Back to school brings anticipation and anxiety, stress and excitement. Students look ahead to new classrooms, teachers, classmates and friends, old and new. And parents are thankful to return gradually to school routines, after the relaxed pace of summer is followed by the rush of last minute shopping for school supplies and uniforms.

This new school year also begins in a time of deep pain and intense prayer in the Church, as principals, teachers and staff recommit to the mission of Catholic education. As Pope Francis said in his Letter to the People of God: “every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.”

For every student walking through the doors of a Catholic school we say, “thank you!” to parents for choosing a Catholic education for your child. Parents want the very best for their children, including the best education. Those entrusted with the mission of education – principals, teachers, and staff – are grateful to parents who choose a Catholic school. We take seriously the support we give to parents, as primary educators, by providing an academically excellent, faith filled education that prepares children for a future of professional success, personal fulfillment, and graced blessings.

So on behalf of all those privileged to serve your children during this academic year, here are three reasons why choosing a Catholic school is a good decision for your child and family:

Education for success A Catholic education is an academically excellent education. This we know from data and from the many inspiring stories of success our students achieve every day in classrooms across this archdiocese and the nation. Catholic school teachers work hard to provide children with an academic and intellectual formation guided by well-established, up to date standards of educational excellence. Every day our teachers encourage hard work, discipline, and personal responsibility. As students learn critical academic skills and succeed in achieving small and big learning goals, they grow in knowledge, self-discipline, and confidence. Beyond growth in knowledge, Catholic school students are also encouraged to grow in wisdom. With vital skills of critical thinking and self-reflection, children discover that what is learned in the classroom is but a preparation for their future roles as agents of change and healing, and as much needed witnesses to holiness in the Church and in the world. Education in a nurturing, safe environment Pope Francis calls the Church to prioritize pastoral accompaniment that leads others to the love and mercy of God. Catholic educators do just that. Each day, teachers accompany children on their intellectual, spiritual, and human journeys as they grow in virtues of respect, compassion, and service of others. As teachers accompany the children entrusted to their care, they restore in them an unshakeable confidence in their God-given capacity for truth and nurture self-assurance rooted in their invaluable worth as a child of God.  A child’s dignity is a gift of God and those who serve the mission of Catholic schools today are committed to safeguarding that sacred gift. The archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office and the Office for Child Protection collaborate daily to ensure that the safety and protection of children is a priority in every Catholic school. Education for holiness

Catholic school students are more than consumers of educational products. They are children of God with a God-given capacity for truth and the potential for a fulfilled life of transformative service in every field of human achievement. In a Catholic school, a child discovers his or her unique vocation to live the life God intended for them, that is, to strive to become a saint! This is a profound gift that Catholic educators offer to the Church in this hour of need, and to future generations.

The education your child receives this year will enable him or her to be academically accomplished, skilled in critical thinking, respectful and passionate in service of others. So we say, once again, “thank you, parents!” And we are deeply grateful to principals, teachers and staff who renew their commitment, at the start of a new school year, to their daily vocation to transform students for the good.

As your child is welcomed on the first day and every day of this school year we take to heart the words of Jesus, “let the children come to me…for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14).

(Dr. Jem Sullivan serves as Secretary for Education for the Archdiocese of Washington.)