An Interview with 2015 Seton Graduate Catherine Shaw & her family.
What brought your family to homeschooling, and specifically to Seton?
Mrs. Shaw: When Elizabeth (the oldest) was three, we looked at our options and thought “there’s no way we can send our little and precious daughter to kindergarten.” We had a good homeschooling group in our parish, so we decided to try at least kindergarten through second grade at home.
We’d get her through First Communion and when she was a little older, we’d consider sending her to school. Of course, once you get started with homeschooling, it just becomes part of your life, part of your community. We decided to approach it one year at a time, to pray about it each year, and obviously, the answer was always to continue.
What brought us to Seton was our experience with a religion competition for the 5th and 6th grade students in our homeschooling co-op. One girl knew absolutely every answer. She’d raise her hand and answer every question with confidence, demonstrating much greater knowledge than I, an adult and mother, had about any of the topics.
Afterward, I approached this girl’s mother to ask what she did for religion class. The answer was Seton Home Study School. I was able to borrow the materials this family was using, and after looking through them, I knew that this was definitely what we needed to be doing. We switched to Seton then and there.
Catherine, as a 2015 graduate of Seton Home Study School, how has homeschooling helped you develop skills, talents, and interests?
Time and experience are the biggest things homeschooling has given me when it comes to developing talents and interests. For instance, I was able to take Tae Kwon Do classes for self-defense. I’ve been able to develop my passion for music by playing violin and cello, and performing regularly with the St. Cecilia’s Philharmonic Orchestra of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
All of us take music lessons, and my brother plays baseball. My sister Elizabeth and I were also able to start our own dance studio, which would have been extremely difficult on a typical public school schedule.
Tell me a little more about that.
Mrs. Shaw: Catherine and Elizabeth started ballet when they were very young. We were able to get into a Christian ballet school, but it was pretty far outside the city, and as the girls got older and academics became more intense, it became too long of a drive for us to do on a regular basis, so we switched studios. Unfortunately, the first recital at the new studio went in a terrible direction, and we realized we couldn’t continue. Somebody joked that we should start a dance studio in our basement, and one thing led to another. Before we knew it, my husband and a friend of his had found a place to rent, and built a dance studio. We told our friends; they told their friends, and it just fell into place.
Catherine: We’re keeping it recreational on purpose. It’s just one day a week for people like us, who want something creative on our resumes, a fun way to get exercise, and an artistic outlet, but within a quality environment that gives glory to God.
Mr. Shaw: Forty-two students and a beautiful performance later, I think there’s a real message in this for other homeschooling families out there. Homeschooling enables the extraordinary. What is more, you can do all of these extraordinary things during the day without jeopardizing academics or the family unit. You can do these things without stealing time from Dad in the evenings; you can have dinner together and keep that closeness that is so essential to stable family life.
In the public and private educational systems, every extracurricular activity takes place in the evening because the students are in school all day. Homeschooling maximizes time and efficiency, so that you can have all of these goods without jeopardizing the most important priorities in life.
Another takeaway lesson from this experience is that we swim against the currents of “normal” society so that we can change society. Just because it’s difficult or no one else is doing it or we’re told we’re not qualified doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what is right. If society is not going to do what is appropriate, it is our God-given responsibility to step up, go the extra mile, and do what is good and holy.
We can talk all day about the ways in which ballet and the girls’ ballet studio has been good for the community, but the bigger lesson is that we, who have been blessed with education in the truth, have to carry that out into the world, provide witness to the truth with our work, and show the world appropriate and holy alternatives to the evil that has infected nearly every pursuit. That is what we’re doing with Reverence Dance Academy.
So, Catherine, while homeschooling with Seton has helped you develop service to God alongside personal interests, has homeschooling helped you overcome a struggle of any kind?
I have a really bad sense of scheduling. I’m naturally really disorganized. However, the way that Seton sets up a schedule, sends Lesson Plans, and provides study guides helps me stay on track.
