It's Catholic Schools Week across the country. As part of the observance, students are doing everything from collecting canned food to visiting nursing homes. The common theme is service to the community.
At St. Thomas More, it all started with a single cent. They're doing a “Pennies for Patients” drive in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They hoped to raise $1,000, which would mean $3 from every student, but some went above and beyond. One student asked her uncle for his extra change and ended up getting $63.
Student leaders say they're proud to see their school come together behind the cause. "If you do a good deed, other people can benefit from it and it just makes my heart excited and cheerful that other people are getting help,” said eighth-grader Cece Coniglio.
The Archdiocese of Omaha currently educates more than 19,000 students. "My Catholic education is very important to me because I'm able to learn more about God and all his good doings,” said Our Lady of Lourdes eighth-grader Matthew Wells.
“You can just be who you are and you don't have to worry about what clothes you're going to wear out of uniform days,” said Our Lady of Lourdes eighth-grader Bridget Lincoln.
"I'm probably the person I am today because of my faith,” said Our Lady of Lourdes eighth-grader Ava Blankman.
The signature event for Catholic Schools Week unfolded Thursday at Omaha’s historic St. Cecilia Cathedral.
There were 1,200 eighth-graders on hand for mass celebrated by Archbishop George Lucas.
A common theme all week has been service to the community.
Archbishop Lucas said, "It's true that there's a vibrant parish here at St. Cecilia and they have a wonderful school. And the parishioners and students have a special home here. But really this is home for all of us."
The archbishop asked how many of the eighth-graders had never been to St. Cecilia before. Approximately half of them raised their hands.
Many say they've personally made the choice to continue their education at a Catholic high school, but with fewer schools overall due to closures in recent years, administrators recognize there are obstacles.
"You've got fine public schools that people don't have to pay tuition to attend and so sure, there are some challenges that are created because of that, but it's so unique and so wonderful what we do in our schools that people see that it is worthwhile,” said St. Thomas More principal Gary Davis.
Schools have incorporated several silly items into the week, including different dress up days or letting a student be principal for the day, but there's also a number of special prayer and service events which are central to the mission of parochial schools.
“They provide for our Catholic families a way to make sure that the faith continues, that we're creating the next generation of church leaders and they also provide an option, alternative for families that are not satisfied or want to investigate other options than the public school system,” said Our Lady of Lourdes principal Bill Kelly.
It's also National School Choice Week. A documentary premiered at the Durham Museum Wednesday about education choices. The film is called “The Ticket." It's a movement to diversify education options for even the youngest students. Instead of just public and private, backers of school choice want to increase public support and possibly even financial backing for charter schools, online learning, even homeschooling.
“Competition, whether it's charter school or private schools as compared to public school, is a healthy environment,” said Platte Institute Executive Director Jim Vokal. “We see it in business, we see it in athletics and certainly to have it in education would, in my opinion and certainly Platte Institute's opinion, provide for some good competition that would lead to good results."
Thursday, at The Pointe in Rising View in Bellevue starting at 4 p.m., you have the chance to talk with representatives from several districts and private schools about the next step for kids.