Catholic schools have changed since the days when Mary Ann Roesler waited at the bus stop in Baltimore, knees cold beneath her jumper.
Today, girls at most Catholic schools have options when it comes to uniforms, such as adding sweat pants for those winter days.
Other things have changed, too. A majority of teachers are lay people, a complete turnaround from the 1950s when mostly nuns and priests taught in Catholic schools. And nowadays, more of the students arenon-Catholic than when Roesler was a child.
But the heart of the experience -- learning moral values and respect for other people -- hasn't changed, says Roesler, whose two daughters attend Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School on Dorsey Road.
"I'm not bashing public schools, but I think what my daughters have gained in Catholic school,they will have for a lifetime," says Roesler. "It's deeply ingrainedin them, respect for other people, for one another, good study habits. I just believe they've gotten a really good start."
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore join schools around the nation this week in marking Catholic Schools Week, an annual celebration that focuses on the role Catholic elementary and secondary schools play in educating young people.
Roesler's daughters, Susan, 10, and Katie, 12, both honey-haired and hazel-eyed, are unanimous in their praise of Arthur Slade, one of five Catholic elementary schools in Anne Arundel.
"You feel like you matter here," says Susan, who loves playing basketball on the school's team. "And it's good to learn about God. Sometimes if you get really mad at someone and want to get back at them, you know that God's there and you kind of forgive them.
"Sometimes when you're feeling bad and nobody's there, you can always turn to God and know he's there to help you."
For Katie, the allureof Catholic school includes the red, green and white plaid uniforms."I like it that all the kids wear the same thing, so nobody makes fun of other kids if they don't have the coolest clothes," she says. "And you feel like you're a big family cause you know everybody."
This year's theme is Discover Catholic Schools, continuing the advertising campaign the Archdiocese has undertaken in recent years to draw students.
Catholic schools in Maryland, as elsewhere, have been losing students in the last few years because of higher tuitions, says Catholic School Superintendent Lawrence Callahan.
Arthur Slade, forexample, charges $1,652 a year for a child from a Catholic family that belongs to a parish. Non-Catholics pay $100 more, and both groups pay less for additional children.
"We'd been losing 6 percent a year for a few years, but this past year we stabilized, which we see asreally significant," says Callahan. "I think we've gotten the message out that Catholic schools have quality education. People are willing to pay for what they believe in."
In an era when teaching valueshas become trendy, another big lure of Catholic schools is the offerof value-laden education, says Callahan.
"I think it's pretty difficult to teach values without some basis for them," he explains. Thereligious foundation of Catholic schools "gives us a firm foundationfor doing that. We teach students to care about every other person in the class, and give them a reason for doing that."
Cheryl Wilhoyte, assistant superintendent for instruction and school administration for Anne Arundel County public schools, points out that the basic values for good citizenship and concern for others are also taught in public schools.
"Truthfulness and honesty and respect for other people are certainly throughout the public school curriculum," she says. "However, parochial schools do provide religious instruction in theday-school setting that public schools do not."
For Roesler, who attended Catholic schools from first grade through college, the real discovery of how valuable her education had been came after she got out of school.
"I realized my Catholic education was very strong once I got into the work force, where I began to be with people from various backgrounds. Things I took for granted, such as good spelling, I suddenly realized not everyone had."
The difference for Roesler's own children came when her older daughter took a band field trip toVirginia last year. "She later made comments about the way students from other schools were behaving. It really reinforces (the difference) when you hear kids make comments about the way other kids behave, especially when they're 11 years old."
Differences from a strictlysecular education shows up in the little things, like the wall poster in Susan's language-arts class which depicts an athlete in mid-jumpand the slogan: "Because God sees me as a winner, I will be."