teaching the child, like, always, it’s about me.
Harmony: It’s about me! It’s the me culture. And we wonder where it’s coming from. It starts in kindergarten and social studies class.
Harmony: I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but there is, there’s truth behind it.
Greg: That’s big.
Harmony: It is big.
Greg: So there is a difference.
Harmony: It’s a big difference.
Gloria: Our kids will learn Latin. Which is the foundation of all the language.
Greg: I’d have lasted one week in your school.
Gloria: You and my husband.
Greg: Dave and I would have been bounced.
Gloria: No, no, no, no. We will be a school for everyone.
Greg: Unfortunately, because of financial reasons, Catholic schools are closing, in some cases where they’re needed the most. So, like for example, Saint Anne School was a very diverse school. Right? And so some of those students because of their location could be misplaced.
Fr. Mike: Yeah. And that’s, that’s what, what has happened. It just, through no fault of anybody’s, that’s just how it played out. You know, you had your schools Mount Washington, South Side, Brookline, Beechview, because. of demographic shifts, they, they just couldn’t make it. And really the only way for diocesan schools to survive, they concluded was to merge them all pooling of resources.
Greg: 100 percent.
Fr. Mike: And things like that. But what just happened was there are sections that just where Catholic education remains inaccessible. For geographical reasons, for financial reasons, these immigrant students, Harmony could tell you, they’re tough. They are a lot of work.
Fr. Mike:It’s a lot of work to get forms filled out. To communicate with parents. And not everybody has that skill set that time, that passion for it, like the administration of this school has, and, and the group, the board, the founding board of the school has made that a priority that we will go out into the community and find these kids, rather than just —
Greg: When you say these kids?
Fr. Mike: The recent immigrants.
Greg: Yep, the immigrants. And so, because I mean even great decisions that have to be made, they need to be made, have unintended consequences or difficult consequences. But there’s no question the Catholic church is doing today, what they need to do, but it’s in locations that some of these students have needs also. So, you know, just so we can recap that. So, I think it’s important to understand when we say diverse, how diverse, we mean, if you could give those countries again, and some of the diversity of some of the immigrant children and how it really is making an impact in their lives.
Gloria: And the fact that they know to go directly to the, they want their children in the Catholic school. That’s their first desire. They recognize the Catholic church and the Catholic school as a home and as a safe place, as a. sanctuary.
Harmony: I think we can speak on behalf of just Father Mike’s leadership and my leadership is, you know, our prior experiences in education, we created a name for ourselves with the immigrant population. We service those. kids and we service them well. And we service them like any other child coming into our school, whether the parents could speak English or not, whether they were Catholic or not, whether they can afford tuition or not. And we had a large number of immigrant families in our prior school building. And our hope, because this school, one of our pillars is to reach out to a diverse community, the hope is, is that the leadership of this now new school, South Hills Catholic Academy, the work we’ve done in our past experiences will follow us. Our names are out there in the community. They know what we’ve done in the past. And those children will have another home, a new home. And it won’t just be those children it’s, you know, their family members or a neighbor of theirs, or somebody calls them for help. I’m involved with the Bhutanese community. We’ve reached out to Casa San Jose and Brookline. We know where those people are going for help. And so we want their leaders to be able to say, well I have the school for you? This is where you need to go. You need to call Harmony Stewart. You need to call, you know, Father Mike Caridi. They’ll, they’ll have this figured out for you. And that’s our hopes.
Greg: So Ca-rid-ee instead of Ca-reed-ee?
Fr. Mike: Well, you say it better than Harmony says it.
Greg: Well who, which is right?
Fr. Mike: Caridi.
Harmony: I don’t say it right.
Fr. Mike: But in the end though, I think that that, that was when, when the board was making their proposal to Bishop Zubik because in the Catholic world, in order to be called Catholic, you have to cooperate with the Bishop and collaborate with him. You just can’t give yourself that name. I think that’s one of the things that he saw that the board had put a lot of time in ensuring that populations who would lack access to Catholic education that this complimentary offering that we’re providing would reach out to them and would connect them to the church. And, and that’s one of the primary reasons I believe he’s approved this independent Catholic school and is allowing it to go forward.
Greg: Great discussion, great discussion. I feel like we could talk for a lot longer. And probably will.
Fr. Mike: Invite us back. We’ll talk enlightenment philosophy.
Greg: Well, thank you for, thank you for a wonderful discussion. Father, Harmony, Gloria, thank you for all the great stuff you’re doing for children. You know, there’s a lot of great teachers out there. There’s a lot of opportunity to close this opportunity gap and spread the word. South Hills Catholic Academy is changing the way our children are becoming educated. And if you want to learn more about that, please go to
Greg: Thanks for listening. If you’d like to hear other subject matters that may be of interest to you, please check us out at ConfluenceFP.com/podcasts.
This session was recorded on February 4, 2021.
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