Private schools in Dallas can be a wonderful alternative to public education, and an increasing number of families are taking advantage of the option.

A common denominator among families in private schools is that they have chosen to be there. In many cases where personal financial resources are tight, they may be there at the sacrifice of many other things.

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Most families will tell you they chose private school to obtain what they believe is a better education for their children. Many families in parish schools express that they went there for something beyond academic education.

I chose 50-year-old St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School for my three children based on reputation and the families I met. St. Thomas is a small neighborhood school with strong family values.

My husband and I work full time, and we wanted a nurturing environment for our children that goes beyond education. We saw a strong, caring community at the school with value-oriented, dedicated families. St. Thomas also has a diversity of families, which enables cultural learning.

Although primarily Catholic, there is a general mix of religions and cultures. Within the school are Protestants, Hindus, Asians, African-Americans, Europeans and South Americans.

When questioning other families within the parish school a common theme of “more than just an academic education” evolved.

St. Thomas parent Linda Cantrell told me she wanted her daughter’s attitude toward school and learning to improve. She says she wanted to see an “increase in the level of respect among students to each other and teachers to students.” Linda came three years ago and says: “Since coming to St. Thomas, my child likes to learn. I wanted the spiritual aspects that a parish school can offer also.”

Julie and Joe McNulty, who work in some real world situations at a news station and as a policeman, say they wanted to “improve the moral education and provide a safe retreat for their children.” They wanted morals and discipline beyond education.

Some suggestions for finding the best school for your child would be to attend open houses, meet the principals or head mistresses, and get a feeling for the school. Interview and/or meet families from the school.

Observe and see if the environment matches your needs. Look for happy, enthused teachers and students.

When selecting a private school, it is important that you choose a school that you are pleased with and can actively support. Parental support and involvement are often an essential element of a successful private school. Your children will learn from it, and the school will be better for it.

The St. Thomas school community is one of great parental involvement, and this is encouraged. Parents continually do fundraising and organize various programs through the very active Parents’ Association. Parents are in the school helping in the library, cafeteria, gym and office each day.

Because it’s a parish school, the children can pray and worship together. The children participate in a mass at the church each Friday at 9 a.m. where parents and the neighborhood are welcome to attend and join in.

I have never regretted my decision to place my children, currently ages 6, 9 and 11, in St. Thomas, and I have witnessed the success of several of my nephews who graduated from St. Thomas. The school has been exactly the family community I hoped it would be and has become a life-saver when our family was struck with catastrophic illness.

I became disabled three years ago, and the school and parish were there to nurture my children and pull us through our tragedy. I’m thankful that we were in the best school environment for us as a family, and I encourage anyone who can find the resources to remember private school as an option.

The families I interviewed (only a few were referred to in this article) all had various personal reasons for committing to private schools.

The most important advice that I can give, no matter what school your children attend, is to be actively involved and supportive of the environment you choose for your children’s education.