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Maybe it was divine providence that the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” came on my iTunes shuffle while I was reading the first draft of an article for this week’s issue of Vox. After all, I was dealing with a Catholic school, and the big guy upstairs has a way of picking just the right song.
But let’s not start there. Let’s go back to August, when I first got the gig of Insight department editor for Vox.
The idea of writing about Father Tolton Catholic High School came from two sources:
- For one of my first news writing course assignments in college, I wrote about how Tolton was going to open despite closings of Catholic schools around the country.
- I was a Catholic school kid through fourth grade. Granted, I didn’t get as far as others I know (our beat leader attended Catholic school all the way through college), but being part of the small religious community of St. Mary’s Parish School in West Chicago, Ill. shaped me in ways that public school never would. For one, I have excellent penmanship. For another, my faith is in tact and I strive to be the same Christian girl they encouraged me to be at age 9.
“The Tolton Transition” started with a question: what is it like to transfer from a public junior high to a Catholic private school? The switch from grammar to high school is one of the biggest transitions, seconded only by moving seven hours away to college. Now imagine that one institution is completely different from the one you’ve been to all your life, with new people, curriculum and policies.
Now add in that the high school has only been open two years. Voila: it’s a transition unique to Tolton. Soon, the idea blossomed from a single article to a package of stories covering the students, the football team and its coach. Around the magazine office, the project became known as “Kate’s Baby.”
Tolton’s counselor Carole Riesenberg was immensely helpful throughout the entire process of writing the story and arranged a roundtable for me and the reporter, Tyler McConnell. We talked with eight kids who had nothing bad to say about their school. At all. I mean, in high school I complained about everything from the teachers to the color of the walls (or, at least at Glenbard North High School, the lack of windows).
And this is when we get back to the Beach Boys. I was a little bummed after the interview because as a journalist, I’m always looking for three or four sides to a story. Sure, the diversity of students — in age, faith, school background — gave multiple perspectives, but I hadn’t heard anything that made the school seem anything but, well, heaven on Earth. I wasn’t digging up dirt, but I wasn’t going to be Tolton’s personal public relations agent, either.
But then that song came on, and I started realizing that Tolton’s students are spirited because Tolton is their baby, just like the package we put together was my baby, my inception. The sophomores and juniors have almost absurd amounts of spirit for their school because they’re the creators, and the freshman after them match that spirit because they know they’re going to be passed the Tolton torch once the originators have graduated.
That’s a beautiful thing, if you ask me.
But will it last? In ten years, will Tolton students be as gung-ho and excited about lunches, uniforms, football, homework, teachers, religion classes, service projects and the like?
That’s a project for the Vox staff of 2022, and I look forward to reading all about it.
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