The other big thing is that Isabel, who is the next closest to me, is naturally extremely organized, so when we work together, she helps me stay on top of things. If we weren’t homeschooled, we wouldn’t have been able to work together like that.
And has Seton given you anything that you find of lasting value?
I think probably responsibility and ownership of my faith are the biggest things I’ve received from Seton. Even as an eighth-grader, I definitely appreciated my faith. I knew that as a member of the Shaw family, I’m a Catholic and a lover of Jesus.
But I remember opening my religion book on that first day as a high school student with Seton and realizing that this was going to be really important. I suddenly had this really strong desire to embrace my faith and to be known for my faith, and that has continued to grow with each passing year.
I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the role of your parents in your education. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from them, Catherine?
I think self-value is one of them. My parents have really helped us to feel confident in who we are, both as princesses and princes of God and as human beings on earth. We have a place; we were born for a reason. The fact that my parents homeschool, and continually show us that “I can do” attitude against every obstacle and struggle has helped to foster self-confidence in us.
Then, of course, all the different lessons they’ve given us: music, dance, self-defense—all these things have really enriched our lives. In a special way, my father, who encourages his five daughters to learn self-defense (a seemingly small thing), has really taught us to value and protect our femininity and our purity. Of course, the faith is their biggest gift to me.
Of course. Now, you recently won something called the Monsignor Bukowski award. Tell me a bit about that.
The Monsignor Bukowski award is a scholarship to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids that is awarded on the basis of academic strength and leadership ability. When they awarded me the scholarship, they based their decision on my work at the dance studio as well as the fact that I teach violin lessons, and have had a number of roles in dramatic productions, musical performances, and other activities while keeping relatively high grades.
So that means you’ll be attending Aquinas in the fall.
Yes, I will, and I will be working toward a degree in graphic arts with a possible music minor.
After college, what are your plans for the future?
Catherine: Really, anything is possible.
Mr. Shaw: With Seton, we have armed our daughters against the wiles of society at any level, be it governmental, peers, media, etc. Because they are so armed, we are confident that no matter where God leads them, even as they pursue secular majors such as graphic arts or music, they will not enter the field in ignorance or unpreparedness. Seton is a liberal education, and produces a well-rounded person. The reason we invested in a Seton education and the reason we have hope is because we know that our children are armed and ready to go head-to-head with anyone in any field and to counter the falseness of society’s teaching with truth.
Catherine, how do you see yourself living your faith and serving God in the future?
I think that no matter what state in life I’m called to, I’ll be able to put my talents at the service of God’s will. Every single breath we take is meant to glorify God, so whether I’m called to be an art teacher, a stay-at-home mom, or a musician in a symphony, I just want to be Christ’s witness in the world. Everything I want is to serve God and others for His sake. If I pursue a career, it won’t be for myself because I want a position in the world. It will be because God wants me to bring Him to that place and because that will be the best way that I can give back to Him, give back to my parents, and give back to my family. I’m just so excited for whatever comes!
Thank you for that beautiful outlook on life. It’s inspiring. Do any of you have any advice for up-and-coming high school students?
Catherine: I would say, stay calm! If you commit to the education, God will bless your work. If you’re nervous or scared, just get down on your knees and pray. You will be heard and you will receive grace to do what is needful. Don’t forget the saints and Mary, our Sweet Mother!
Elizabeth (Catherine’s older sister): The biggest piece of advice I could give is utilize all the tools Seton gives you. Seton is a lot of work, but you have to realize that Seton also provides a ton of tools, and those tools make it possible to accomplish the work.
Mr. Shaw: To the credit of Seton, it has a reputation for being academically advanced. You may need to be creative with how you approach the coursework. You may need to get tutors and lobby different strengths from different family members. But at the end of the day, if you can stick it out with Seton, your children will walk away with three precious gems: 1) spiritual strength, 2) college-preparatory academic prowess, and 3) excellent communication, learning, and organizational skills that put them head-and-shoulders over the rest of society.
Catherine: Give glory to God!