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anne_mikolay_120It's that time of year when Catholic high schools open their doors for perspective students, and parents decide which high school might offer the best education and environment. I've been down that road, and my best advice to parents is: choose a public school.

Prior to taking the Catholic high school placement test, my oldest son and I toured several of the schools, and chose one together. We expected a solid education in a Christian environment.

That's not at all what we got.

Out of respect for those parents who strongly believe in Catholic high schools, I will refrain from telling my son's high school tale of woe, and will say only that my son transferred from Catholic high school to Middletown High School North in his junior year. We are very glad we chose High School North, and truly wish we had done so earlier.

Coming from a Catholic school background (both my sons attended Catholic school from preschool through eighth grade, as did I), I was amazed at the educational and social opportunities afforded by Middetown High School North. The school's stellar Guidance Department made my son's transition from private school to public school effortless, and as he neared college decision time, the Guidance Department offered a wealth of information/assistance. That trend continues: during my youngest son's sophomore year at High School North, the sophomore parents were invited to a college planning meeting. The school's licensed guidance counselors are very serious about preparing students and parents for the college experience as early as possible. (It is interesting to note that the Catholic high school I originally chose for my oldest son had a staff of only two guidance counselors, compared to eight licensed counselors at Middletown High School North.)

The Catholic high school couldn't hold a candle to what High School North offered my son academically and socially. The instructors in the public school system meet stringent standards. The public school excels in all academic areas, including the arts. If you have an artistic child, you owe it to him or her to examine the public school in your area.  Middletown High School North participates in the Option Two Program; students may satisfy visual and performing arts requirements by attending the Arts High School at Sandy Hook. Once a week for three hours, students who pass an audition can receive training in the arts (theater, visual arts, vocal, or creative writing). Transportation is provided. The program is working; the artistic skills exhibited by High School North students are nothing short of amazing.

There are some parents who look down upon public school, and insist upon sending their kids to Catholic high school for the “discipline,” or the “Christian environment,” or to keep them “safe from drugs.” Believe me, there was little discipline or Christian demeanor in my son's Catholic high school, but there was plenty of drugs. You want discipline? You want security measures in place? You want a no-tolerance drug policy? You want your kid to meet a diverse group of students, and forge solid friendships? You want your son or daughter to learn from highly qualified instructors who employ the latest available educational methods and equipment? You want your child to have a variety of after-school activities to choose from (not just sports)? You want your high school student to travel on class trips to Washington, D.C., Plymouth, Massachusetts, Paris, Germany? Then it isn't a Catholic high school you want. It's Middletown High School North, or another school in the Middletown Township Public School System.

Don't make the mistake recently made by a friend of mine. Fully aware of the weaknesses in her son's Catholic high school education, she considered transferring him into High School North. After visiting the school, however, she changed her mind. It seems she was “turned off” to the public school because she saw a North student wearing a leather jacket and an earring in his nose. Based upon that student's attire, she made a rash, snap judgment about public schools, and decided her son was better off where he was. She made a mistake on two counts: she judged a book by its cover, and in so doing, displayed that same un-Christian attitude she hoped to shield her son from, and she short-changed her son big time.

Is Middletown's public school system perfect? Of course not. And they know it, and strive to make improvements daily. Are all Catholic schools lacking? Absolutely not. When I toured the Catholic high schools, I saw good things in each of them...but nothing, subsequent experience has taught me, that compares favorably with Middletown High School North.

If you are looking at high schools for your eighth grader, do yourself a favor and consider all high schools. Meet with the principals, the guidance counselors, and some teachers at the Catholic high schools. Then do the same at the public schools. If you do so at High School North, you will find that principal Patricia Vari-Cartier, Ed.D, ably assisted by Assistant Principal John Carmody, and Head Counselor, Thomas Cusick, runs a tight, efficient ship.

And in case you are wondering if I get “brownie points” for recommending High School North, I don't. You see, public schools don't operate that way.